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Do You Want to be a Substitute Teacher?

Updated on December 16, 2017
Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle worked for 20 years in elementary schools as a sub teacher, eventually presenting teacher training workshops in Orange County, CA.

The bell has rung. Take your seats.
The bell has rung. Take your seats. | Source

Are they made or born?

Where do substitute teachers come from?

No one knows.

We have plenty of firemen, veterinarians, ballerinas and astronauts-- because young children WANT to be these things.

Five year-olds never want to be substitute teachers when they grow up. Older children eventually branch out into more equivocal ambitions. Some even aspire to the questionable extremes of wanting to be politicians, lawyers, encyclopedia salesmen, executioners, even telephone solicitors...but never substitute teachers.

Hard to Pin Down

Sub-humans are not easily identified. I have been a sub teacher and am frequently told that I look like someone else. It's always some ordinary person.... never a super model, or a horror film character, so I assume that I'm one of the standard examples of personhood, a generic, nondescript, average human.

People generally accept me as being reasonable in my mannerisms, speech and personal characteristics until they find out that I have been a substitute teacher.... BY CHOICE.

This information is always regarded with uneasiness . People alternately think "she must me NUTS!" ...and then switch to a reverence earned by those who are faithfully unafraid to enter a lion's den.

In some ways I understand this. When I was in college I constantly confronted my education major friends with astonishment about their career choice.

"You have been in school for years," I would remind them, "Don't you KNOW what children DO to teachers?" They seemed not to remember.

Are you a sub teacher?

See results

Experience is the key.

Educational psychology classes, alone never could have prepared me to enter the classroom.

I needed to survive the tests of motherhood before I was ready to think of dealing with a large group of small people who do REAL things like throw up in their math books, climb rain spouts to the roof, put crayons in their nostrils, hit one other to demonstrate affection, make rude noises with a hand in their armpits (at least, I think that's how they did it), throw paper airplanes into the light fixtures, and have spontaneous nosebleeds.

These things usually don't ALL happen at the same time.

When it comes to teaching: Formal education may be beneficial. Natural talent, is helpful. Patience and a sense of humor is highly recommended. Experience is priceless.

A high school teacher told me that, to be a writer, you must produce a million words of garbage before expecting to write anything worthwhile.

(He didn't tell us that the the million words of garbage could then be sold to tabloid papers, TV soap operas, and talk shows-- which has apparently happened --but that's another story.) The point is, that subbing is similar in its empirical requirements.

To do it well takes practice and the experience of speaking a million phrases (-all with similar meanings) like, "Be seated. In your seats, please. The bell has rung.

It is time to be in your seats. You need permission before getting out of your seat.

Make sure you are in the right seat.

Sit! Stay!

I am waiting for a few more to be seated.

Sit down now. Only one student to a seat. Put your seat on the chair. You are to remain in your chair until my instructions come to a complete halt. Tipping your chair is ill-advised", and" That's what happens when you tip your chair!"

It's not always this bad . . . but sometimes . . .

I have been in only a few classes where interruptions were the rule... to the point where it was impossible for me to speak in phrases of more than four single syllable words at a time. When I subsequently walked into the well behaved and responsible class, it seemed strangely unnatural to speak in smooth flowing linear sentences.

"Our first math task.......i s page six, seven...... find the page. Do parts five and......... six now be-fore.......... your free time work .... Any questions?"

"I have a question, " one said tentatively, " Do you know that you talk kind of like a robot?"

Once you get used to being sub human, it's hard to put your teaching demeanor on hold and leave your teaching disposition at school. I find myself reminding adult friends to use the rest room before entering a theater, or telling guests to push their chairs in after dinner.

Raising my hand when involved in casual conversation gets some odd stares, and it's hard to look up something in the phone book without humming the alphabet song.

The hardest time to stop being the teacher is in the presence of "civilian" children outside the classroom. I once gave a full 20 minute math lesson to to an innocent girl scout who was only trying to sell me some cookies. I felt so guilty about it, I ended up buying 10 boxes.

It's all in how you present yourself.

Back in the classroom, you may have to endure a million moments of uncertainty and a few near misses with paper missiles, and eraser stubs (propelled from an unknown source by an unknown force), before you can stand before a mischief-minded class without flinching.

I once caught Hugh, the spit ball artist,-- in mid-spit-- and sent him outside the classroom door with a supply of scratch paper and a plastic plate to manufacture spit balls until he was summoned.

In five minutes I checked his progress, and asked him how much of the day he would like to waste doing this activity, simultaneously reminding him that he was accumulating evidence for the principal's inspection, and convincing him that it, and other samples found in the room could be directly linked to him by DNA testing of his saliva-- OR he could throw the whole ugly mess in the dumpster and be conditionally absolved and re-admitted to class after a writing an apology with promises that the behavior would not be repeated. Since he was almost spitless at this point, he accepted my terms.

Upon reinstatement, I solemnly acknowledged that he had learned a hard lesson and would now remind others not to make similar mistakes. I think the DNA ploy was a nice touch, though not necessarily strong enough to convince a jury. Technology is becoming more powerful.

Despite the usual shenanigans, (I know shenanigans is an outdated term, but it has such a folksy-friendly sound, and it's so much nicer than the more familiar word with the same beginning letter and similar meaning). I was saying,despite the usual ....stuff, classrooms are much like the real world except the people are smaller and more honest.There is more curiosity and less guile.

There is more wonder and less cynicism. There is often less civility and courtesy, but frequently more sincerity ....even love. All of these things I have witnessed from a sub-human perspective and it was mostly great fun.


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    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      3 years ago from California Gold Country

      Thank you for commenting on this, Sharilee. You are right about the lack of routine, it was always interesting, and that was one of the attractions. I think all teachers should try it. You really learn more than you do from student teaching. No life preservers, just sink or swim. Yes, there were a few awful days, but overall it it was challenging and enjoyable. You can survive anything for one day.

    • prairieprincess profile image

      Sharilee Swaity 

      3 years ago from Canada

      Rochelle, I see that you wrote this awhile ago, and I am sorry I missed it. So funny and so true! I subbed for a couple of years and it is definitely a unique profession. I learned so much about teaching from subbing -- I think subs are some of the most talented teachers because they have to be ready for anything and don't have the advantage of routines and familiarity to back them up.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Oh, I like that!!!! You're right the spare tire is always needed. Just when one thinks they can go without one - Murphy's Law.

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      5 years ago from California Gold Country

      I can identify with all you have said. You sound like a great sub. And, yes, at times, controlling the chaos is the best we can hope for. Thanks for the great comments. Sometimes we are treated like the old spare tire, but who would go on a journey without one?

    • LPowers profile image


      5 years ago from North Carolina

      Just read this. This is great! Humor in the midst of at times, chaos. I've been a sub for 22 years...Nuts? At times, absolutely. Have I had incredible experiences? Too many to print. Every now and then things get very uncomfortable. This past week I subbed in a class for 2 days in an elective class. This covers all middle school grades. One of the grades has had a reputation for being out of control - not good in 6th, worse in 7th but all of a sudden in 8th, no problems? It's a miracle!!! Well, not so much a miracle. These students were very familiar with me. I was one of the few subs who would take jobs for this particular group last year.

      Oh my goodness - it was an out of body experience...this really isn't happening is it? Out of control is putting it lightly. I asked them ( because I have a rapport with them) What's with you guys today? Needless to say there was no answer....Here's where it gets interesting. The teacher left 2 articles for all classes to read and answer the questions. It was said it would take the whole period...It took 30 minutes with 20 left to spare. These classes were not told they would be writing and therefore did not have writing utensils or paper...(terrific)..The following day - they have A day and B day, same schedule. There was another article that was on at least a 9th grade level. The little ones (6th) had no clue what half the words meant. So, in order to get through it I tweaked the lesson. We read out loud the text, I explained the things they didn't understand so they did understand and we verbally went over the questions - no paper. This worked great with 6th and 7th. Because 8th has a strong tendency to act up - they were to read and answer in pairs. Too long to go into but controlled chaos would sum it up. In the teachers comments they leave for subs, I was slaughtered. The first time since 1994 I was publicly humiliated. Upon seeing the comments, I went directly to the AP who knows me best and explained what happened. She said she'd be talking to the teacher and addressing the situation.

      The point I want to make is this: I love what I do, I've made an impact on quite a few students over the past 22 years, I wouldn't to change it for anything, they make me smile, laugh and at times just shake my head. Then there are the times where fellow human beings forget we're human beings. We're no less of a person than they are. To be treated like the bottom of the food chain is just completely wrong. After all, aren't we teaching the students we see every day to respect others, enjoy differences in each other and accept that not every day is going to be a good day? We are all of value. Every time I have an opportunity I instill this as much as I possibly can to students because there is too much "dislike" out there in the world. How can we teach being a respecter of all when there are those who are teaching our children, unbeknownst to the children, they are not a respecter.

      To teachers who read this: Be kind to those who fill in for you. Appreciate they have chosen to walk in the path of the unknown. There are very few subs out there who don't like what they do. They enjoy it. Support them, talk to them and enjoy them.

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      7 years ago from California Gold Country

      Your --?--, subs? I loved most of the time, and the challenging days always taught me how to do it better. Thanks for the feedback.

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      8 years ago from California Gold Country

      Thanks so much , Sherry Hewins. I guess the same things still happen. Mostly the misbehavior was innocent-- and once they found out that I didn't over-react, things smoothed out. Of course, there were rewarding moments, as well. Overall I enjoyed it and felt I was doing the job well.

    • moonlake profile image


      8 years ago from America

      My substitutes and she loves it. Enjoyed reading your hub. Voted up.

    • Sherry Hewins profile image

      Sherry Hewins 

      8 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      I have been informed as well as amused by your hub. I see that it's an oldie, but I believe this topic is evergreen. Voted up and shared.

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      10 years ago from California Gold Country

      Thanks you so much Sean-- this is one of my long-neglected early hubs. I really did enjoy sub- teaching, As evidence, I did it for almost 13 years. I have other subs... er hubs on the subject.

      It was more of a learning than a teaching experience, but overall I loved it very much. One benefit is that no one really expects too much of a sub teacher-- If you are committed (I mean dedicated, not assigned to an institution) you will far exceed expectations and be continually requested to the point that You have choices.

    • seanorjohn profile image


      10 years ago

      Rochelle, you have got me worried. I am about to sign up as a substitute teacher. What possessed me to click on this hub. May God have mercy....

    • Neil Ashworth profile image

      George Poe 

      10 years ago from United Kingdom

      Great info!

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      10 years ago from California Gold Country

      Thank you, Niel. Maybe you have been there too?

    • Neil Ashworth profile image

      George Poe 

      10 years ago from United Kingdom

      Great hub!!! Love it..

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      11 years ago from California Gold Country

      Thanks to all of you.

      Some of you have been there as the so-called "person in charge" and others as the perpetrators.

      Once I learned a few basics-- I really enjoyed the experience. Certainly, I learned more than I taught-- but that is part of the reward of teaching.

    • Shadesbreath profile image


      12 years ago from California

      Rochelle, you are such a blast to read. And seriously, that spitballs on the plate thing was genius. I can see that poor bastard out there trying to chew down spit balls to size (you probably gave him that brownish scratch paper with the chunks of tree bark still in it... like chewing saddle leather), all cotton mouth and jaw aching. And the DNA, yeah, genius.

      Thanks for yet another great read.

    • marisuewrites profile image


      12 years ago from USA

      and your hub was soooooo funny!! with a strong dose of realism.

    • marisuewrites profile image


      12 years ago from USA

      Actually I loved those little boogers....=)

    • marisuewrites profile image


      12 years ago from USA

      When I was teaching, I was always struck how forgiving kids are as well...they love the chance to forgive a teacher or grown up, it sure increase their own self esteem. Lol  ALWAYS at the teacher's expense.

      You know, I substituted and it was hell, but also, I taught my own class for 6 years.  Not much difference.  you just knew your torturers better.  =)

    • trish1048 profile image


      12 years ago

      Hi Rochelle,

      What a great hub! I have only one memory of a substitute teacher. It was my junior year and although I don't remember how long he was around, or even what particular class it was, he would allow the smokers to smoke in his classroom, with only one request, sit by the open window. Yikes!

      Of course, we thought he was the 'coolest' teacher we ever had LOL,,,

      Thanks for sharing,


    • monitor profile image


      12 years ago from The world.

      You've summed up the feelings that are associated with being a teacher quite well, Rochelle. It is difficult to separate your two personas but once you get the hang of it, your friends will probably feel a lot more relaxed. That's great that you sum up you teaching experience as being fun too. Thanks for the fun hub!

      Your fan.


    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 

      12 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Any class would be lucky to have you for a teacher, if only temporarily! You have such a wonderful outlook on life, and I suspect you're even funnier in person than you are in your hubs. Another great hub as always!

    • Pam Pounds profile image

      Pam Pounds 

      12 years ago from So Cal Girl in the Midwest!

      Very cute and funny, Rochelle! I love the disciplinary action for the spit-ball artist! I'll bet he never made another one - ever again!

    • DonnaCSmith profile image

      Donna Campbell Smith 

      12 years ago from Central North Carolina

      As always, I enjoyed your hub!

    • CJStone profile image

      Christopher James Stone 

      12 years ago from Whitstable, UK

      You are very funny Rochelle Frank and have a great take on life. I wouldn't have made spit balls if you were my teacher.


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