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.

Back To School


When I left my job six months ago, my plan was to go back to school.

To be honest, elementary school wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.

And, yet, nonetheless, that’s where I found myself a few weeks ago, marking my first day in first grade.

My plans of pursuing a master’s have been put on hold, the job search goes all too slowly, and money would be a nice thing to have. So for the second time in my life, I went back to grade school.

I’d worked once before as a substitute teacher, 16 years ago, ironically under not dissimilar circumstances — I’d hit a bump in the road in college and was reevaluating my future course, and, in the meantime, worked as a substitute in the Huntsville City Schools. I worked only sporadically then, but the highlight was, without question, going back to my high school alma mater, spending the day teaching, and, wonder of wonders, eating lunch in the teachers lounge. It was more than a little surreal, and far cooler to me than it probably objectively should have been.

And now I’m back. My first day back in the classroom was almost three weeks ago, an interesting day that I spent an hour or two filling in for different teachers who were in conferences, starting with first grade and moving on to fourth and sixth. I’ve been in high school one day, and in elementary the rest.

I’m enjoying it. A lot. For one thing, it feels like work, and after six months of not working, that’s a nice feeling. I worked four days in a row the second week, three of those in the same classroom, and at the end of those four days I was the most awesome kind of exhausted ever.

I’ve gotten to do some guilt-free reading during breaks and planning periods, and that’s been nice.

But the most incredible part of all are the occasions when I actually get to teach. A lot of it is babysitting while they take tests or read chapters or watch videos, but every once in a while, I’m teaching. In a fortunate twist, most of that has been language arts, and I can do that. We worked today on similes and metaphors, and, yeah, it was fun. A lot of fun.

Subbing pays quite poorly, so this is something I have to do while I have no job, and will have to give up when I get one again.

To be honest, I’ll be way more sad about the latter.

Another Sunday — Sojourn VIII


This entry is part of my series on my on-going “church journey” that I’ll be documenting as it takes place. You can read about other visits with the “journey” tag.

This past Sunday I was back at Sojourn Kids, teaching about Moses, which I’ll get to in just a moment. First, however, I wanted to link to this post that Heather wrote on her blog about visiting Sojourn while the boys and I were in the kids groups. She did a good job at capturing that my “journey” series is about; the experience of visiting a new church and exploring what makes it unique.

Sojourn While David the kids were in kids church Sunday I went to Sojourn’s “big church.” It was the first time in … ever? that I’ve gone to a new church, for the first time, all by myself. That, in itself, was liberating. The church is small — 40 or 50 people in worship, I guess. It meets in a brewery, which initially the smell got to me, but I kinda got over that after a while. I’ve had strong opinions in the past about holding church in a place that … Read More

via Calluna

Now — like I said, while she was there, the boys and I were at Sojourn Kids. The lesson was about Moses, covering from burning bush and the plagues. I prepared by reviewing the lesson materials and the scripture and some Moses mood music — The Plagues from Prince of Egypt, a “Let My People Go” bit that in my opinion rivals the Charlton Heston bit.

It’s hard for me to say for sure, but it felt like one of my better performances teaching at Sojourn Kids.  Aided by some great acoustics, I did a pretty decent retelling of the story.  The crossing of the Red Sea wasn’t part of the lesson, but the kids wanted to hear that part and the Passover, so I added those in. My Red Sea crossing, and the encore performance the kids asked for, got applause.  It felt like a week that I made good use of everything I brought to the table, from understanding of scripture to improv acting skills. I’m biased, but I feel like I’ve made some progress over the past year.

So that complicates the decision as to whether to continue or not. I’ve been doing this for a year, and so it’s sort of a logical time to move on. I started doing it on an open-ended basis, but didn’t think it would be permanent. To be honest, I really believed I would be so bad at it they would have asked me to stop by now, but was willing to “put my ‘yes’ on the table,” as Heather would say, and be used if called to serve. I plan to start going to church with Heather and the boys more, so that’s a factor; the boys like hearing me teach, so that’s a factor; but they also don’t like going back and forth, so that’s a counter-factor to the last factor. There are also some changes in Sojourn Kids leadership coming, and I think that may be the deciding factor; while I like the new people, I started as largely a personal favor to the outgoing leader, so that makes this a logical time to move on. I wouldn’t teach again until next month, so I may have a little time to decide, but I think that may have been my last lesson.

It was sort of an appropriate lesson for dealing with that; it’s easy to forget just how reluctant and resistant Moses was when God called him to service at the burning bush.  I’m nowhere near that set on quitting this, so if He wants me to keep going, I’m sure He’ll let me know.

Another Sunday — Sojourn VII


This entry is part of my series on my on-going “church journey” that I’ll be documenting as it takes place. You can read about other visits with the “journey” tag.

With Christmas approaching, the lesson I taught the kids this past Sunday at Sojourn was about joy, in honor of the third week of advent, and about Gabriel appearing to Mary, and about the fact that, with God, all things are possible.

Heather’s boys, Finn and Caden, came to hear me teach for the first time this past Sunday, and that was really cool. I think it may even make me better at doing this. When I started doing Sojourn Kids storytelling, I struggled with being able to read my audience. Doing improv or giving lectures, I’m pretty decent at reading the audience and reacting accordingly. When I started working with kids, it was like a blank wall; I couldn’t read them, so I couldn’t tailor what I was doing. The boys have given me a better feel for that, and having them there Sunday was a great metric. Renae, the Sojourn Kids leader, commented that she thought I’d really been doing better lately as well.

But, getting back to the actual lesson, there were some entertaining parts, like when one of the kids and one of the teachers acted out Gabriel’s appearance to Mary — angels run around in circles more than I would have expected — but, for me, the biggest take-away was in the part about how all things are possible with God.

To help engage the kids, I made signs saying “It’s Not Possible” and “It IS Possible” and then asked the kids if different things were possible or impossible. I started with general stuff, and ended up asking whether they thought it was possible or not for me to do certain things, picking some unlikely-sounding examples, like floating in mid-air. Almost all of the kids picked “not possible,” even though they were all things that I’ve actually done. I used it to make the point that we can do things that we may thing are impossible.

But it drove home just how blessed I am; how many things that seem, particularly when you try to explain them to little kids, like they should be impossible that I have had the opportunity to do. God’s let me do some awesome stuff, and it’s easy to overlook how blessed I am. And, in part, it gets back to what I wrote last week about children’s perspectives — they help us see how amazing things are that we take for granted.

How about you? What things that a pre-schooler would think are impossible have you had the chance to do?