Monday, April 15, 2013

Being a substitute



As a retired, or maybe I should say semi-retired teacher since I still dabble in education as a substitute, a position that takes me in many different direction.  Most of my career was in special education so I still get a few specific calls to cover special education classes.  Recently I’ve been asked to teach math, I’m terrible at math, girls PE, that was weird and no, I did not have to go into the locker room, while today I spent the day with first graders. 

I’ve taught little kids before but almost always in a small group setting.  This class was perhaps one of my most aggravating and overwhelming classes of my life.  32 little bodies all moving in different direction, never stopping, always wiggling and squirming and just, well just being annoying.  Each kid expected me to know their name and their life story from the very moment I stepped into the class and getting emotional if I didn’t know their birthday, their dogs name and the astrological sign….

The teacher left lessons plans but the rules of the class were mind bogglingly complex with each table having duties and each kid having a turn at this or that and every kid in the room took it upon themselves to tell me what I was doing wrong and how their teacher Mrs.  Perfect (not her real name) did it this way or that way.  Ten minutes into the room and I was wishing I had a handful of Valium to calm my nerves.  

Don’t get me wrong, I like little kids…one maybe two or three at a time but not 32 and not all the same age group.  It reminds me of the time I spent teaching inmates in jail, all these hands and eyes looking for any opportunity to pick up something, take advantage of something or steal something and then blame it on the guy next to them, each little kid reaching for a crayon or spilling his water bottle, dropping a paper on the ground and then crying over the incident only to blame the kid in the next seat or even across the room, nothing made any sense.

Perhaps it’s my advancing age but I would prefer to teach a group of criminals to ever stepping foot into a first grade classroom again.  At least the criminals wouldn’t all want to run up and try to hug me, pushing each other aside to be the first to get their grimy, little sticky hands all over my sort of new Dockers. And the emotions, oh my gosh, I had to tell the class that I didn’t know all the rules of the classroom and I wasn’t their regular teacher and no I was not going to place stars on the behavior chart, only to have two kids break out in tears, so I randomly put different colored stars by each kids name, I’m sure the regular teacher will wonder what in the heck went on in that class and hopefully never ask for me again.

The substitute, especially those that used to teach are completely taken advantage of, their years of experience relegated to glorified babysitting for about the same price as a good babysitter gets for one seventh of the problems and without the added benefits of an open fridge and unlimited TV access.  Even the word sub-stitute with the implication of something less than whole, below normal like subterranean or subjugate or subject, the word literally means temporary, standby or ancillary, which is what it is but still it’s demeaning. 

The pay scale for subs is abysmal.  Instead of paying less they should be paying a premium, at least for those who have credentials.  Substitutes have none of the benefits of a regular classroom teacher but are required to deal with all of the problems that surface when a teacher leaves.  Every behavior, every problem, every problematic situation seems to come alive as soon as the “substitute” enters the room and the good subs deal with them, keep them under control and handle those very difficulties without losing one life, with most limbs intact and almost every child accounted for at the end of the day.  I don’t think I lost any kids today?

The understanding that teachers are worth so much and are so important is completely blown out of proportion.  Substitutes work for 1/3 the money with 2/3 more problems and do so day in and day out.  I think we should applaud the efforts of these valiant but unsung heroes of the education community, me included of course and start to realize that those of us with current credentials should be paid more, especially when were forced into hazardous and dangerous situations, like teaching a group of first graders.