My first day as a substitute teacher

It had been eight years since I left teaching high school for the greener pastures of marriage and a slightly nomadic, freelance life. Eight years is a long time.

When I had the substitute teacher interview, the principal said, “We don’t use a lot of subs.” So, I had sort of written it off as an option for supplementing my income. Chalked it up to interview experience and making a personal connection.

A few days later, I got a call to substitute for sixth grade. Honestly, I didn’t know if sixth grade would be middle school or elementary. Twenty-three years ago in Alabama, it was elementary. Turns out, it is middle school somewhere in between now.

I was so ready for the adventure I forgot to ask what subject it would be. I won’t make that mistake again.

When I looked at the schedule for Mrs. B’s class, it was the worst it could possibly be: Math. Four classes of math. What in the world would I do with math?

The directions read:

  • Check yesterday’s homework.
  • Give the test.
  • Teach the lesson.

Simple enough. Teach the lesson. But,a math lesson? With numbers? Can’t we just write a story about math?

I’m not a math teacher.

What else was there to do, but gird my loins and open the book to Lesson 96? Changing mixed numbers (that’s fractions, by the way) to percents. Huh. So, that’s still a thing.

238 ¾ equals what percent? Quick! Anyone?

Yea, I’m not going to pretend. I have no idea.

I may be an experienced teacher, but I’ve never tried to explain a math concept to anyone. I have a compartment for this. It’s called Twenty-three Years Ago and Lots of Life Since Then. (Sorry Mrs. Douglas!)

Those poor sixth graders.

The first class was mixed with girls and boys. Sixth graders give new meaning to the word “squirrely.” Is that a word?

I introduced myself as Mrs. F and explained that my last name isn’t pronounced Frankenstein.

My list of instructions for the test grew longer with each class period, “When taking the test, you may not talk to your neighbor, you may not poke your neighbor, you may not fall on the floor in a fit of giggles, you may not throw a pencil across the room, you may not keep papers on your desk, you may not help your neighbor with her test…”

The second class was all girls. Suddenly, everyone needed to go to the bathroom and wanted a different seat and needed to keep her purse on her desk and talk to people across the room and have a snack or a drink of water and complain about the temperature. And argue. About every. little. thing.

The third class was all boys. In the middle of class, they left for lunch and recess and then returned to class.

Me: “Did you just come from P.E.?”
Boy: “No, I came from recess.”
Apparently, those are two different things.

What’s that smell? Oh, yea. It’s sixth grade boys who just came back from recess. And, the heat’s on.

I learned how to torture a substitute teacher: Have a fire drill. (In case you don’t know, this involves corralling the whole class into one single-file, quiet line and walking them to the appointed place and then calling roll. Even after some of the students left early for a track meet. How many was that again? Probably should have written that down…) Then, have an earthquake drill. (Make sure the substitute teacher is new to living in an area that is prone to earthquakes.) Then, have a lock down drill. (Make sure it’s impossible to tell whether the door is locked from the inside.)

At one point, a student held up a tooth that fell out of her mouth in the middle of class. Wait. Should that be happening? When a tooth falls out in high school, there’s a problem.

I think the most requests for going to the bathroom were condensed into the last 10 minutes of the day (which also happened to follow the fire, earthquake and lockdown drills) to which I said, “No.” Over and over again.

I heard, “Mrs. B. lets us go” and “If I get a bladder infection, it’s going to be your fault” from students who thought they were the first to ever think of this tactic. Sigh.

But probably my favorite moment was this one:

Boy: “Mrs. F, can I use the answer key on my quiz?”
Me: “Sure!”
Boy: “Really?”
Me: “No.”
Another Boy: “Mrs. F, when you told the other boy he could use the answer key and then you said no, you were lying.”

In high school, we call that sarcasm.

6 Replies to “My first day as a substitute teacher”

  1. Wow! Enjoyed reading…
    That was surely a fraction worth sweating for. And lesson 96??? No wonder they are good at excuses.
    What was it like when we went we school. Seems like some primitive age 🙂
    Have fun teaching… Hope you get to teach something that you like next time.

  2. Thanks for making me smile…there must be a special reward in heaven for middle school teachers! Caleb is just starting kindergarten and I’m already scared about middle school….praise the Lord he is sovereign even over that!

  3. Hilarious. I’m sure you didn’t think so at the time, but it does make a good story!! 🙂 oh, middle school. Definitely not my thing – give me kindergarteners any day!!!!

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