Do something you can’t do well: sub lesson #2

January 25, 2012 in lessons for moms,substitute teaching

Welcome to Lessons from Substitute Teaching: How a Job Helped Me Lose Some Selfishness. This is the second in a 4 part series. For the first part, click here. For the third part click here.

Substitute teaching is a bad job for perfectionists. A new sub job is a guaranteed mediocre performance with a high chance of chaos. An unknown classroom (maybe an unknown building), + unknown routines + unknown students+ unknown personalities rarely equals a great day of educating the future generation.

With little kids, it is a bit more hopeful. They like if you smile, even when you mess up. ¬†Older kids view substitute teachers as a challenge, a chance to see how much work they can avoid and how many jokes they can play. There are always good kids. And there are always testing kids. And there is always at least one kid, who is like a bomb, capable of exploding if you push the right button. Problem is, a sub never has the manual that tells you which button is which. Each explosive kid’s detonate button says something different and the writing on the buttons long ago wore off. For some, the button once read “Stand in line by Jimmy” for others it was marked, “Embarrass me” still for others it said, “Correct me more than twice using the wrong tone.”

When I started subbing in October, I hadn’t taught in a decade, not formally. I was nervous. I could barely sleep the night before. Could I still do this? I had been a STAHM for longer than I had done anything else. I wanted to be a GREAT substitute teacher who was fun but had good classroom management and helped the kids learn whatever was on the agenda. I prayed.

Memories of that first job are strong because of its awfulness. I couldn’t read the kids a story without them throwing things or hurting each other. And I could barely operate when I got home to my own girls. ¬†The emotional exhaustion was overwhelming. Maybe subbing was a bad fit for me. But I kept trying.

Part of what I struggled with in subbing was my own judgements. I considered myself to be a good teacher and I expected those good teacher skills to carry over into subbing. I thought classes were bad for subs who didn’t know what they were doing. Suddenly I was on the other side of judgements I had passed on others.

In December I took a multiple week sub job at a local high school. The first week I cried almost every day. I was awkward at using the document camera. I could not make the kids listen. The kids insulted me almost hourly. It didn’t matter how many kids I kicked out. Three times that week I gave up, sat down and didn’t teach. I let the kids know they were responsible for learning the stuff. Homework was on the board. I would help anyone who had questions. Giving up was truly the only option that day. The beauty of a long term sub job is that you can go back and try something else the next day.

I’ve learned that in subbing, you do your best, ask for God’s help and then roll with it. In subbing, many factors that determine how the day will go are not in my control. The quality of the classroom teacher, events at home, the parents or lack of, recent grade reports, bad weather, the number of kids in the classroom, the quality of discipline at the school, the day before, the lunch menu, what the previous sub did or said–all these effect what a stranger can accomplish in a classroom.

Another unexpected struggle in subbing was feeling disliked. Not by the students. By the teachers. Sometimes if a teacher called me to sub for her but did not call me the next time she needed a sub, I wondered if I had done something wrong. Did the kids dislike me? Did the teacher dislike the way I handled things? A teacher’s reasons for calling a certain sub can vary from disliking to the sub to letting the school secretary find the sub to seeing another sub in the building and asking him because he is the first sub she sees. God reminded me that nothing I do is to please men.

God asks us to work at things with all our heart, as though working directly for Him and not men (interpretation: boss, pay check, etc.). My success is not measured in the number of jobs I get, the behavior of the kids in the classroom, or number of call backs a teacher gives. If I make it through the day with my eyes still focused on loving the Lord and serving others, if I make it through the day without the fruit of the Spirit starting to rot (my patience fruit is always the first to rot), then it has been a good day. And when God created the world, His work was good.

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