Category Archives: Tales From The Schoolroom

Catching My Stride

At my very first Elko County subbing job last week, I was the only teacher at Adobe Middle School wearing jeans, Olathes and a wild rag.  The next Monday, I wore a wool skirt and low-heeled shoes.  All the other teachers at Northside Elementary were wearing jeans.

I wore jeans and a sweater to Spring Creek Middle School.   One of the students exclaimed, “I have the same sweater!”  Curse you, JCPenney juniors’ section.

Today, I wore jeans, a long sleeve t-shirt, and a waist-length courdoroy jacket to teach Spring Creek High School math.  Evidently, there was a big basketball game and wrestling tournament, so every single staff member was wearing a piece of Spring Creek Spartans clothing.  My jacket smelled like smoke from the woodstove (I guess I need to learn to operate the damper more efficiently?) and I couldn’t decide if I felt like a hippie or an Indian.

It’s impossible to catch your stride in subbing, because there is no pattern.  I rose at 5:15 this morning to drive to work with plenty of time to prepare for my first class.  My first class turned out to be the teacher’s prep period, so no children actually arrived in the classroom until 9:10.  But there I sat, bright-eyed, caffienated and ready to educate.

My classes were Algebra One and Trigonometry.  I introduced myself, took roll, and the kids worked on review sheets.  I checked my email approximately every 37 seconds and read online Dave Barry columns, thereby establishing my reputation as the New Sub Who Smells Like Smoke And Laughs To Herself All Class. 

Every once in a while I turned away from the computer screen and scanned the classroom, giving the impression that I was closely monitoring the students’ diligence to studying.  In fact, I was relieving a wicked crick in my neck from turning to 2 o’clock to look at the computer screen. 

Subbing has got to be one of the most random jobs.  If there was a reliable set of rules, I would share them with the masses.  As it is, I feel like a a professional swimmer who was handed a tennis racket, given a pat on the back, and told “Make us proud.”  I just kinda flail around in front of the crowd, hoping someone claps once in a while.

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My New Intro

I taught high school math today, which I was NOT looking forward to.  The kids usually mistake me for a new student.  One senior even insisted he was older than me, which he wasn’t.

So, in the name of desperately needing money, I ate my breakfast in the dark of morning, warmed up my pickup and mentally prepared myself for a day of instructing people taller than me.

The school building was constructed from cinderblocks, similar to those found in military barracks and American prisons.  There was – no joke – a gate made of cyclone fencing in the teachers’ lounge.  The classroom felt friendlier; I could lock the door from the inside.

The biggest problem with subbing is that the kids collectively think they have the edge over me, since I don’t know their names, bell schedule, or regular routine.  I started introducing myself with “Good morning.  I’m your sub today.  My name is Miss Laubacher.  I realize I’m brand-new to this school and I don’t know anyone’s names or the regular schedule, but I still expect the same level of respect you would show your regular teacher or any other subs.  That means no talking while I’m talking, no cussing, no throwing things.  If you do these things, I’ll just kick you out of class.  Fair enough?”

The students nodded agreement and got out their notebooks.  I felt like a genius.

I learned that I don’t need to be Super In Control Sub Who Knows Everything.  I don’t even know where the bathroom is!  Acknowledging my ignorance, an underlying truth that everyone in the room already knows, seems to diffuse any potential power struggles.  Sometimes I can’t help them like their real teacher would; I have never taken calculus or organic chemistry.  I still insist they show me the universal respect of keeping their mouths shut while I stand at the front of the room trying to decipher lesson plans written by someone I’ve never met.

The kids were quiet and worked studiously today.  The classroom had a little portable heater under her desk, so my feet were toasty.  Even the cinderblocks seemed softer by the final bell.  Funny how using my brain to overcome my fears makes the day that much brighter.

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Children And Chickens

I taught second grade today, which is like being pecked to death by a chicken.  Small children in doses of about four at a time is fun; twenty-three against one is an unfair fight.

I am just not used to dealing with people who cannot tie their own shoes or find the gloves their mothers stashed in their coat pockets.  You’d think hanging out with the Chico State AGR frat boys would have prepared me for this experience,  but it didn’t.  I lose my patience after the 13th “Do NOT talk while I’m talking.”

Some days I feel like an automated voice-command robot wearing a plaid skirt and black leggings.  My vocabulary is reduced to “Don’t run in the hallway,” “Show me how you stand in a nice, straight line,” “Don’t play on the ice,” and “Do you need help zipping your coat?”

The kids don’t deliberately misbehave; they simply have the attention span of microwave popcorn.  They are at the door, they are at their desk, they are getting a drink of water, they are asking to go to the bathroom, they are hugging me, they are shoving a marker up their nose…they are everywhere!  All twenty-three of them! 

To add to the merry chaos, their regular teacher left me a note that included these instructions:
“Calendar Math: Start them, as the students the numbers you write them.”  Didn’t make a lick of sense to me, either.
“Pick up students.”  From where?  And then, once I located the little beggars, they all put their coats on and I didn’t recognize a single one.  Wandering the playground, shading my eyes from the sun while looking for the group of students entrusted into my care for the day does not cultivate the competent persona I was going for.
“As you work with the red and purple reading groups, the rest of the class will do centers.”  I never did figure out what ‘centers’ were,    but that didn’t stop me from commanding half the class to do them.  The kids would come up and ask, “What center are we on?” 

“Pick your favorite one.” 

I endured 12-degree morning recess duty wearing a knee-length wool skirt and leggings.  That was a poorly thought-out clothing choice.  For afternoon recess, I told the kids to put away their books, put on their jackets, and sit quietly at their desks.  After a few quiet but warm minutes, a little voice piped up “Are we in trouble?”  Glancing at the clock, I realized I had to take them outside and freeze at some point.  Sigh.

Tomorrow I have sixth grade math.  Middle school is a beautiful thing; changing classes enables children to experience new teaching styles, practice high school-type schedules, and, most importantly, teachers catch a break.  If a kid is lipping off the entire hour, just make it to the next bell and he’ll be gone. 

Happy learning!

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Mrs. Teacher

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…, 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.

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