A Different Kind Of Teacher

Since my retirement from teaching, I’ve had an opportunity to work in a different career, that being a substitute teacher. I’m sure many might think that this isn’t much of a change, but I can attest to the fact that substitute teaching offers its own set of challenges, some hugely different from those of a regular teacher.

When I first began my teaching career, I substitute taught for two years. During that time I was in 50-plus different classrooms, at all levels of education, in numerous districts throughout Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties. One day I might’ve been in a second-grade classroom, the next in a junior high history class, then a sixth-grade classroom, and maybe then a high school graphic arts class. If variety is the spice of life, then I, and my fellow substitutes, “tasted” much flavor in our educational experiences.

After that two years of initiation into education, I was fortunate to be offered a long-term substitute position, which got my foot in the door, and led to my being offered a fourth-grade position in Jamestown. It was then I was able to establish my own expectations for behavior and academics and focus on what subject areas I would be teaching my own students, but the experience of going to different rooms almost daily, allowed me to learn a lot about many subjects (some I knew little about before going into those settings). I wanted to do a good job. I wanted to make a good impression. I wanted a full-time teaching position somewhere, so I knew that if I did well subbing, I might get offered an interview for a permanent job, if one became available. Therefore, I tried to learn as much as I could in various subject areas so I could do my assignment justice, also giving me the best chance to do a good job.

The other aspect of substitute teaching was/is discipline and classroom management. That may be/may have been tougher than knowing mechanical drawing, driver ed. or chemistry, as many students, not all, seemed/seem to think that if there was/is a substitute teacher, it was/is very much like a day off from school only having to be in the classroom. Some thought/think it was/is a chance to talk when they wanted/want, chewed/chew gum because they had/have a substitute teacher, some constantly asked/ask to leave the room even though they left the room in their last class, and many thought/think they could/can talk extremely disrespectfully to substitute teachers, or they talked/talk when the substitute teacher was/is talking, mainly just because they wanted/want to talk.

Before my regular teaching career, it was a little easier to expect that kids would do as they were told by any teacher, as there seemed to be more discipline in homes, and more support from the home regarding education. Now, I’m not saying that that support and/or discipline isn’t taught in any homes today. I’ve been in many classrooms since I retired and there are many very well-behaved, respectful students, and I know that comes from home influence, but sadly there are many more who aren’t than when I started nearly 40 years ago. The percentage of disruptive students seems to have considerably increased in my second stint at this “career,” but, again, the number still does not exceed the number of responsible kids. The problem was/is that the disruptive, disrespectful students take time away from the students who take their education seriously no matter if they have the regular teacher or the substitute teacher. A lot of the positive attitude is attributed to lessons kids learned at home, about the importance of education, of working in school, of behaving in school, and having respect for all adults and authority. Unfortunately, the behavior of some who lack that respect takes away from those who want to cooperate and learn, and that’s unfair.

We seem to spend much time and energy in this country attending to small percentages who want “under God” removed from the Pledge of Allegiance, or the Ten Commandments taken off of walls of public buildings, or want the removal of “Christmas” and “Easter” from discussions, or want something for nothing in schools and their lives, or profess the “kids will be kids” philosophy regarding children’s poor behavior. Maybe it’s time to go back to the majority rules policy, and appease those who want “under God” in the pledge, or want the Ten Commandments on the walls of public buildings, or want to say the words Christmas and Easter, and want to work for what they receive, and want their children to earn their grades and follow the rules of the school and community, and not ask for breaks when expectations, rules, or laws are violated, and maybe kids who cooperate in school should deservedly receive more attention than those who misbehave.

I’ve spent many years saluting my fellow teachers. I now salute my fellow substitute teachers, especially young people, fresh out of college, looking for those few and far between full-time teaching positions. They seem to have to take more of the disrespect and “mouthy-ness” in many of today’s classrooms, just to prove themselves. Those of us “grizzled” veterans of a phase one experience in substituting, then many years in a regular classroom, and now having returned to the world of subbing, are ready for the some who think they can, and will, try to control the classroom when a substitute is assigned on a particular day.

So, here’s to the substitute teacher, which I’m now proud to be, and try to be the best one I can be. It’s an important job, and I hope students and parents will understand that importance and respect those who do that job.