Oh, That Sub?

Substitute teachers have a few different brands.


You were a kid once.  Maybe you still are.  You know the drill.


There’s a reverse bell curve, with “insanely strict substitutes” on one end and “totally aloof substitutes” on the other end.  The minority find themselves in the middle – 90% of subs are super strict or don’t give a shit at all.


If you’re in high school and you find out in the halls you have a substitute, your first question is, “Who’s the sub?”


If your teacher says, “I won’t be here two days next week,” your question after “why” will eventually either be

“Can you get ______________ to sub?”


“Pleeeaaassseee don’t get ______________ to sub!”


Now, teachers have as much control over who presides over their classes as they choose.  A teacher can either tell the school bookkeeper they will be absent or they can personally contract a substitute to cover their classes, based in a personal history.


It’s all quite strategic.  A good bookkeeper will both offer more work to substitutes they see as good and will give less (or even blacklist) substitutes they don’t like.  This means that the more you frequent a school, the more you will frequent it in the future – it becomes self-perpetuating.


For example, at noon I mentioned to a teacher that I didn’t have any work for next week, but that I wasn’t taking any, because I figured something would come up.  By the end of the day, my schedule was full.  I am booked solid until May 11, and I have worked every day but two since March 26.  Good substitutes are in demand, but it will take a month of focusing on certain schools to achieve that reputation.


As I said before, it’s a big district, so I keep to two portions: Maumelle and Robinson.  The kids at Robinson are better, imo, and they also know me better there; I am also one of few subs who prefers to work in middle schools, but I spend 75+% of my time at Robinson High School.


Anyway, I’m getting off-track, and I passed 300 words last paragraph.


I approached a student today – one I know is a wise-ass, but smart enough to shut up when I tell him to, and generally a really cool guy – I knew he’d give it to me straight.  So I asked him about what I mentioned before – there are many subs – the “don’t even breathe” subs – the “sit down and be quiet or I’ll write you up” subs – the “sit on their iPhone the whole time” subs – and I hear people call me “the cool sub” but I don’t know what that means.


The fear that grips “the cool sub” is simple – am I a pushover?  Do they see me as weak?  The student tells me no – he’s seen me get pissed and he’s seen me wreck shop and ruin kids’ entire months with the level of retribution I bring when I really bring it.  What he said next was glorious, as his perception of my method is precisely what I attempt it to be.  He said


“You respect us.”


Wake up, people!  The kids you say don’t care, are lazy, won’t learn – I have these kids coming up to me constantly asking me everything my personal advice to academic help to simply wondering if I have the answer to a question roaming around their heads (which I often do, which is another reason they come).  I don’t freak out easily – I am not easily jarred – no one can play the “let’s get the sub mad” game with me simply because the other students won’t let them.


Listen to these students, whether you’re an administrator or teacher or anyone.  Don’t be afraid to talk like them and relate to them – the bonds you form will appear strange to other adults in similar positions, but if you know yourself and know what you are doing, there really is no other way to educate.  I straight-up draw crowds, because I am an educator, and I am willing to spread information freely and without a desire to maintain an intellectual advantage over my students, to maintain some power over them.  My power comes from giving the knowledge, not holding onto it.


Relate to the young, and you can relate your information to them.  I have taught ancient history by drawing parallels to gangsta’ rap.  Whatever it takes.  I can not walk down the halls of Robinson without a dozen people slapping hands, cracking jokes, and gossiping with me – and I see adults glance sideways at it, like I’m ineffective because I get too close.  Ironically, I see them as ineffective because they don’t get close enough.


I look like them and talk like them – I’m laid-back enough for the wrong sort to think I’m soft, and the even more wrong sort to think I’m lazy – and I’d way rather be underestimated than overestimated: I’d rather have the kids relaxed and not think I’m a threat than the opposite.  And, more than that, I don’t want to look like every other overbearing overcompensating overauthoritarian sub trying to govern strictly through that authority; they do that because that’s all they have – I don’t need to do that, because I have so much more.  It’s the same reason that I haven’t written a referral in weeks, and most subs write a half-dozen a day.  Nobody wants to get written up by Mr. Fritz: when the office sees my name on a referral, they figure the kid must have tried to set me on fire.


I’m that sub.

3 thoughts on “Oh, That Sub?

  1. I completely agree. But you know why so many teachers DONT do those things? It’s because our lives become so packed, so full to the brim, that to take that extra time for a conversation inbetween meetings and walking out the door while eating lunch on the go, is difficult.
    But I still do it, which is probably why I’m so skinny because most of my lunch periods are spent working with my kids, instead of actually eating.
    Kids just need boundaries, they need guidelines, and if you make it VERY clear to them what those are while at the same time letting them know you care about them, it is amazing what they will do for you, and for themselves.
    🙂 Glad to hear you have positive subbing experiences. If you ever move to Ohio, hit me up, haha.

    • Yeah, before I did this, I was the director of an ESL program in Taiwan, working 50+ hours a week, teaching half those hours, so I know how it goes to have a packed life and little time for chit-chat. And with teaching there’s also, of course, a big difference between working with a 5 year old and a 15 year old, as well; one of the things I actually enjoy about subbing is the variety and how it forces me to change tactics and think on my feet. It’s a temporary thing for me and I see it as more “keeping my skills sharp” than anything else, as I’m back seeing/helping family. In a few months, I’ll be going back to Taiwan and further establishing my business there (www.sntsols.com), but this is good in the interim (especially if I can write about some of it).

    • Oh, yeah, my little brother lives in Ohio – graduated Hudson High, Miami U – lives in Cleveland but is about to post-grad in Cincinnati. How about you?

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