"We've got a substitute."
Those words have brought grins to students' faces for a long, long, time.
I remember doing the happy dance back in school when I heard that. It's different when they start dancing when they see you.
Before I tell you about my experience as one let me tell you about a couple of things I've learned along the way.
You might think that elementary students, younger students, would be easier to deal with. You would be wrong. It was bedlam, chaos, nuts, any word you want to use, in their classrooms. Why? When they're young it's hard-er to reason with them, hard-er getting them to listen to you. They're busy hanging from the lights, they're at their desks upside down, they're making goofy faces, they're doing things they shouldn't be doing.
Just being a kid.
I prefer high school students but sometimes they come with some extras.
Blue hair, mohawks, and nose rings to name a few. Plus, all of a sudden the "Can I go to the bathroom?" and the "Can I get a drink of water?" requests go way up.
If your thoughts about a substitute revolve around mayhem and repeated attempts to bring quiet and order to the classroom, you would be right. Partially. There are good students who are polite, nice, and are fine with doing the work their teacher left behind. Great kids. And then there are the other students.
I've met both.
First of all when you complete the application process they advise you to go to the schools you would like to use you. To show your face and say a little, "Howdy," so they know who they're dealing with.
So I did.
Middle schools, elementary schools, high schools. I went to all the schools in my area expecting it to be a slow response.
Boy was I wrong. The phone has been ringing off the hook.
Early phone calls. Like really early. When you say hello into the phone that early you try to disguise your voice so you don't sound like what you were.
The day starts with me and the dog being the only people awake in the house.
Clothes laid out, coffee being made, and walking on your tiptoes are the order of the morning. I've learned to eat breakfast, for me oatmeal, and pack some fruit and a nut bar for later energy. I kiss my wife goodbye and then me and my backpack beat feet for the door.
Driving to school in the dark I was shocked at just how many people were up, driving or jogging or walking their dog. See, when you're rarely out at that time things like that surprise you.
First time up I didn't know what to expect but the kids were very nice. I gave them my speil about their teacher being out and me being their substitute. They actually applauded when I told them it was my first time.
Students are different nowadays then when I went to school, for one thing they all have cell phones. These work for them in a variety of ways. Cell phones help them with their work. They have calculators on them, a dictionary, plus the internet is a valuable source of information.
Also when they have a sub, students spend a lot of time watching videos and listening to music in class with headphones on. Here's something else I didn't know: when they ask to go to the bathroom, they take their phones with them and, not all of them but some of them, take extra time to text someone when they do.
When I mentioned that they were gone a long time to my twins one of them said to me, "When they use the bathroom have them leave their phones on your desk." Great advice. I wouldn't have thought of that one.
I read the roll taking care to say their names correctly.
The students like that and their smiles when you hit the nail on the head are small but huge. The reason I do this is all my life people have been saying McEwen incorrectly. McKeewan, McCowan, Ewing, McEring, every way you can think of, so I work extra hard to get their name right. I know what it feels like when someone gets your name wrong.
Now, the why I substitute.
I get to tell them things.
Like instead of knowing what you want to do right away it may help to decide what you don't want to do. That process of elimination can help a fuzzy picture get clearer.
I tell them things like when they decide what they want to do with their life there will be naysayers.
I tell them not to listen to them.
I tell them to listen to themselves. I tell them to listen to their heart.
I also tell them that education helps you.
I tell them that school and homework and tests may feel like a pain right now but they will pay off.
I tell them that education helps you to make more money, helps you to get a nicer house, helps you to get a nicer car.
If you don't want to take education seriously, I add, McDonald's is hiring.
I tell them what my Mom used to say, "Be sweet."
That and manners have helped me so much in life. If a boss has to choose between someone who's smart but hard to handle or someone who's smart and easy to get along with, I ask them what do you think will happen?
I tell them that "Yes m'am, no m'am, please and thank you," also go a long way. I'm sure it sounds corny to students but they say if you can reach one person...
Those are some of the things I tell my kids.
Those are some of the things I tell them as a substitute teacher.
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