Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A different middle school.

As you know, my blog friends, I've been honing my substitute teaching skills in a rather tough, inner-city school, a school where I must play the Bad Cop often and with feeling. It's like prison: Shank the first kid you see or you become their bitch. Never waver for a microsecond. Do not pause during class. Set up your authority at the door, before they even enter the classroom.

On Tuesday, I substituted for an inclusion SPED (special ed) teacher at the middle school in a nice, affluent, disturbingly lily-white, suburb. This meant that--for the morning, before I got pulled in to cover, what else, 7th grade ELA--I went to other teachers' classrooms and helped out a few kids while the classroom teacher taught.

In the first class, I found another substitute covering for the classroom teacher. The soft-spoken woman has been subbing for nine years while she figures out what else to do. Got news for you, honey--after nine years, you're no longer deciding. You're a lifetime substitute teacher.

She did not assert any control over the classroom as the students entered. A deep feeling of anxiety swelled in my gut. She repeatedly paused for minutes at a time to decipher the neatly typed lesson plans. Once she actually sat back down at the desk to reread the plans. I was panicking internally, scanning the room for signs of revolution. They are going to crucify her, I thought. Her head will be on a stick within two minutes! I began plotting my own escape or ascension to control for when the pandemonium broke out. My course of action would depend on my proximity to the door when the riot began.

But then? Nothing. The kids took their seats and they waited to hear the instructions. They listened and then began working. And then! And then--the teacher simply plopped down at the big desk for an hour while the kids silently worked on their vocabulary, and I occasionally circled the classroom, offering help.

Later that day, when the 7th grade ELA teacher was thanking me profusely for taking over her classes so she could pick up her feverish toddlers, she kept assuring me that I didn't have to teach the lesson. I was like, why am I here if not to teach? She seemed gratefully surprised.

I realized two very important things that day:
1. I've been cutting my teeth at a very tough place to be a substitute, and
2. Apparently other substitutes don't actually teach.


Bill Stankus said...

I think it's an odd thing - the stereotyping of what a substitute teacher is and isn't. It seems to be almost mythical - and has been for many decades.

I wonder why?

kStyle said...

What mythical stereotype do you have in mind? I never thought of it that way, and nothing is coming to me, but I'm in the trenches and too close to see the archetype, no doubt.

Bill Stankus said...

Just recall ANY movie or TV show which features a substitute. None are very positive characterizations. The myth is a cliche. But why?

kStyle said...

I think I've got it! The kids, by high school, are stressed and tired and want to buck The System. The System is too big to buck. The lone, vulnerable substitute seems like a minion of the evil System, and is easy to buck as a sort of effigy for The System.

Also: really, some subs are kind of losers. Not the ones I've met lately, but some of those I met when I first subbed years ago.