I’m substitute teaching for the winter, which is kind of misleading title for the job. It’s more like “crowd control and public speaking in front of semi-hostile audience.” In my first days of subbing in the fall of 2009, I saw the wide eyes and beaming smiles of the schoolchildren when they looked at me and said, “YOU’RE our sub?! Awesome!” I congratulated myself on being such an innately approachable, warm-hearted, likeable person that children immediately adored me.
As soon as the first bell rang, the kids were throwing paper, chewing gum, talking loudly, and wandering the room at will. I quickly discovered the wondrous powers of a seating chart left by a benevolent teacher: If I, the Unknown Sub, can tell the students “Kevin, take your hat off, Amanda, go back to your regular seat, and Garrett, turn around” within the first two minutes of class, they’re mine. They shut up and spend the rest of the hour trying to figure out how I know everyone’s name. Round One: Miss Laubacher.
I always introduce myself as Miss Laubacher and tell the kids they can call me “Miss L” if they prefer. Only people under the age of seven are permitted to address me as Mrs. Teacher. With the primary grades, I am too busy trying to get their grubby hands off my necklace and/or earrings and repeating myself (“Pick up a yellow crayon….a yellow crayon…..no, that one’s green. Don’t eat it!”) to care what they call me, just so long as all noise ceases at 3:00.
I taught study hall at an Elko middle school last Thursday. I haven’t subbed in almost a year, so I was a little nervous. Before the first bell, I told myself “Don’t be scared. They’re more afraid of you than you are of them,” the same thing I tell myself when dealing with rattlesnakes or wild hogs. As it turns out, the kids were exceptionally quiet and well-behaved, so I basically got paid to read Newsweek articles online all day.
I enjoy looking at life from kids’ point of view, which varies widely with each grade level. It’s so refreshing to remember we are fundamentally all just people, going through the same phases of life during different time periods. Underneath the generational fashions, technology changes (cell phones are to today’s fourth graders what boom boxes were to ’80s high schoolers), and worn-out tales from the old days (“I walked twelve miles one way to school….”), we’re all just bodies of flesh and blood with thirsty souls and insecure egos. We’re not very different, but we’ll still never agree on which radio station to listen to.