The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Subbing

The latest school year has almost drawn to a close, meaning that I have survived the better part of a school year as a substitute teacher. All in all, not bad.

I started subbing back in October, working for the Madison City Schools district, but the turning point came in January, when I began working with the Huntsville City Schools. My experiences in Madison were all very good, but I was able to get work much more regularly and reliably once I started working in Huntsville. In fact, while I never officially stopped being a sub for Madison, I haven’t worked any more in that district since starting in Huntsville.

I went into subbing, particularly in Huntsville, very open-minded, not being particularly picky with what jobs I took, in order to learn more about what I did and didn’t like. I found there were some schools that I liked more than others, although what schools I actually worked at was heavily influenced by luck of the draw of what was available that day. There were some that, given a choice, I would probably choose to go elsewhere, but that I still ended up at when there was nothing else available. There was one in particular that I worked very hard to avoid, not necessarily because of the school per se, but because I got off on such a bad foot with a particular group of kids that it was easier to just not deal with them again.

Grade-wise, I had a bit more flexibility. What I learned pretty quickly was, I like the ends more than the middle. For me, there’s two different types of good days subbing. There are the uneventful days, where the students have their assignment and do it on their own, and the sub doesn’t have to do too terribly much. Then there are the days of teaching, when the teacher leaves actual lesson plans and you get to teach lessons to kids who actually learn. The former happens primarily in high schools. The latter happens primarily in elementary schools. It’s rare for either to happen in middle schools. (Though, as I mentioned, I did have a really good day in my old middle school, so there are exceptions.)

On the other hand, there are also bad days. Those are mostly the days that I get frustrated with the kids for robbing themselves, for refusing to do what they need to be doing. I get paid the same whether they learn or not; it frustrates me when they cheat themselves of what they should be getting. I still remember being in school, and I remember what it was like to have subs, so I have no illusion that the sub experience is going to be dramatically different just because I’m on the other side of the desk. I’m tolerant of the kids taking advantage of the usual teacher being gone and being a little less rigid when I’m there, and that doesn’t bother me. But when you don’t do your assignment? Your grades — and your learning — are what suffer for it, not me. And it makes me sad that they miss that.

It’s funny, because I try to be a good sub, and I want the kids to think I’m a good sub, but on my terms. There are days that they say I’m a good sub that it makes me paranoid — “OK, does that mean I’ve just been a pushover today?” — but then there are days, the really good days, that they say it and I receive it as a very high compliment. I’ve facilitated them doing what they need to do, but I’ve made it more enjoyable than it otherwise might have been.

And that, that’s a good day.