I am reading a collection of essays that document the teaching career of Luther Siler. It’s called Searching For Malumba. I’ve been reading it for a while because I’ve been using it as kind of an essay a day type of thing and not reading a lot in it. Now that I have finished two books for my reading challenges and it’s not the end of January yet, I am reading a bit more per day in it. It is excellent.
Today I read the essay on Substitute Teachers. It reminded me of my first substitute teaching job…the very first time I walked in to a school office and presented myself as the sub. That’s what I’m going to tell you about today but first, I want to make sure that you know that I don’t disagree with what Luther wrote in his essay. He is spot on. Even that one sub he writes about is someone that I’ve seen while subbing or while I was a classroom teacher and had to request subs. I hope you give Luther’s book a try.
I applied to be a substitute teacher mid year because I needed to supplement my income and because I planned to take some tests to become a classroom teacher and I wanted to sort of “check it out” before committing to more classwork to get my certification. I was in California. At that time, the background check before being allowed to be near kids, included a finger print check that was run by local police, state law enforcement, and federal law enforcement. While the first two didn’t take too long, the federal check took about eight weeks. One morning, around 5:30, I got a call from the Sub Desk asking me to sub at the middle school that morning. I told her that I had not yet been cleared. She said she was aware of it but that they were desperate for subs and I had already been cleared by local and state. (I was also well known in the district because of my then eleven years of volunteering in schools.) So I jumped out of bed and got dressed. I got my kids off to neighbors who would deliver them at their respective schools and I went off to the middle school, which was the same middle school one of my kids attended, and presented myself to the secretary as the assigned sub for Ms. WhatEverHerNameWas. I was given the key to the room and sent off with no lesson plan. Apparently, it was an unplanned absence and there weren’t any plans. The secretary said there was supposed to be a lesson plan book inside the class in the teacher’s desk so just look for it.
It was a seventh grade special ed class. There was no lesson plan book anywhere in the room and the ed assistant would not be there until the second hour of the two hour class period. So I was on my own with fifteen boys varying in degrees of special needs. I had taken a few things with me in my Sub Bag that I could do with them. My Sub Bag had worksheets, tangrams, books, and other sorts of things that would entertain and be educational, should I need them. That day I definitely needed them.
I asked the boys what they had been working on. No one could tell me. Finally I got one boy to tell me, only because he was my neighbor and knew he’d be in trouble if he didn’t cooperate. So we opened the history book and began to do some reading and questions/answers because there was nothing else to go on. The boys began to misbehave, one at a time. I would get one settled and another would begin and as soon as I got that one settled, another would start up. Then, I just did what I had to. I started to call each one by name and remind them that I knew their mothers and fathers and if they didn’t cooperate I was going to tell their Mommas! That worked! It worked enough to the point that only one of the fifteen was acting up by the time the ed assistant came in. That’s when I found out that they were supposed to be taking a standardized test that morning. She couldn’t find the lesson plans either but she did know where the tests were so we quickly started those because we would have just about enough time to take them if we started right away. In the end, the bell rang and we still had about one minute to go on the test so we kept the boys working an extra minute before releasing them.
The rest of the day was fine with the ed assistant there to show me what the other classes were really working on. The other classes were not special ed. I made it through the day and lived to tell the tale. At the end of the day, I headed for Starbucks and bought a $5 gift card for the ed assistant. Not much but a small token of my appreciation because without her, I would not have gotten through that first day.
Note: The teacher, I later found out, had called in for a mental health day because she was at the end of her rope with school and with some family issues. She had not left a lesson plan, she had her plan book with her at home which she remedied by dropping it off the net day. She was gone for two weeks. I didn’t have to sub for her again because they had enough regular subs and special ed classes usually had special ed subs. Thank goodness for ed assistants!