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Confessions of a Substitute

Posted on: May 10, 2010

Some time ago, I decided to become a substitute teacher for Fairfax County Public Schools. If you’re a parent and have the credentials, try it at least once. You’ll develop an appreciation for teachers. And you’ll probably remove your child from school. But before you do, here are a few things you need to know.

Rule number One: Always get the school right. The substitute system has an automatic calling machine that wakes you up pre-dawn to tell you about your assignment. Then a breathy voice, usually female, whispers the name of the school in a way that guarantees that you will get it wrong. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that nearly all the school names rhyme. On my first assignment, I distinctly heard the lady say Fairview Elementary, which is located on Ox Road, way past Fairfax. I got there only to be told I was supposed to be at Belleview Elementary in Alexandria, not Fairview Elementary. Another time, I ended up at Woodlawn Elementary near Fort Belvoir instead of Westlawn Elementary in Falls Church.

Rule number two: Once you get to the right school, you have to figure out what to do in a kindergarten class if you have taught high school all your life. In most schools, kindergarten is strictly for playing. A typical lesson plan goes like this: 8:35, Students arrive. 9:00, Morning routine. That involves singing the good-morning song, doing alphabet stretches, reciting the months of the year while doing the macarena, chanting the weather while doing a jig, etc., and this goes on until ten a.m.
What the teachers fail to tell you is that the children have important jobs: there is the kid who leads the morning routine, then line leaders, door holders, board erasers, paper distributors, lunch helpers, clean up inspectors, etc., and woe unto you if you call on someone else to cut in on their act. They let you know it and give you a look that says you are a meathead.

Circle time, usually at ten, is my favorite; it involves reading them a story. For all you frustrated actors out there, kindergarten is a great place to practice your art. You get to read with dramatic flair, doing flips if necessary, to the admiration of your happy audience. (Fifth graders don’t appreciate that. In one class, a boy piped up, “You’re crazy!” Seventh graders interrupt to ask where your accent comes from, and where you bought that uncool dress.)

Rule number three: Beware of instructional assistants, hereto forth known as IAs. Many of them are jewels; you can’t function without them. They steer you through the day and tell you things that the teacher left out in her lengthy instructions to you. At nap times, they make sure that the kids who never sleep are placed near your desk so that those kids can wiggle up to your feet and poke you with their legs. (These are the kids whose idea of “don’t touch anyone” is to extend their forefinger to the hair follicle on someone’s cheek while protesting that they are not touching.)

Stay tuned.

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4 Responses to "Confessions of a Substitute"

hahahaha! very funny. Especially the part with the kids with the “touching issue”.

Thanks, Tolu, glad you enjoyed it 🙂

My career as a substitute teacher lasted exactly one day. It’s a thankless job. Knowing you, I’m guessing you’re good at it and won’t give up as easily as I did.

One day? That’s so funny! Can’t say I blame you. I wish I weren’t such a sucker for punishment.

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