Tales from the Files of a Substitute

by River Marie

First in a series of Tall Tales - from River Marie's Viewport

     The experience of substitute teaching began when I had the lofty visions of working for the local school board in the capacity of, perhaps, office assistant, or something of that nature. However, in the process of researching options, I found I could apply for substitute teacher, that position being much easier to grasp, then when I found a school I preferred, let that school's principal know that I was interested in office work at that learned establishment. I never actually envisioned myself as a teacher, substitute or real, of a bunch of kids. Apparently if one has a high school diploma and does not have a picture on file with the police, one is deemed acceptable to play the role of substitute teacher.

     Well, mulling it over, I wrote on the application that I would only accept substituting at the elementary or middle schools. That way, at least I figured, I would probably be at least as tall as most of the students, at least in elementary school. Turned out, that wasn't necessarily the case, even in elementary school.

      My first few forays into the classroom was as an assistant to the "little" ones. This wasn't much trouble I decided. Maybe there was a little spelling...four or five-letter words, a puzzle or two. Besides, the teacher was in the room also. I was just an assistant. If things got out of hand, she could handle it.

      A little later however, I found myself all alone in the classroom. And an onslaught of middle school kids were about to invade the room. What was even more frightening though, was to walk into the room knowing the kids were already there. At first, I felt like just peeking around the corner, maybe putting one foot in, then the other foot, stretching my neck as far as it would go.

      It took several days of substituting to find the location of the teacher's lounges, which were my favorite rooms. For the longest time it seemed, each time I was asked to substitute, it was for a different teacher.

      One of my earliest memories was subbing for the "Teen Living" class. I had no idea about how to live like a teen. I mean that was some time ago. But usually the "real" teacher leaves an assignment for the substitute. What stands out about that particular day in that particular class was a female student, probably about 13, maybe 14, carrying a baby carrier with a baby doll into class. The young girl had a stressed look on her face and was mumbling something about my watching the "baby" while she did something or other.

      At first, I didn't know what to make of this strange experience. Was there something wrong with this girl? Was she delusional? Should I notify someone?

      Well, after asking the pseudo new mom a few questions, I began to get the picture. It was a computerized doll that Teen Living students were assigned to carry around and nurture as part of a program to better acquaint the teen with the realities of child care. At a pre-programmed time, the "baby" would cry, and I'm not sure what else it could do that mimicked a live baby, and the student had to do certain things to pacify the doll. I'm not sure what those things were. I was just concerned with getting through the day.

      Then there was the health class which I can only describe as truly chaotic. With no, or very few, instructions that day telling me what to do with these seventh-graders, one of them told me the teacher let the class dance. Of course, I thought, what do these kids take me for. Did they think I was so rattled and so much time had passed since I was a student in a classroom, that I would fall for that? Come to find out, they were talking about exercising to a CD the teacher had. This was apparently a fairly common ritual in that class, It also explained why there was a ragged-looking rug in the middle of the classroom.

      Maybe these experiences were middle-schoolers way of "breaking-in" or seasoning a new substitute teacher. Some days I actually felt as if I'd been cooked and seasoned.

      It was not unusual, especially during the last half-hour or so of class with seventh or eighth-graders, for me to become invisible and my voice having no more effect than a feather blowing in the wind. On one occasion after the small assignment the teacher left the class was finished, two of these female adolescents were working on their make-up and primping. I glared at the two, but not being noticed of course, I pointed out that this wasn't a cosmetology class. One of the girls replied, not skipping a beat, Well, it could be. At that point, I just gave up, counting the minutes until the bell rang.

      Another thing I don't understand about these middle-school kids, is the fascination with paper. They have an obsession with paper, whether it is paper wads, which is nothing new to the school scene, or strange little square folded paper that somehow spins like a child's toy top.

      Occasionally, the paper wads have become a ridiculous problems with white snowball-appearing flying object whizzing across the room. My efforts to stop them has had little effect. The used wads from one class would actually almost fill up a regular-sized trash can. On one occasion, I was so weary of this problem, that when a female student asked if the class could just go ahead and have a paper wad fight since they had finished their work, a sighed in resignation. Apparantly losing my grip on classroom decorum, and maybe blacking-out for a second, I told her it was okay with me, but only for two or three minutes. Paper flew everywhere. I cringed at my decision. But when time was up, they stopped, picked up the balls of paper, and the students went on their way to the next class.

      I pondered the situation and thought it likely that word of the classroom fiasco would somehow spread and I would be blacklisted from the substitute teacher roster. However, fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, that didn't happen.

River Marie is an experienced journalist, writer and proofreader.
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