Substitute teaching always has the possibility of going one of two ways
- Good or
There is never really any middle ground. After 16 years of subbing, I count those days that just seem to happen (nothing memorable, nothing noteworthy, nothing attention getting) as good days. But the days I like the most (and that do not happen very often) is when a student says or does something funny, and they don’t realize it.
Last Thursday I was subbing a half day in the morning for a history teacher. Students shuffled into homeroom as I gave the teacher’s written instructions a cursery look and identified where pertinant supplies and such were located. A socially ackward young fellow came by and held his agenda a couple inches from my nose, so that I had to step back and blink repeatedly to uncross my eyes.
“They told me in the office I had to show this to all my teachers because I wasn’t here yesterday,” was his explanation for the discombobulating 5 seconds and the interruption in my personal space (They need to teach the difference between social and personal space prior to letting kids attend high school. Some kids just don’t get it.).
“Okay,” I said with a smile. “Thank you. I appreciate it and will note that you showed me on the note I leave for Ms. ______.” I figured I’d throw him a bone and complement him on his eager, albeit awkward, attempt to follow the rules.
“I had a stomach virus.” Obviously he either thought my interaction meant that I wanted to hear more or he was understanding the rules incorrectly – no, son you don’t have to tell me why you were absent. It didn’t stop there. He felt obliged to add, “My brother was absent the day before because he had a stomach virus, and then I got it yesterday. I probably got it from him. We live in a trailor one third the size of this room, so it’s easy to catch things.”
I wasn’t really sure what to say here. So I said, “Hmmmm…”, while I nodded my head and looked at him. I was just glad he stopped at explaining the probability of him contracting the virus from his brother and didn’t venture in to the details of the virus’s progression. I would have had to stop him there unless he wanted to have my instantaneous stomach virus all over his shoes.
In all honesty, I really just wanted him to go sit down so I could continue with my last second preparations (it comes with the job), but I didn’t want him to feel as if I didn’t care (although I didn’t), so trying to show empathy and close the conversation on a positive note, I said, “I’m glad you are feeling better. Stomach viruses are no fun.”
Maybe I said it in the wrong order: the positive note came first and the empathy closed, which I guess implies that I wanted to discuss things further. Maybe I should have empathized with him first and then closed with the positive note. It’s all so confusing. This is why I prefer writing to speaking. I can edit what I want to say on the paper; whereas, once it comes out of my mouth, there’s no revision. There was no telling him “oh, sorry, I meant to close with ‘I’m glad you are feeling better’ so the conversation is over now” when he explained that the virus made him so weak he couldn’t lift his game controller.
He actually said with the utmost seriousness “I was so weak I couldn’t lift my game controller.”
“Really?” I asked in the best psuedo-caring voice I could muster without laughing. He had confessed it in such total seriousness the smart-alek in me jumped to the surface so quickly I barely had time to restrain myself when I said, “Wow, I’m surprised you weren’t in the hospital.”
“I know,” again most seriously, “I love my video games.”
Oh my goodness! Being so weak that he couldn’t pick up and hold a 2 oz controller for an extended period of time is was worse than retching his guts up at one end while pouring them out the other end? That had to be the worst day ever!
Maybe that should be the new standard for being allowed to stay home.
“Mom, I just threw up all over my room and the open sewers in India smell better than what I did in the bathroom. May I stay home from school?”
“Can you pick up the video game controller?”
“Then no, honey, you are definitely not sick enough to stay home. Just make sure you have a clear path to the trash can and don’t toot until you are sitting on the pot.”
Sounds good to me.