In the fall of 2009, the company I worked for closed unexpectedly. My mentor and friend, Merrie Sue Holtan, told me that I could become licensed to substitute teach in Minnesota. Having always wanted to be in the classroom, I applied and found a district that needed me. I subbed for 15 days before I took on full-time hours at two writing jobs.
I wanted to try high school and she said, “Sure, how about biology?”
I’m a communications major. God has a sense of humor.
I arrived at the high school unsure of what to expect and nervous about what the day would hold. I checked in at the office and got the keys to the classroom.
I walked in to the science classroom and immediately flashed back to Cavalier High School. It smelled the same, the desks looked similar and every counter had a thick black top.
On the front counter the teacher had left me a stack of papers – one stack for each class. The class was to take a quiz related to the chapter they read yesterday and then I would take them through a power point lecture. Sounded good to me.
The first class of the morning came in a bit rowdy. But once the bell rang they all sat neatly in their chairs. As I approached the front of the room I anticipated a fight to get them to listen to me. (Remember, I had been spending a lot of time in early elementary). I opened my mouth to speak and every student closed their mouths, put their eyes on me and waited.
Wow. This high school stuff might be okay.
The first period class was a joy. They took their quiz and I went through a power point presentation.
At the end they looked at me and said, “We’re a good class. Wait until fifth hour.”
I repeated that exact scenario in second period and third period, each warning me about fifth. I mentally prepared as much as I could – while students were working quietly in groups, during my lunch break and as I saw the group milling around outside the door before the bell rang.
Even before they got through the door I heard yelling through the hallway.
“Sub! Sub! We have a sub!”
The bell rang and they burst through the door.
“What’s your name?”
“We haven’t seen you before – and subs never come back to this class.”
“Can we work in groups?”
“Are you afraid of minorities?”
This was going to be interesting.
It was tough to get this group to quiet down. Finally they took the quiz. Then I turned out one of the lights and prepared for the power point lecture. I had no idea about half of the things I was talking about. At one point a student had a question about the lecture.
To which I replied, “That’s a very good question. Where would you find the answer in the chapter you read? Raise your hand if you can help Timothy find the answer.”
Thank goodness for the tips in the substitute teacher book.
Things finally started to settle down. We got through a few slides, taking volunteers from the audience to read them.
Just when I started to get comfortable, yelling came from the back of the room. One of the quietest girls in class had turned around and was screaming at another girl in Spanish. All I heard were swear words. Loud. Spanish. Swearing. (I had worked at migrant school in Cavalier for a few years – the first things I was taught were the swearwords.)
I surprised myself with what came out of my mouth, and I look back on it as one of my proudest subbing moments.
Steadily and sternly I said, “Hey – there is no swearing in this classroom – in any language.”
For a moment it was silent. Then I heard a meek voice say quietly, “You understood that?”
I didn’t answer. I just went to the next slide. From that moment on the students behaved and listened. I was happy with fifth hour.
They looked like angels compared to the lying cheaters in seventh hour.