Substitute Teaching: A Tool For Practicing Humility
Substitute Teaching as a Back Up
Over the years, I have worked as a substitute teacher during times when I was between full time employment. I always keep my teaching certifications up to date because in all honesty, I love subbing! Unfortunately, there is not always work, there’s no paid time off, benefits or holiday pay and it is very hard to get a full day’s work in the summer programs. So I don’t do it “full-time.”
Pray, Then Teach
Subbing can be very challenging. In the morning, when I get to school, I pray in the empty classroom before the students arrive. I pray for them and I pray for me! Every day I have to prove myself worthy -- to administration, other teachers and of course, to the students.
Patience is a Virtue
As a substitute teacher, it is easy to become annoyed practically from the moment students start arriving in the classroom. The kids see me and start yelling to each other, "It's a sub! We've got a sub!" As in, "Fresh meat, guys! It’s gonna be a free-for-all today! Oh yeah!”
Fortunately, I've become pretty well-known and apparently well-liked in many of the schools where I worked. Classroom management is one of my specialties even when working with special education and emotional ed classes.
“A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult.” Proverbs 12:16
However, I recall a specific day when there were major schedule changes that had been sent out via the school intranet. The problem was that substitutes do not have access to the intranet, so I was unaware of the schedule changes.
As I questioned students I became a little flustered. I tried to understand why the 4th grade students were not going where I thought they should go. One of the kids, with a condescending attitude, began to say in a whining voice over and over, getting louder and louder, "She's just a sub, guys, she's just a sub. Don’t listen to her. She doesn't know anything. She doesn’t know anything!" The tone implied, "Ignore her. She's just another dumb sub." He was scowling at me clearly upset that I didn’t know what was happening.
I looked at him and saw his eyes fixed on my face, likely expecting to see me react in a negative or angry way. Instead, I gave him my most charming smile. His countenance lightened immediately and he smiled back. He repeated his statement, but this time in a completely different tone. "She's just a sub, guys. How's she supposed to know? Give her a break. Give her a break!" And just like that, with a momentary smile, the atmosphere changed. The other students calmed down and also gave me some encouragement.
Managing with a Gentle Heart
"A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." Proverbs 15:1 NIV
I thanked him for understanding and told the class how the scheduling was not the same as the copy of the schedule I received in my substitute teacher packet. He explained to me that the scheduling process had been changed. "How could you know?”, he asked. It's not your fault. It's a dumb rule anyway, it confuses everybody." For the rest of the day, he became my classroom helper. And at the end of the day, I showed my appreciation by giving him a book and leaving a note for the regular teacher letting her know how helpful he had been to me. (I always carried books that I purchased in new or like-new condition from thrift shops to give to students.)
I had a wonderful day but I was fully aware that it could have taken a nasty turn.I could have gotten annoyed with their initial tone and the conversation would have taken a completely different route.
Being a substitute teacher has helped to keep me humble. I often have to ask questions and depend on the students, if they are old enough, to help me navigate some of the intricacies of each school. I try never to forget that each day is an opportunity to, without ever mentioning Christianity or religion, be a humble ambassador of Christ wherever I go.
© 2020 Veronica Lewis