From the eyes of a substitute teacher


My original view of substitute teachers was from that of a classroom teacher, one who taught for 23 years in a high school English classroom in a high-poverty school.

Subs were the folks who saved me when I was sick or needed to be out of town, the ones who ran my class on those days when I wasn’t there.

After quitting teaching seven years ago, I’m now giving subbing a try.

I want to see firsthand what teachers are going through, what kids are like, what different grade levels and schools are like – these seven years since I left teaching.

I’m focusing on elementary and middle schools in my home county’s school system, one that has a lot of Appalachian poverty along with the beginnings of urban poverty. I had one day in high school and quickly decided that I didn’t want any further experience with high schoolers. I already know what they’re like. That teenage anger and angst is more than I want to experience right now.

What have I found in the elementary and middle schools I’ve subbed in so far?

I’ve found lots of kids who crave attention. Some get it by tattling, others by being disruptive, others by offering to help out, others by trying to entertain their peers.

Teachers have rooms FULL of kids who need attention. And there’s usually only one teacher in the classroom. How can ONE person fulfill all of these attention needs?

I’ve found schools brimming with teachers and administrators and staffs who can be overworked with too many piddly paperwork tasks . . .  but who still give deeply of themselves in an attempt to meet the varied needs of their students – the educational AND the attention needs. People who want success for their students. Who care about them. Who love them unconditionally.

I’ve found school-wide atmospheres that focus on respect and concern for others, that teach kids how to be caring kids who will grow up to be caring adults, who will be good citizens involved in their communities.

IF they can overcome their struggles, the strikes against them.

I’ve heard stories of hunger at home, of not enough food. I’ve seen kids share their lunches. They know who’s hungry, who needs some extra food. And they help each other out.

I’ve seen kids who don’t have supplies. And I’ve seen other kids share with them. Kids who probably don’t have much extra themselves, but they are happy to help out a classmate.

I’ve seen students who are disengaged, bored, disruptive. It seems that every single class has at least one boy who fits this description. He’s usually smarter than average. He’s a handful for the teacher. He’d be a handful if he were the only student – or one of four or five students. But he’s always in a class of at least 20 other kids, kids who have their own needs.

How can ONE teacher meet all of these needs? How can “differentiation” meet the needs of each one of these students?

Teachers are only human. They have other demands on them, demands at home, usually spouses and children of their own. How can they meet all of these needs?

It’s not humanly possible.

That’s why I believe communities need to step up and help schools.

The problems are ours, too. Not just the schools’ problems.

They are OUR problems.

Schools reflect the societies they are a part of. The products of schools, both good and bad, affect us all.

Even if we don’t have kids in public schools, we need to help schools. These kids who crave attention can get it from community members, too – not just teachers and administrators and school staff members.

And schools need actively to request help from their communities. I know lots of community members who care, who would get involved . . .  if only they knew how. If there were a specific request, they’d love to help.

We ALL need schools and communities to work together.

Because it really DOES take a village!

Schools can’t do it all on their own.

They need US!

* * * * *

And now my “lighter” observations. The things I noticed in middle and elementary schools, things that are different from my high school experiences.

IMG_9332Nosepicking. I didn’t see nosepicking in high school, but it’s VERY common in elementary and even sometimes in middle schools.

Untied shoes. This is more limited to elementary schools. I’ve never seen so many untied shoes in my whole life!

Crying. This is also more in elementary school. Kids cry because their stomachs hurt. Because they miss their mommies. Because . . . well, just because! Sometimes only tears can address what they’re feeling.

Stinkiness. There is apparently a big gas problem among elementary schoolers.

* * * * *

I wasn’t sure what I’d encounter when I started subbing. What I’ve found is that teachers and administrators and staffs are very engaged in making school the best experience possible for their students.

And a bunch of them also find the time and energy to help out a sub who is in a classroom next door or down the hall.

Even if that’s not one of the “standards” they have to meet that particular day.

And this sub, for one, is VERY grateful for the help! A big THANK YOU to those teachers who have helped me out! 🙂

And I hope anyone who reads this – teacher, administrator, school staff, community member – I hope we can figure out a way to work together.

Because schools have too much on their shoulders today.

They need help.

OUR help.

Be a part of the village that is raising our next generation.

Schools NEED us!


Computer lab at Rossville Elementary School

5 thoughts on “From the eyes of a substitute teacher

  1. A big Amen to everything you wrote! My daughter is a 4th Grade Language Arts teacher in a high poverty school district. I have volunteer in her classroom one day a week. Most people don’t have a clue about what it is like to be a teacher today – and don’t even ask me what I think of Common Core! There has to be a better way to allow teachers to creatively teach – one size does not fit all in my opinion!

  2. Pingback: Teaching Middle School, Week 9: The REAL Challenges | eddies and currents

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