What's the toughest job in America?
Brain Surgeon? Explosives Tester? Restaurant Attendant at the State Fair? Not even close.
Substitute Teacher? Ding, ding, ding!
And while I’ve never operated on brains, test-fired TNT, or cleaned bathrooms at the state fair, I have substitute taught, and let me tell you, it is HARD.
Let's start with a quiz - which of the following is the substitute teacher?
The first? No way. Look at how hard those kids are working, even while she has her back turned. She spent hours planning this lesson. The middle? No chance. Subs don't get to lecture. They get worksheets. The third is probably the sub.
My sub adventure was thirty-five years ago. I'd graduated and couldn’t find a job, so I decided to sub in Louisville, Kentucky.
Several of my friends today are subs. They log onto school websites, browse through available assignments, and choose the ones they want. Too easy! They probably sip tea and listen to light jazz, too.
It wasn’t that way in 1981. Back then, the ringing phone jarred you from a deep sleep at five in the morning. “Mr. Wootten, can you sub at _____ High School today?” If you wanted the thirty-six bucks, you said yes.
Yep, you read correctly. Subbing in 1981 paid thirty-six bucks a day.
I didn’t drive, so I’d hurriedly shower and hop the city bus to wherever I was going, showing up just as school was starting. Louisville’s city schools were a hot mess back then. Kids were bussed across town, parents were unhappy, teacher morale was low. And there I was, showing up to take over Mrs. Bradford’s high school history classes so she could have her root canal.
Lesson plans? Sometimes. Mostly I improvised, becoming the master of trivia contests. We’d divide the class into groups and play our own version of Jeopardy. Think Alex Trebek’s job is hard? Hah! His show is only thirty minutes long. The sub teacher version of Jeopardy lasted fifty minutes, and questions had to be easy enough for all kids to have a chance (I invented No Child Left Behind). If the theatrics and offbeat lessons didn’t meet the principals’ expectations, they never said anything. I was a warm body, and that’s as good as it got.
The mandatory after-school conferences with principals were always interesting, too. “Mr. Wootten, I realize that the students cheated on the exam, and most left before class was over, but we’d really appreciate you coming back for the rest of the week.” The sub list must’ve been pretty short.
But, guess what? Despite all that, I received a call in mid-December with an offer for a full-time job. It seemed too good to be true, and as it turned out, it was.
More on that next time.
I would love to hear your favorite sub teaching stories. Share on Facebook or leave a comment below.
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