Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Adventures in Substitute Teaching, Episode One

I am almost a full month into my new substitute teaching adventure, and I’m still trying to work out where I want to concentrate my time, grade-wise. I haven’t attempted it yet, but I’m almost positive I won’t be a good fit for kindergarten.

I love dogs, but I’m not a cat person. It seems like running a kindergarten class would be a lot like managing a room full of adult cats mixed with puppies. Cats and puppies with open markers and glue sticks tangled in their hair. And random emotions.

I believe there is a good reason that 126% of all kindergarten teachers in America are women. Women just naturally deal with random emotions and knotted, glued, emotionally-charged hair better than men.

I have subbed second and third grade, and that’s about as low on the age chart as I think I’ll get. I mean, let’s face it, first grade is basically just the second semester of kindergarten.

I subbed third grade the other day and the teacher was telling me about the class before school started. “It’s a great group of kids,” she said. “She’s a little squirrelly,” she told me, pointing to the desk closest to us, “but no big deal. They’re great.”

Turns out, “a little squirrelly” to a third-grade teacher means a girl who literally did not stop talking for the entire hour I was covering the class, never sat down in her actual chair once, and at one point, simply left the room without asking. I was informed by her peers that she had to use the restroom and apparently, I was not responding to her requests.

It seems my years of parenting Son Number Three have given me an above-average ability to tune out constant chatter. Probably not the best trait for a kindergarten substitute teacher.

Fifth and sixth grade were OK, but so far, I have drawn a line there, avoiding middle school. I drive a middle school carpool, and being in the car for fifteen minutes at a time with seventh- and eighth-graders is plenty for me. I’m not especially interested in an entire day of it. They’re like kindergartners, but with B.O. and an advanced slang/curse word vocabulary.

The line is lifted after eighth grade, however. I’m finding I enjoy subbing at the high school level. It’s far more humorous, on a tragically hip level, than elementary school. Meaning, there’s still the same amount of goofy issues with the students, but the high school issues are so varied and insanely self-centered, that I’d almost go for free just for the entertainment value. Almost.

An example of what I mean happened a couple weeks ago when I subbed for a high school English teacher. The English class was actually called LA-II on my paperwork, which stands for Lulling Asleep Individuals Instantaneously. The school system has finally adopted truth in advertising.

It was immediately obvious which desk cluster I was going to have problems with (and I’m using “cluster” in the truest sense of its slang meaning, here). Two of the three young ladies could not keep their attention off their cell phones. Why the teacher allowed them to have their phones at their desks is beyond me, but I am not suicidal enough to try to separate a teenage girl from her iPhone without body armor and a cattle prod.

The class was learning and writing about the Holocaust. They were supposed to be watching a movie about the Auschwitz concentration camp, and then answering questions and writing an essay. The entire class, minus the cluster at issue, was watching the movie on their Chromebooks. Most of them were using their own earbuds and a few had asked for the class headphones.

Over at the cluster, there was something hilarious on one of the phones. A short while after we managed that issue, it was selfie time. I looked over to see Girl Two leaning over to Girl One’s desk, with Girl One’s arms stretched high above her head. Heads together, looking up, duck lips deployed – snap. The perfect in-class dual selfie… wait, hang on, this stupid Chromebook was in the picture. Let’s do it over… Oh, crap, that lame old man sub is staring at us. Let’s pretend not to care about our phones for a while…

Girl Three of the cluster was clearly not friends with the other two. She was completely uninterested in selfie time. She was also wearing approximately six pounds more makeup than Girl One and Two combined. She was also doing absolutely nothing at all.

I walked over to ask if her Chromebook had stopped working, since it wasn’t even pulled up to the page that had the link to the movie, let alone the movie itself.

“Oh, yeah, so, like, my AirPods weren’t connecting to the computer and stuff, so I’m just going to watch it at home later.”

“Hmm,” I said, doing the mental calculation of the zero percent chance that she was planning to watch the movie at home. “No problem. I have a whole bin full of headphones over at my desk. Let me get you a pair.”

“Um, yeah, so, I have a cartilage piercing, and headphones really don’t feel good on it, and stuff, so I’m just going to watch it at home.”

“Oh, OK, no problem. Let me just get on the phone and call the last remaining Holocaust survivors and let them know you won’t be able to learn about their unimaginable ordeal today because it’s a little uncomfortable to wear headphones with your self-induced ear ornaments,” I said, inside my head.

“OK,” I said out loud, “do you have a book you can read instead?”


“Of course you don’t. Best of luck with your future career as an Instagram model/part-time barista. I’ll bet your TikTok about your cartilage piercing gets like, a zillion views!” I said inside my head.

“Okey dokey,” I said out loud.


See what I mean? I’d almost do it for free, just for the laughs.


See you soon,



Copyright © 2022 Marc Schmatjen


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