Tag Archives: substitute teacher

Some days require flowers

I spent a lot of time last week pondering the situation at Columbia–the teachers are tired, the kids are traumatized. Thursday would be open house, a longer than usual day for the staff. What could I do to make it any better? The idea of flowers popped into my head. I had done that a few years ago, taking flowers to the teachers in their classroom, and the kids enjoyed them as much as the adults. Perhaps I could do that again. Fortunately, Whole Foods had enough of their little bouquets that come in their own vase.

While picking up the flowers, I had to step aside for a moment and let another customer choose ahead of me. She saw me getting flowers and thought it was a good idea for her plans, but then found out I was taking seven of the bouquets. I told her to choose hers first and I would take the others. We talked about what I was doing with so many bouquets, and she was pleased to know that there were people looking out for teachers.  Or at least trying to. “Teachers need more appreciation.”

The teachers were quite pleased with the flowers, as were some of the students. A few of the kids thanked me during lunch time for bringing THEM flowers. Knowing these teachers, they are sharing the pleasure of getting flowers with these little ones. One of the teachers nearly cried when I handed the flowers to her. “No one has ever done this before.”

The long-term sub who seemed to be at the end of her rope the day before couldn’t quite figure out why I was delivering a bunch of flowers. She was almost hesitant to accept them. I could she was wondering what this was all about.

“I want you to know how much you are appreciated for doing this hard work.”

She was able to stammer a “thank you,” and I disappeared out the door. I just hope it made her feel a bit better about where she is working. Some days require flowers.

No substitute #2

The Ladies Who Lunch turned into The Ladies on a Mission this week. We met for lunch on Tuesday, and these gals loaded my car with an abundance of mission-building supplies. I asked our server to take a picture of the group to share with the 4th graders to show them who had gotten them all of the supplies.


From the left: Cathy, Jeri, Gladys, Diane, Delaine, Janet


One of the Ladies is missing from this photo, but she has promised to be there when they  come out to Columbia to view the finished missions and meet the students.

I delivered everything on Wednesday and handed out almost all of the supplies that day. After the final bell rain, and the 4th graders headed out, a group of 6th graders showed up at the door and wanted to know what I was doing. These kids knew me from the craft days I’ve done for the after school program. They wanted to know if I would be coming on Friday for crafts. No, I did that last week, and now I’m giving all my attention to the mission projects.

They talked about their missions that they made two years ago. They wanted to know why I hadn’t brought supplies to them. I wasn’t even around two years ago. This was the first time I had even thought of the need for such a project. Then they asked if I could be their substitute. NO.

That is one position I now know I cannot do. I have never wanted to be a substitute teacher even though I have been asked by numerous teachers (including the four first grade teachers whose classes I read to each week) to do them a favor and sub for them. After the last three days of intense work with kids, only four hours each day, I know for sure that I do not have the energy or wherewithal to do that work for an entire day. Sure the extra money would be nice. The district is paying $135 a day for a credentialed sub. But not that nice. It’s too much responsibility and too much hard work. I like being a volunteer.

No substitute #1

Twice now I have sat with boys who have gotten into trouble with the substitute teacher for their class. In both cases, the boy would tell me he didn’t like the substitute and the substitute was mean to him. In both cases, the substitute was male.

Although these boys aren’t first graders with whom I have been assigned to work, they are in the office, they are in trouble, and someone needs to take care of them until the overworked vice principal and/or principal can get to them. I don’t know the exact protocol for disciplining these troublemakers so I just sit and talk to them. It’s what I do best.

I ask questions: why are you here? what did the substitute say? what did you say? what should you have said? how can you fix this? In both cases the boys knew they were wrong and they had to apologize. I was able to return the second grader of a few weeks ago to the teacher and have him do that and go back to class. Yesterday, I had to leave the fourth grader in the office, working on a paper he pulled from his backpack, so that I could get to the lunch line with the first graders. But first I knocked on the principal’s door and explained the child’s situation. She was up to her eyebrows in reports that had to be completed but said she would talk with the fourth grader and that working on his paper was a good plan.

These boys, as is the case with most of the children in the school, are from fatherless homes. They have not bonded with men very well. Sometimes it’s their mom’s boyfriend who has mistreated them. Sometimes they just have no male role model and don’t know how to react to a stranger in their life except to be defensive. The boys have become comfortable with their classroom teacher. It’s a safe place to be each day. There is routine. Then a substitute teacher arrives. Someone they don’t know. Their equilibrium, which is shaky to begin with, really gets thrown off. They act out, testing the waters, to see just how far they can go. Just what they can get away with.

Do I have an answer to this problem? Not really. I explained to both of these boys, weeks apart, that they have to listen to and obey the substitute even though the routine and rules might be different from what they know. I explained how we have to work with people we may not like or agree with, but who have authority over us. The boys nod their head, they agree that they were wrong and that they need to apologize. But, and this is the big question, will they do differently when the next substitute teacher shows up?

A reply to a blog post

My blogging buddy, Ricochet, only allows Google peeps to leave comments on her blog. I don’t have a Google account so I am leaving my comment to her last post here:

When I first got my teaching credential, at mid-year, the only jobs available where substitute teacher. I signed on and was picked up for a long term position at a middle school. The computer teacher had walked away after Christmas break, never to be heard from again. I was really on my own and so decided to teach as I had when doing my student teaching at a high school in the same district.
The principal, back in the late 80s, believed that middle school students should be coddled. As you can guess, I am not the coddling type. She wanted them to have fun and play games. Again, not my style. We clashed.
By the end of the school year, I could see they would be hiring a permanent teacher and it wouldn’t be me. Nor was the middle school principal, who was highly esteemed in the district, going to give me any recommendations.
I was hired, though, for another long term sub position, this time at the inner city high school where my methodology was highly appreciated. I stayed there for 21 years. 
So, you too will come out ahead when it’s all over, and you will be appreciated for what you do. Stay tough.

I figure some of my regular readers will find it interesting, too. Teaching is a harrowing job, at best, but downright impossible in certain conditions.