My First Day as a Substitute Teacher
In September 2012 I experienced my very first day as a substitute teacher. I underwent a career change that year due to a personal choice and decided that substitute teaching would fit my need for career flexibility. But I was also very nervous about this new endeavor.
I do clearly remember the utter joy my peers had in elementary school when they walked into the classroom in the morning and encountered a substitute teacher. The words, "Oh cool, a sub" still echo in my ears as I remember the glee on the boy's faces and the terror the substitute teacher endured during the day. Something about a substitute teacher not knowing the exact rules of order that the regular teacher had carefully laid down for the class enabled the students, especially males, to think this was a green light to confuse and torture the substitute teacher throughout the school day.
We very rarely had the same substitute twice. If we did, the substitute was resigned to a terrible day if she tried to enforce the rules she wanted to, and just gave us many study halls throughout the day. And with those memories running around in my head, I logged onto the Kelly Educational Services website to see if there were any substitute teaching positions available for the next day. Kelly Educational Services is an agency that hires substitute teachers and sends them out to various schools that use their services during the school year.
My First Assignment
There before me was a position for a substitute teacher for a Physical Education teacher for the next day at an elementary school. At first, I balked about substituting for a Physical Education teacher. When I was in school, my least two favorite subjects were Math and Physical Education ("gym" is what we called it then). But it was already the third week of school, and I hadn't found a chance yet to sub. And I needed to start making an income. Since the job was only for 4 hours that day, I decided to take it, to get my feet wet in the substitute teaching experience. I held my breath, clicked the accept button, and felt elation and terror run through my veins at the very same time!
After I had accepted the position, I realized I had no idea what to wear. I work out sometimes with my husband and wear shorts and a t-shirt. But somehow that didn't seem appropriate for this position. We were told by the agency that we can not wear jeans to teaching assignments. Since the job did not start till 11:00 a.m. on a Tuesday, I decided that in the morning I would go to Walmart and hope they had something I could buy inexpensively to wear.
That night, as I went to bed, I had trouble sleeping. I am not all that athletic, and I was concerned that the kids would run circles around me all day and I would flub my first day on the job. The whole night I had trouble sleeping. I had terrible dreams that evil men were after me and my three children. I woke up feeling terrified, and even more nervous about my upcoming assignment. I headed off to Walmart and fortunately found a very nice pair of running pants for $8.97! What a deal, and it was especially good because I had no idea if I would ever sub for a gym teacher again, so I may only use them this one time.
The Day Started Off on a Bad Note...
Kelly Educational Services wants all substitutes at the school where they are subbing 15 minutes early. I left in plenty of time and would be there way before my 11:00 a.m. start time. Unfortunately, and maybe it was because I had slept so poorly the night before, I took the wrong road to the school. I was sure it was on one particular route, and it turned out when I arrived at where I thought it was, I was at the middle school, not the elementary school and it was on the wrong side of town!
By the time I realized it and arrived at the correct school, I was exactly on time, but late as far as Kelly Educational Services is concerned. The school secretary told me not to worry about it as the teacher didn't have a class until noon anyway. So, she asked if I would mind helping out at the playground during recess. I didn't mind that at all and headed out to the playground. Once outside, I found a teacher who immediately helped me start "learning the ropes" of the school. Included in the ropes was the information that she and I were outside with the third grade, and this year's third grade was the most challenging group in the whole school. Apparently the year they were born had been a banner year for babies, and especially boy babies in that town. The third grade consisted of 75% of boys who were very active and only 25% of girls. They all looked pretty cute and innocent to me.
Manning Up and Doing My Assignment
When recess was over it was time for me to man-up and become a P.E. teacher for the day. I was headed back into the office, and on the way, passed the gym. Since this was to be my new domain for the day, I opened the door and peeked in. It looked harmless enough. As I was coming out the door, a small student with an aide approached me. This happened to be someone I knew as an instructional assistant from my last job at a high school. We greeted each other warmly, and she asked if I would be teaching him in his special ed gym class. I told her I didn't think I was to have anyone until noon, so we went to the office, and the secretary seemed quite confused when told this Special Ed gym class was scheduled from 11:30 - 11:50. I said it was fine with me to go to the gym and provide him with a gym class so off we went.
Arriving at the gym, I was greeted by two other aides with young children as well. They all had gym class scheduled for 11:30 - 11:50. Upon being let into the gym teacher's office, I found a whole list of lesson plans and a schedule for the day, which included a Special Ed gym class for these three from 11:00 - 11:20!!! Okay, now I was quite confused but decided just to wing it. That was my very first lesson in being a substitute teacher: quite often substitute teachers are put into situations where they just have to "wing it!" By the time our session of rolling balls through hula hoops and bouncing balls up and down was over, I had exactly ten minutes to go to the bathroom and get a drink of water.
For the next three hours, I found myself running around directing activities with a class of kindergartners, a class of first graders, a class of fifth graders, and even a class of the famous "challenging" third graders. I was not allowed to use a whistle, as per the teacher's instructions, but instead had to yell, "FREEZE" to get the children's attention. The children were to drop down to a sitting position and be silent so they could hear the next bit of instructions.
This worked well, except with my challenging third-grade boys, and some students even in the first-grade class, who became overly exuberant with yarn balls that were to be "tossed" at their fellow students below the shoulders. As you can imagine, third-grade boys when they are excited don't always remember to throw below the shoulders, or even toss the yarn balls for that matter. I frequently had to yell, "FREEZE" just to calm things down to lessen the number of teary-eyed little girls, and mild-mannered boys who came up to me with tears in their eyes after getting hit in the eye with a yarn ball, or hurt by a yarn ball that was thrown hard by someone 12 inches away!
Again I decided to just "wing it," and stop the madness! I changed the activity and had them pair up with a partner and toss yarn balls to their partners first underhanded, and then overhanded for 10 minutes each. If you think that this only exercised their arms and the rest of their bodies did not get any exercise, you needn't worry. Students of this age are not very exact with their aim, so frequently had to chase yarn balls that went over their heads or too far to the left or the right.
Thankfully, my last class of the day was the fifth graders who were to play, 'Capture The Flag." Since I have heard of the game, but never actually played it, I was grateful that they all knew how to play it very well. And very happy when two young ladies who were especially enthusiastic and well versed in the game were quite happy to lay out the rules for me and made sure I knew whenever someone broke a rule. My major activity during that last period was to yell, ' Freeze" when one of the teams captured the flag, but the rest of the students were having so much fun running around that they were oblivious to the fact that one of the teams had won a round. At the end of the class, I made sure to tell them in front of their teacher that they were the best class I had had all day and to thank them for their help with the game.
Wrapping up the Day and My Experience
When those students left, I finally had a chance to sit down and get a drink of water. I wrote notes for the teacher about how the day had gone. And I realized that yelling, "FREEZE" all day had done a number on my vocal cords and given me a sore throat.
As I walked to the office to sign out for the day, a few students were on their way to their buses and smiled and waved at me. That felt nice to be recognized positively. After signing out for the day, I went upstairs to say hello to a college friend of mine who I had heard taught at this same school. Her room happened to be right across from the teacher of that fifth-grade class, and when she heard me greeting my old college friend, the teacher came out to announce that I "was a great P.E. teacher." That still makes me laugh as I write this because that is the very last thing I ever expected to be!
There will be many more days for me this year as a substitute teacher, but this first day will always be my most memorable. Not only did it help me to break into a career I was anxious about, but it also gave me a chance to have a fun experience with kids in an area I never felt competent in. It was truly a growing experience for me that I will never forget!
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I was a substitute teacher for 2 school years, in the 2012/2013 and 2013/2014 school years. While I enjoyed my time and liked having regular money coming in as paychecks, I found substitute teaching to be very stressful as I have issues with anxiety. I made some wonderful friends at the schools I taught at, and especially loved teaching in a school that was just pre-school and kindergarten, 50% of the children being Special Needs. And it turns out I did really well as a one on one aid with autistic children, and was often requested when staff needed vacation time. Who knew?! I certainly didn't.
I didn't like going into fresh situations day after day, never knowing if the teacher was going to leave lesson plans for me or if I would have to wing it, and if I would have trouble with certain students, etc. I will cherish my substitute teaching years but don't think I will be doing it in the future.
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© 2012 Karen Hellier