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I arrive at the middle school at 7:30 a.m., a solid 45 minutes before first period. I need time to find the classroom, make sure it’s unlocked, read the teacher lesson plans, understand the lesson plans, and find any necessary materials. “I’m subbing for 6th grade Language Arts,” I tell the secretary.

She looks at the sub info on her desk. Her expression grows concerned. “No,” she says, “It’s art – can you handle that?”

“Of course,” I say. I have 2 years of experience teaching elementary and middle school, a year of student teaching, and a year of subbing at a high school. “I mean, if she has a lesson plan, I can follow it.”

“Hmmm. I think she uses lesson plans,” the secretary says unconvincingly.

I take my substitute teaching ID and find the classroom. The “lesson plan” is bare bones – in each class students are to use the period to work on finishing up their perspective drawings. The teacher desk is a mess, the floor littered with trash. I wander next door and introduce myself to the shop teacher, a friendly older gentleman who says I can send kids to him if there’s a problem. Even when I had my own private school classroom, I often sent kids to the teacher next door, so this comment doesn’t concern me.

First period comes along, a small group of mostly 8th grade boys. Though they mainly choose to goof off rather than work, this isn’t a concern for me. Some of them are working and some are doing other homework. No one is particularly causing a problem.

The 7th grade class is a different story. A large group of 35 or so, they are a mass of barely contained energy, spinning rulers around their pencils and throwing paper across the table at each other. One table catches my eye and I quickly identify the ringleader. His behavior is not the easygoing goofing off of the 8th grade class. I’ve visited several prisons and chatted with inmates, but never before seen the cold, casually hate-filled look that was in his eyes. I certainly wouldn’t expect it in a 13-year-old child. Great, I’ve entered the plot of Dangerous Minds. Here we go.

I remind this table a few times to get on task. I take away the rulers they won’t stop spinning in the air. I hear the ringleader speaking in a threatening way to another boy at his table. “Is there a problem?”

“No,” he says and smiles. “No problem here.”

As this table continues to show no pretense of doing the assignment despite my reminders, I take the ringleader aside and ask him to go work in the shop class next door. “Fuck that,” he says. “I’ll go to the SRC.” I hand him a referral slip, which he throws on the floor as he walks out.

The table continues not to work. This is surprising – I would expect some attempt at following instructions after this. A few minutes later I ask another boy to leave the class, this time escorting him to the shop class next door. Who do I find in the shop class? Ringleader. “You’re not supposed to be here,” I say.

“Bitch, you told me to come here.”

I do not respond, just walk to the shop teacher and ask him to give Ringleader a behavior referral and send him to SRC. When I get back to the classroom, a girl from The Table – a girl who also has cold, empty eyes – has wandered off to the other side of the room and is doing a cartwheel. At this point I no longer care about this class. I look at the clock. There are 20 minutes left and then I will have a lunch break. If I can make it through the day without quitting, I will have earned $150. I look back at the girl. The other students are looking at her and whispering, giggling. Clearly she wants to get sent out of the classroom, too, like her friends. Not going to happen. Now she’s doing something with scissors. That makes me nervous. Sharp scissors and disaffected, possibly gang-affiliated teenagers are not a good mix.

The 20 minutes pass with little incident. Students file out. I assess the area that Gang Girl had been in – damage left is a puddle of paint on the floor. It’s lunchtime now, and in a few hours I’ll be gone. I don’t have to come back to this school, or to any middle school ever if I don’t want to.

I’m sorry for these teachers, sure. But I’m more sorry for the kids.

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photo credit: Paint Job 2 via photopin (license)

Since getting my teaching license 4 1/2 years ago, I’ve successfully avoided becoming a substitute in the public schools. It sounds scary right, or is it just me?  I immediately took a job teaching at a private elementary school, even though it paid less than half what I might have made at a public school, just so that I wouldn’t have to run the risk of becoming a sub that first year. I taught there for two years, then took a part-time office job at a private high school, where I also subbed. At that time I also started subbing at a daycare on some of my days off.

Flash forward to now: I am a stay-at-home mom and our family needs some additional income. Subbing in the public schools pays quite a bit hourly and you only have to commit for a day at a time. So. Today I subbed in a public school for the first time ever. It was in an 8th grade classroom, which many people would probably consider the most difficult age group to work with. I so badly wanted to cancel the job and would’ve taken any reasonable excuse to do so. I thought of all the things I might rather do than sub in a middle school classroom: attend jury duty, go to the dentist, ride the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disneyland. But my husband sweetly made me lunch this morning, and my mom showed up ready to spend the day with little Marie, so off I went into the land of adolescent hormones.

Of course, I discovered that it wasn’t as bad as I had feared. True I did have to take one student out into the hall and threaten to send him to the prinicpal’s office, but when I taught at the private school I sent kids to the principal’s office regularly. I even had a teacher’s aide to assist with behavioral support during two of the class periods — and I thought, I’ve died and gone to sub heaven. Of course, there was a reason the teacher had an aide, as a lot of the students seemed to have behavioral issues like ADHD, autism and whatnot, but it wasn’t so bad. My students in the private school had these issues too, I just had smaller classes.

When I was getting my teaching license, I did a student teaching stint in an 8th grade classroom and I never really got over being intimidated by the kids. I think it’s because I had just come from student teaching in an elementary school classroom. Today the kids seemed so young to me, because my most recent job was working at a high school. Also – I’m five years older and I’m a mom now. So I have a whole new perspective.

I’d love to say more but my husband is waiting patiently to hang out with me….so, until next time!

I almost got a teaching job last week. The principal loved my resume so much that he drove a half an hour to my apartment to personally drop off the application, since he didn’t have it in a Word document. I spent several hours filling out the application and my husband got off work early so I could go to the interview.

I was excited about the possibility of getting the job. It would greatly increase our income (duh). We might have been able to buy a house, or at least afford a nicer rental. It would have been fulfilling, and intellectually stimulating.

But. School starts in a couple weeks. Not much time to find quality childcare for my little darling. And the cost of childcare for a child under the age of 2? Between $800 -$1500 per month. I don’t know exactly what they would have paid me, probably about $3000/month during the school year. I also would have left the house around 7 a.m. each day and gotten home around 5 p.m., and then had to work more at home on evenings and weekends. That wouldn’t leave me much time or energy left for Baby Bear.

Thinking about all this made me feel anxious. I remembered that I used to get stress headaches every day when I was a teacher. And that was before I had my own child, back when I got excellent sleep every night. Still I showed up to the interview and gave it my best shot. I figured I’d leave this decision up to God.

After the interview, I started to sense that it was not God’s plan for me to take the job. I kept thinking about my daughter and how I would never be able to regain this time with her. Apparently the hiring team felt the same way, because they offered the position to another candidate. The principal called me the next morning and said it was a tough decision and that they really liked me. I felt a deep sense of relief — my summer vacation continues!

But our cash flow situation remains a problem. I’m trying to find work writing, editing and tutoring. So God, would you help us out? As Anne Lamott would say, I’m awaiting your operating instructions. Thanks in advance.