Going to school always involved a certain amount of monotony. You had the same schedule each day, the same boring routine. But there was one particular instance when things were shaken up a bit, when you knew that your day would be decidedly different, for better or worse. It all started when you walked into class and noticed a less familiar face sitting at the teacher’s desk. This could only mean one thing – “We have a sub today!”
Learning that there was a substitute teacher could evoke vastly different emotional responses, depending on the specifics. For one thing, if he or she miraculously appeared on the day when a test was scheduled, it just might represent the reprieve you were looking for. Of course, there was also the chance that this teacher could be more demanding (and/or meaner) than the loving mentor you were used to – in which case it was going to be a very long day. Furthermore, substitutes could be broken into two categories – the uninitiated, naïve newcomer, or the seasoned veteran who was passing their time until retirement and knew every trick in the book. Most kids prayed that the sub would fall into the first category.
Kids could easily ascertain if the substitute had control of the classroom, and woe be unto any teacher who appeared to be struggling or out of their element. Sensing “fresh meat,” kids would immediately start testing the boundaries, using phrases such as “Our regular teacher always lets us do this!” and seeing just how gullible their new caretaker was. Occasionally, the students could even get a newbie to crack, fleeing in terror and reconsidering their chosen profession. Of course, the regular teacher would be none-too- pleased when these antics were reported back, but kids rarely think that far ahead.
Once in a while, however, something unexpectedly wonderful happened. On rare occasion, kids found that the day’s substitute was surprisingly nice and funny, maybe even interesting. These teachers were experienced enough to keep control of the classroom, wise enough to not get taken advantage of, and captivating enough that nobody really cared to test the boundaries. These were the subs that we looked forward to seeing again and again. These were the faces we hoped for when our teacher fell ill.
Whether or not we loved them or despised them, whether we taunted them or appreciated them, most former students have a vivid recollection of at least one substitute teacher – the person who willingly performed this thankless job for our benefit. And we owe them heaps of collective thanks for putting up with us, helping to educate us, and giving each of us a much- needed break from that typically monotonous school day.
Is there a substitute teacher in your past that stands out above the rest, either because they were wonderful, or because they embodied everything that was evil? We’d love to hear those recollections of your most memorable subs in our comments section, as we tip our hats to this often thankless profession.