I fell into substitute teaching by accident, as some may say. I walked into my 1st grade daughter’s school in Georgia and saw the principal and vice-principal on the phone, frantically trying to find a sub. As I signed in, the principal looked over at me and said jokingly, “I know you’re trying to run a business, but would you like to be a sub?”
I responded with an shrug and a, “That’s interesting.” When I came back in to sign out, I saw it was calmer in the front office. I asked what it would take to be a sub.
I was in training in a matter of weeks. The district required a teaching certification, and I didn’t have one. However, I had a principal who trusted me and needed subs…. so she got me in.
From the first day I substitute taught, I felt it. I was in love with the classroom, the kids, the role I played. I was still trying to get a business off the ground, but I began to take more and more assignments. I was completely in love.
I have moved through states and schools through the years. I even transitioned into the terrifying world of middle school. I found one constant.
I love teaching.
Where are all the substitute teachers at? I know you can feel what I’m about to say.
With a sub, many kids do their best not to listen to you. They push your patience, lie about “the way it’s always done”, and lose all sense of the class rules when you sub. They see a sub and say, “We are in charge today!”
Standing at the door, you get “YAY! We have a sub.” or “Ugh, where is Ms./Mr. so and so?”. You can either get an ego boast or a total verbal punch to the gut. “Oh, you’re the nice one!” “Oh, you are too strict!” Some kids say you are their favorite sub, others talk about that other one that lets them do what they want, and how they wish they had him.
When class starts, about five kids pull out their agendas, because they are hall passes to go to the restroom. As if they would pull that with their actual teacher. I read the sub plans… I saw their names. I knew they were going to act up.
But, then, you have those kids who always have your back. They don’t like when they see someone mistreated. They don’t like when the kids are mean. Those are my people.
For the past two years, I’ve been lucky to become more of a long-term sub. I earned a teaching certification to teach Broadcasting three years ago and it opened the door to becoming an interim substitute. My first gig was as an elementary school art teacher for three months. Then, back to middle school I went. I’ve spent most of the past two school years as a longer term sub in one middle school.
I tell you all this because…. even though I’m “just a sub” on paper… I have spent a lot of time with the same students for years, and my heart is breaking right now. Our schools decided this week to not physically return to the building.
We will not stand in the hall between class changes and interact with students and other teachers anymore this year. If you’ve never spent a day in a school and watched class change… you’ve never lived. Yes, sometimes difficult things happen… but most of the time, you hear laughter.
I will not spend 5-10 minutes walking kids to and from lunch and sushing them every ten seconds, as they loudly reply, “It wasn’t me!”.
I won’t have another opportunity this school year to allow a student to teach us a subject.
For at least several months, I won’t see their faces light up when they tell me about a new pet… a trip they are taking… or the newest game they got.
I won’t watch them school me on the latest Tik Tok. Subsequently, they won’t all let out a “WHOA!” when I nail it. (Ok, ok… there is also pure laughter when I don’t.)
I won’t stand just outside a classroom, with one arm inside as I ask the students to please stay on task and be quiet… while I try to comfort a student who is upset.
I won’t get to light up every morning as kids come in… or usher them quickly out the door every afternoon, because 7 hours of each other was enough… until tomorrow.
7 hours… what I wouldn’t give for 7 hours.
Subs get a gift many teachers don’t have. We get to teach every grade, every classroom. I have met almost all of the kids in the school.
Now, I miss every single one.
I miss the 8th graders who call me “Ms. Curry” because when they were in 6th grade, one student could never remember my real name. So, in her class, I was Ms. Curry. One of those classmates recently promoted me to Dr. Curry. I did nothing to earn it, but every day: “Good morning, Dr. Curry!”
I miss one 8th grader who hears the others call me Ms. Curry and responds with “Hi, Miss Bieber!” because she thinks it’s pretty funny that is my maiden name.
They will all graduate from middle and move on. Tears fill my eyes as I know, I will not hear “Ms. Curry!” or “Miss Bieber!” in those halls again.
Last year, I did a 3 week stint with a group of 6th graders who are now in 7th. This year, I worked 6 weeks in one 7th grade classroom and am currently in a full semester interim gig in another 7th grade classroom.
I know a lot of current 7th graders. A lot of them.
I miss them all daily. Even though many are reaching out digitally, I can’t hear their voices… or see their faces… in the hall. We don’t have moments of laughter or moments of pure frustration.
I never thought I would say this, but I miss the sound of lockers slamming. I miss telling kids to break it up at the lockers and get to class.
I miss the kids who, every day, ask to go to the bathroom. Some of them even ask right when I start the lesson. There is a moment when they know they are being rude, and we exchange a smile, and they put down that agenda.
I miss that student who spends the entire class period messing, and then comes to my desk when everyone starts working to ask how to do everything I just taught.
Ok, I’ll be honest, I really miss the reactions from students: “Seriously, so and so?!?! She JUST showed us how to do all of that!”
Oh, that last week of school! The organized chaos. The moment teachers say, “If this water bottle isn’t claimed today, it’s donated or trashed.” The trash bins full of papers kids held on to all year, but now they let go of them with the flick of the wrist.
The notes and gifts given to the teachers. The hugs, smiles, exchanges of information between students so they can stay connected with each other over the summer…
That very last day. All of you know what I mean. We’ve all had those last days. You don’t have to be a teacher or current student to remember… those last days. My kids always go on the last days. “They are the fun days. Plus, we have to say goodbye.”
The waves along the car rider line… the bus line… at the walkers and bikers as they head off the school campus. The pure adrenaline that comes with the excitement of summer.
Now, our days will blur into the next ones, and our summer will come without celebration.
Next year will come, and we’ll have it again. At some point, we will return to some sense of normalcy, but maybe the high fives will be replaced with air fives. Or, feet fives… something a student and I came up with when our school had a flu outbreak.
So, the issue isn’t that we will NEVER have another last week of school.
It is that we will NEVER have it with our current students.
That is where it is sad.
Every year, students move on. That is the beauty of life… they are growing and leaving in order to pursue their dreams. But, they move on…. and we get to say goodbye.
….except for this year.
When people outside the school see me, they don’t see me as a teacher. I get that. I chose this path late. I was so lucky to have a career I adored, and still love, for 20 years. That career defined me and I hope it continues to do so.
However, my heart tells me I am now a teacher. The tears welling up as I think of the months lost… tells me I am.
Just not a real one… yet…
My name is not outside any door.
My badge does not let me into a school.
I am always using someone else’s supplies/equipment. Before this quarantine, I was always in someone else’s classroom, at someone else’s desk.
I have been almost every student’s substitute teacher at this middle school, many of them for multiple weeks and months. Yet, I’m not their teacher.
Well, not on paper or on signs outside the classroom door or that badge in my picture… but in my heart…
…that’s a different story.