i showed up to the school about an hour late. one benefit to taking a day-of call is that you’re forgiven almost any level of tardiness. i got the call at 6am and was told to be there by 7:45. unfortunately it was an hour and a half commute. the thing that sucks about being late, though, is that you might not have time to prepare for the class, so you always have to make sure that you’re mentally prepared for chaos when you walk in. i checked out the neighborhood on my walk from the bus stop. lower-income, but not untidy. many of the small neighborhoods had tight little rose bushes perced next to the gate. i smelled them on the way, letting the sunshine-warmed petals touch my nose. i wanted to savor every moment of peace, since i didn’t know what awaited me at this new school.
i walked in and was greeted warmly by the secretary. “we’re so glad you’re here.” she said. huh. that was a rare greeting. i looked around the office. all the signs were there. the calendar display was on the right month. there were no students in the hallway. a colorful display of students’ names who were heading to college was prominently displayed. i looked at the secretery again. she didn’t seem hurried or stressed. fuck yes, this was a Good School. “since i know this is your first time here, here is some information about our school.” i looked down at the page she handed me and i was floored. never in my career had i been handed a more helpful document. on the top it said, “guidlines for substitutes.” what followed was a list of exactly how subs should handle all of the typical sub problems, as well as the expectations for how each class should go. i looked up at the secretary and i wanted to hug her tightly and never let her go. “thanks so much, this is great!” i said instead.
“here’s the log in information for the computer.” she said as she handed me another piece of paper. i noted that the log in was “sub2013”. wow, i thought, they have their own sub login. i wouldn’t even have to hassle another teacher for theirs. what was this? some kind of sub paradise?
i walked into the room. it was neat and pleasant. on a table were two piles of papers. one pile for my 2nd and 5th periods, and one pile for my 3rd and 4th periods. i looked them over, as well as the lesson plan sheet that was left for me, and neatly wrote instructions on the board, as well as my name “Senora Rachel.” it was an a.p. spanish class and i was eager to practice my spanish skills with the kids. when i got the call, my agency rep wanted to confirm that i could teach spanish. of course, i knew that in fact, i didn’t need to know anything to sub for this class, but i was prepared to speek spanish as much as possible.
the first student entered my classroom right after the bell. “can i come in?” he asked. this is an important moment for a sub, when they greet their first student. they must immediately assess the entire school culture based on one students’ body language and disposition. this student seemed immediately deferential, pleasant, awake, and polite. so i opted for the “please help me know the rules” approach.
“how do you usually enter the classroom?” i asked.
“usually we line up and shake hands.”
“great! then let’s do that.” i said cheerfully.
this approach can be dangerous in the wrong situation. with engaged, pleasant students, this approach relaxes them, makes them realize that you’re not going to be mean, that you’re a human and thus makes them inclined to be helpful and considerate, and find you funny and interesting. with irritable, angry, aggressive students, this approach relaxes them, makes them realize that you’re not going to be mean, that you’re a human and thus makes them inclined to be manipulating, confrontational, and bullying. if i have any doubt at all about my ability to manage a class, i will never ask a student what the normal expectations are. i decide on a policy at the beginning and i stick with it with an iron fist. i show an unwavering, dictatorial attitude to even the slightest infractions. if that seems to work, then i gradually loosen the reigns. if the angry, aggressive students have any indication that you are trying to be nice, they will use it against you to break you down. it’s important to show that you have no interest in their opinions whatsoever. this has taken months of trial and error to figure out.
but on these pleasant, rare occasions where i get to be with students that seem genuinely excited to learn, i can show myself a bit more, and all of us can let our guards down. as i stood at the door and shook hands with students as they came in they each smiled a healthy grin at me and said “hello” and “how are you today?” as they entered. beautiful.
the bell rang and i went up to the front of the class. i straightened my spine and prepared my confident, happy, projecting sub voice. i smiled and began. “hola todos. obviamente no soy su profesora normal. soy una substituta. se puede llamarme senora rachel o rachel si prefieres…” as i talked the students lit up. they looked around at each other in surprise. one student whispered to another, “damn she speaks spanish!” i felt proud, but as the excitement grew, so did the volume. they were all chattering with each other now.
“bueno. necesito silencio en CINCO, quatro, tres..” by the time i said “tres” they were all silent, looking at me with the utmost seriousness and guilt. oh come on, this was too easy.