Tuesday, June 19, 2018

A Mile In Her Shoes: My Year As A Substitute Teacher, Part 1

Photo by Luke Stackpoole
Imagine that you had to look for and begin a new job every day.  You have to figure out how to get there, decide which of the five parking lots to park in, and get buzzed in at the entrance.  You have to find your supervisor, the employee lunch room, and the room where you will work that day.  This will be harder than it seems, because each place of employment will be set up like a maze, and you will rarely receive a map.  You'll meet your new colleagues and those you will supervise minutes before you actually have to do the work.  If you get there early, you'll have a little time to look over the plans for the day before jumping in head-on.

You'll also be doing a different job each day.  A different age, grade, and subject.  You may even have to teach something you know absolutely nothing about, like high school French, or something you've completely brain-dumped, like middle school Algebra.

You'll also have to deal with rude, obnoxious, and whiny people all day long who think they have a free day because you took the job.  You may even find out you are working that day an hour beforehand, so you'll need to race to get that shower in.

Sound like a fun job?  I hear they are hiring...

A day in the life of a substitute teacher includes all of these things, although not quite so extreme every day.  I had a half-day of training and was thrown into the world of teaching.  Granted, I have worked with middle and high school students for years, but not in the school setting.  I never expected that 1st and 2nd graders would bring me to the end of my rope!  Substitute teaching was quite the experience, so I wanted to share a bit about it on my blog.  For the first part, I'll focus more on the negatives, but in Part 2, I'll point out that there really were a lot of positives.  I enjoyed spending time with students in a classroom setting and learning so much about the educational system.

Besides the things mentioned above, one source of frustration is the low pay for subs, especially if you aren't a certified teacher.  I added it up, and if I had worked every day of the week, and had summers off, as most teachers do, I would only have made $18,900.  Fortunately, I only worked part-time, so I wasn't expecting to make tons of money, but compared to the "regular" teachers, who make $40,000-$100,000, according to our county's website, this is a lot less.  I do understand this to some degree, as teachers do all of the planning, grading and guiding that we aren't able to do.  They work extremely hard, and deserve every penny they make!

Another very challenging aspect of substitute teaching is the lack of training and the challenge of discipline in the classroom.  As I mentioned, I only had a half-day of training.  I realize that those studying to be a teacher would already have a four-year degree in this and basically know what they were doing.  Youth Ministry, my previous profession, takes a different approach to students than teaching in a school setting does.  Teaching involves a lot of discipline, rule-setting and enforcing, and basically not having the students like you, because you need to "lay down the law."  Youth Ministry revolves around the concept of building relationships in which we share the love of Christ.  Not that there is no discipline involved, but we approach things from a different angle.  This was hard for me.  I wanted to go in and talk to the students about their day-to-day struggles, but I was too busy getting them to sit down and be quiet.  I can tell that the regular teachers do have a good relationship with the students and can help them when needed, but it takes time.

It's challenging to discipline when you come in and don't know the particular system in that classroom and you don't know any of the student's names.  Usually, when I asked a student what their name was, it was to clip them down for bad behavior.  Behaviors really ran the gamut this year.  I wouldn't say that every class was terrible.  In fact, many classes were very good.  But, I did get to know who the "trouble-makers" would be when they walked in and got really excited that there was a sub that day.  My most challenging experience was the time that I asked a girl who was talking, singing, dancing around and texting on top of her desk to sit down and quietly do her Math. She replied, "I'm going to get you fired."  Respect is often lacking, and it's hard to build it in a short amount of time.

Seven and a half hours feels like a very long day.  I had to get special shoes, which I call my "teacher shoes,"  because they aren't very attractive, but they keep my feet from hurting quite so much after walking around on them all day.  The foot pain is real!  You also can't go to the bathroom very often, so you have to be very careful not to drink too much water and to time your bathroom breaks well.  Another job hazard with subbing in different buildings with different students each day is the gigantic amount of germs you are exposed to!  I am a bit of a germophobe anyway, so I used many bottles of hand sanitizer this year.  I got sick more than I usually do.  In February, I came down with bad laryngitis.  It was pretty hard to discipline that week!  The worst was the day that I got pink eye.  The day before, I had picked up the germs at a middle school somehow.  By Friday night, my eye was incredibly red and itching.  My doctor's office was closed, so I had to spend more money than I made that day to go to the Urgent Care center.  (I am still bitter about that one!)

One thing that made me sad about substituting was that I really didn't get to teach that much.  By teach, I mean standing in front of the class, explaining a concept in a way that will teach and inspire the class to learn.  I realize education has changed, but the times I was able to do this, I really enjoyed it.  Elementary classrooms do allow subs to teach, but middle and high schools often ask students to do their computer work the whole time or to fill out a packet.  Some of those days were very boring and felt like babysitting.

I have learned to respect teachers so much this year.  They are stressed and exhausted from a challenging job.  They have many pressures put on them and they have to deal with many challenges.  I would encourage you to take every chance you get to encourage teachers and appreciate all that they do for their students.  Coming up next time, I'll share some of the positives about teaching and some of the good things that happened during my time on the job.

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