Reflecting on a Day of Substitute Teaching

I was working on another topic that was supposed to be posted yesterday, but a storm system rolled in and what started as a sinus headache turned into a migraine. The draft is unfinished, and because substitute teaching at an area high school today left me with little time to finish the post, I decided to share my day with you instead.

I usually come away from a day of subbing with some sort of lesson learned. My favorite lesson learned to date is that going to the bathroom is not a constitutional right, but that was learned in the late ’90s.  I’m in need of a new favorite lesson.  A typical day of subbing offers up one or two lessons that later find their way into conversations, but today offered a few more than expected.  Here is what I learned (I slapped this on the page without properly editing it, so disregard any glaring grammatical errors that spell/grammar check didn’t catch) :

1. Southern mommas are endued with superhuman clout.

After introducing myself to one class, I read word for word the directions the teacher had left for the class.  After groaning about the amount of work given, they got into groups to “work together.” Every sub knows this is code for “chatting while doing as little as possible.”  I then added, “Ms. ___________ also says that she will be collecting and grading the assignment during your next class, so make sure you have it finished by then.”  A girl quipped, “And what will happen if I don’t have it done?”  I responded, “You will probably have points removed from your grade.”  The girl proclaimed, “Well.  I’ll just have my momma talk to her.”  I laughed inside.  Really?  Your momma?  So I showed her the written directions and stated, “Make sure you tell your momma this, too,” pointing out the specific sentence that read “Tell them that I will be collecting and grading the assignment next class period.”

A little later in the same class, a female student was called to the office only to return and announce that her iPhone, which was confiscated earlier in the week because she was caught texting in school, was stolen from the front office.  She, understandably, was furious.  She said with great certainty that her momma was going to make the school pay for it because her momma was going to tell them what for and who with and kick the principal and slap the secretary.  That got the six girls who were “working together” on the other side of the room outraged, and they started saying if it was them, they’d tell their momma and she’d go to the school board and she’d tell them what for and who with, and there is no way their mommas would leave without being reimbursed for the cost of a replacement.  When the level-headed girl sitting in the middle of the room tried to tell the angry mob that the school and the school board could not be held liable for an item the girl wasn’t supposed to have on school property in the first place, all seven girls responded as one booming voice, “My momma will sue!”

Apparently there’s no stopping a Southern momma.

2. It’s better late than never

During second period after introductions and delivery of the day’s assignment, I was sitting at the teacher’s desk at the back of the room reading When You are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris when a self-deprecating chatty young lady sitting at the desk to my left enthusiastically told the young man in the desk to my right that his teeth looked wonderful and asked if he had his braces taken off recently.  Looking a little confused, he flatly responded, “No. I haven’t had braces recently.”  This made me laugh.  I wasn’t laughing at her as much as the absurdity of the moment, and the fact that I tend to get myself into the same situations, thinking someone has changed something that hasn’t changed at all, like asking someone if they dyed their hair red just to find out that they were born with red hair, or commenting on lovely wall color they chose for their livingroom when it has been the color of winter wheat the entire length of your friendship.

Toward the end of the class, another young lady, sitting in the front row to my left, turned around and told the same young man sitting in the back to my right that he had “pretty teeth” and they were like “super model teeth,” which made the entire class shift in their seat to take a gander and this young man’s mouth.  He shyly bid them thanks and smiled only after some of the other girls begged him to smile for them.  One of the girls asked if he was born with such wonderfully beautiful teeth, and he confessed that he wore braces in Middle School.  I gasped at the revelation.  Self-deprecating chatty girl was right after all! I envisioned her feeling somewhat redeemed of her earlier humiliation, and if she wasn’t, I was feeling the redemption for her.  I felt a small twinge of kinship with her for a split second.  She at least noticed he had braces at one time and had had them removed.  Her noticing was just 3 or 4 years late, unlike the other girl that didn’t even notice that he had worn braces in middle school to begin with.  Yay for noticing, self-deprecating chatty girl.  It’s better late than never.

3. It’s all relative.

I usually mention that I am originally from Nebraska when introducing myself to the students.  Many of them don’t care, some of them find it fascinating that someone would choose to move to west Tennessee (“Why would anyone want to move here?” they inevitably ask as if this part of Tennessee is God-forsaken), but many like to point out the weirdness of the state.  I try to explain that differences are only weird because their experiences have been limited, but they don’t care.  It’s still weird.

One student, a virtual walking cliché of a young man (boyish face, blonde hair that hung in his eyes, and skinny), asked me what part of Nebraska I was from, and after I had told him, he, of course, had no idea where my hometown was located.  As most of the conversations of this sort goes, I had to name a few of the cities in Nebraska (because there are only a few) before he snapped his fingers, pointed at me and said, “Yes, Lincoln, that’s it.”  Apparently, he had a friend that had moved from Lincoln, NE, and who intimated to him that “most everyone is Lutheran up there.”

“Yes, in comparison to here (western Tennessee), there are a lot of Lutherans,” I said. I was going to add how the oddity of this is relative to his singular experience of Western Tennesse,and that someone moving to Tennessee may note that there is an over abundance of Baptists here, but the conversation was over.  The snack cart arrived and like an ADHD squirrel, the young man had dropped the conversation and was on to the next shiny attraction.

On another note, maybe Lutherans are made from a fundamentally hardier stock than Baptists and are willing and able to endure and even thrive in harsh weather conditions.  What does enduring harsh weather conditions have to do with one’s religion?  I don’t know.  Just a stab in the dark.

4. No matter what, someone has the one-up.

Whenever I sub, I always come home and have stories of the excitement (or chaos) that has happened.  The kids used to drool to hear stories of naughty kids getting sent to the principal after verbally abusing me.  Today there was none of that.  After telling my kids the above stories, my oldest said, “You should have been at ___________ High.  The drug dogs came and searched the school.  E’s class was searched, and he was patted down.  When the dogs searched the parking lot, they smelled something on D’s car, and the police could search it.  L’s car was parked right next to D’s, so her car was searched, too.”

“Were they freaking out?”

“Of course, they were freaking out.  They don’t use, but they bring people to school who very well could. Those kids could have left something in D’s car.”

I’m always at the wrong school.

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Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Reflecting on a Day of Substitute Teaching

  1. I laughed at your “Bad decisions make good stories.” So true. Enjoyed your post. I teach fourth grade and I could write a book. People just don’t understand how funny and how irritating it is at the same time.

  2. I wish that I had started writing down my substituting experiences earlier. Some of them are very interesting (like having the constitution right to pee). Thanks for stopping by, and I’m glad you liked it. =)

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