Writing is like being able to put life into a snow globe. It takes the things that are too big and scary and reduces them into a form that I can put away when I want and look at from a distance. It also takes all that’s good in life and captures it into something I can take out when I want and look at close up and keep forever. It makes the bad things into something I can hold…and the good things into something I can hold onto. Both help so much that I need that little souvenir of life.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sub Notes: My First Sub Job, Part I

I wasn’t just the sub. I was, by the time you reasoned it all out, the sub for the sub’s sub. Third person in line not counting the teacher, about whom no one spoke. I was the non-singing Sister Maria, come to save inner city Friedrichs and Liesls and Brigittas, those little imps.

And there were a lot of people not speaking about why the teacher was gone—representatives from the school board, administrators. They had gathered to meet me, a fresh-from-college girl who was, when you figure that I started school a year early and some of my students were a few years behind, shockingly close to some of her high school students’ ages. It would be…a challenge, they warned me. There hadn’t been much…discipline. I didn’t like the way they exchanged glances or the care with which they chose their words.

The teachers were less shy. “Nutjob,” they mumbled while gulping chewy cafeteria tacos in the teachers’ lounge. The worst was her study hall, they said, because it was right outside the lounge and no one wanted to have to hear the kids during their only down time. No discipline at all, they told me. I would have to come down hard on them.

By that time I already knew there’d been something terribly wrong with the teacher. The teacher next door filled me in on a little. Youngish woman. Had a small child. Had a husband, but the husband left. This is where everyone clammed up and began using euphemisms. She struggled. Had a hard time. Her work suffered.

There were no grades in the grade book. Nothing written in the plan book. When I asked her students in each class what they’d been working on, they said they’d been having discussions. About what? I’d asked. This was English class, so there were only a few choices. A book? A story? A poem?

Like if you’re in a relationship and the person leaves you, they said.

Each hour I heard the same scenario. Each hour I got a chill when they said it.

My last class of the day was theater. And what had they been working on? I asked. Improvisation, they said. Snort. Still, I was a tiny bit heartened. It sounded like an actual theater class assignment. What kind of improvisation? I asked.

Like you pretend you’re in a relationship, they said. And the other person leaves you.

(Next week, Part II)

“You missed it. Yesterday was ‘Talk Like a Trucker’ day.” ~A.P. English student talking to a friend who’d been absent


  1. Teach them martial arts. Michelle Pfiefer did and it worked for her (chortle)

  2. A dreadful position to find yourself in. I'd have cried.

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie’s Guide to Adventurous Travel

  3. We had a teacher who encouraged her kids to 'play' Jerry Springer. Nut job is right.

  4. Good grief, Tammy. I was 31 when I first taught, and it was scary (and I was teaching 6th graders). I cannot imagine someone as young as you were, teaching high schoolers.

    I cannot wait until the next part of the story unfolds...

  5. Can't begin to count how many Peyton Place scenarios play out in the school setting. Sounds like you're going to give us another chapter.

    Critter Alley

  6. I too am looking forward to Part II. You are so funny. I know this wasn't funny to you at the time, but you have a knack for bringing out the humor in it.

  7. My son had a sub (male) this week in his honors chemistry class. He let them dip their fingers into the melted candle wax, take pictures, and text them to their teacher. I think they would have learned more if nobody showed up. They could have worked on an assignment written on the board. But that's just me. And explains why I did not take a single day off last year.

  8. Tom, wish I'd known martial arts. Might have helped.

    Kay, I did. Just not in front of them.

    Linda, sorry to hear she apparently had a relative.

    Thanks, Sioux, Donna, Pat and Lynn. Um...there will be quite a few parts. Hope that's not a bad thing.

    Val, sounds like your district needs new subs!!

  9. Oh, man. Bummer. That must've been rough. And the poor kids!


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