Maybe a better title for this post might be, “How Have I Found Myself Consistently Substitute Teaching at an Elementary School?” but I technically wrote this on Friday while on a lunch break, so I’ll leave it mostly as-is.
Since money is something that I need (monthly bills are more intimidating than the “pay as I can” policy I took to my university payments, despite being smaller, somehow), and I’ve yet to find a full-time teaching position, I’ve been picking up what work I can. That includes a lot of time spent subbing, particularly at elementary schools.
I’ll be honest–I minored in secondary education because I like having conversations about literature, and that’s not something that can really happen (at least not to the extent that I enjoy) at elementary and middle school levels. Just so we’re on the same page, this isn’t meant to be a diss at ELED teachers–it’s just that I’m much better at English than I am at any other content and, at least in many schools in Massachusetts, ELED (or elementary education) teachers are expected to be able to cover virtually all of the subjects that are covered on state standardized testing–which includes math (gross), some science, some social studies, and, yes, ELA. That’s not what I wanted to do when I decided I wanted to be a teacher.
There are a few things that are true regardless of the age group of any class of students, though. One, students like taking advantage of subs (if they think they can), and two, teaching is exhausting work. I had almost forgotten about that–you’re in front of students almost the entire workday, putting on a kind of performance, and then providing individualized attention wherever necessary and whenever possible. Most teachers spend most of the day on their feet, so even though it’s not heavy labor, it’s still a physical job in comparison to, say, sitting in a cubicle all day. There’s also the fact that teachers spend their day working with other (usually younger) people, so in a lot of ways, teaching asks a lot more socially of the people in that profession than of others. The younger the students are, I think, the more energy is required to actually do the job. Don’t get me wrong, high school means papers and reading and testing, but ELED has a certain degree of childcare that’s also associated with it that secondary education frankly doesn’t have to deal with.
(To be fair to all these younger kids though, only a high school senior has ever vomited in one of my classes, so there’s that.)
I think about the work my ELED friend put in–not just at the job, but at least at my university they’re required to complete at least one additional year of education–and I think about being asked to if not master than at least come close to mastering all subjects, and I couldn’t do it. I like teaching English, and I like teaching mock trial, because those are subjects I enjoy and am good at. I hate math and have had to teach it (like, actually teach it, because as much as it’d be easy to just throw on a movie on days you’re out, that’s a disservice to your students) every single day I’ve subbed. On Friday I was behind thanks to a fire drill that sent a well-detailed lesson plan off-schedule by more than half an hour. Plus, with ELED, it’s kind of impossible to give students silent work to do on their own. For one thing, you’re with these kids for most of the day, and for another, the work isn’t self-guided.
I’m sick right now (and actually called out of a subbing job because I just haven’t been able to shake the cold), and it’s probably because kids carry germs and I spent a month unexposed to them. I write notes to teachers that feel like Kirk’s occasional Captain’s Logs, except with named ill-behaved students, commendations for the good ones, and, as on Friday, rumors of an apparent yokai in the bathroom that spread among the students and had them all asking to go so they could check it out. Strange, but it happened. I pretend to be good at math. I ask kids to be quite. Sometimes it works, but usually, it doesn’t.
If you have a kid in K-5, thank their teachers. They do what many of us lack the stamina to be capable of. Your kid’s teacher has more general knowledge of most things than you do–which is why they’re trusted by the state and town to teach your child–and you’re lucky that they come back every day to teach it.
A third grader I had on Thursday hugged me out of the blue while I was lunch duty, and I could understand, for a moment, why they do.