Notes From A Substitute Teacher

Six years ago, I considered going back to school to get a certificate in elementary education. I thought teaching would be a pretty sweet gig, with summers off to spend with my kids.

I got a job working as a substitute teacher in our district, with kids in grades K-8. Figured I should “test the waters” a bit. And boy, am I glad I did. Because those waters are deep. And ROUGH. And you pretty much need to be an Olympic Swimmer to remain there. Which, I quickly realized, I am not.

I am patient. I am kind. I adore children. But I am NOT a superhero. And quite frankly, THAT is what it takes to be a teacher.

It takes knowing exactly what to do when the “tough” kid walks into your classroom with tears in his eyes because his dog died last night.

It takes knowing exactly the right way to help a child who struggles desperately in math, without destroying their self-confidence.

It takes maintaining your composure when 27 children, at 27 reading levels, with 27 different personalities, are all vying for your attention at the same time.

It takes having a strong stomach, because you will be dealing with puke, and blood, and boogers (SO many boogers), and all kinds of other gross things.

It takes knowing how to discipline without causing embarrassment.

It takes being able to handle a constant level of noise that would make most people’s head spin.

It takes being able to handle your heart breaking when you see an innocent child hurting from a difficult family situation that you are powerless to change.

It takes being able to appear confident when you have no idea what the answer is.

It takes knowing exactly when and how to intervene when you see a child being ostracized by their peers.

It takes being able to maintain a straight face when a child says something inappropriate, but hilarious.

It takes nerves of steel when you hear that emergency alarm go off, knowing that you alone are responsible for the safety of these children.

It takes being able to go home with enough energy for your own kids after an exhausting day of wrangling a classroom full of other people’s kids.

It takes giving it your all, for the short time they are yours, knowing that what you say, what you do, and what you model, may have an impact on that child for the rest of their life.

Because I bet every single one of us can name our 2nd grade teacher.

And to this day, a few times a month, I stroll through the school entrance to sub a class or two, unburdened by lesson plans, test scores, and emails from parents. I do my best to fill their shoes for a few hours. And I am humbled by the task.

Because those teachers? Their cars are already in the parking lot when I arrive in the mornings, and remain in that parking lot long after I leave for the day. I see them taking work home at night, on the weekends, and over breaks. Like I said…superheroes.

So today, if you get a minute, thank a teacher. For caring about our kids. For shaping the future generation. For doing what most of us cannot. ❤️

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35 thoughts on “Notes From A Substitute Teacher

      1. Esther Lawson

        That is the most perfect written absolute truth about most teachers. Thank you for bringing it to the attention of those people in the grocery stores when they find out who you are, comment, “Oh you are a teacher. At least you get the summers off along with Christmas and all those other holidays.” Yes, we hear it often sadly. It is a very difficult but rewarding career and I am one of those teachers with summers off taking classes or working summer school.

  1. Anonymous

    God Bless our teachers. They are forming and teaching our children to become smart human beings. These children are our future. 🙏🏻👍🏻

  2. Anonymous

    Very well written. Teachers work very hard to teach our children everything they were taught.
    Every child is different and a teacher has to adjust to each and every one. God Bless our teachers and the future doctors, lawyers and Presidents of tomorrow.👍🏻👍🏻

  3. Anonymous

    Our youngest daughter is a teacher, she has a 5yr old and an almost 7 yr. old. They live in a travel trailer with a 125 lb. white German Shepard. She’s a bigger woman than I’ll ever be! I admire her so much!

    1. Denise

      What a heartfelt and beautiful written portrait of the superheroes who are still in the classroom. After a long career as a special education teacher, I am happily retired. But I still think of my friends and colleagues daily.

  4. Linda.

    Well put! I was a teacher of students with special needs for 34 years. I also was a substitute in those classes for 5 years when my older 2 children were preschoolers, and for the last 11 years after I retired. I had a Master’s Degree and still get what you said so well! Thanks!

  5. Gale

    As I read your comments, I only hoped that despite all of the challenges, U wouldn’t give up teaching. In some ways, it may be a thankless task but our children will reap the benefits! Bless all teachers! Jesus was a teacher…,,

  6. Jill Giancarlo

    I wipe my desks down each day so my children don’t get sick but sometimes they do. Sometimes teachers get sick too. You are a superhero and I am so grateful to know that someone who is passionate and gets it, is there for our children. Unlike teachers, substitutes walk into that classroom and don’t know the children or what to expect. I am so thankful to you because you have the most important characteristics and you are humble. I never want to be absent but just reading what you wrote is a beautiful thing and I know I would not have to worry if you were in my classroom. You are an awesome substitute.Thank you a million times for your appreciation.

  7. Raye Jean Linn

    I retired from 38 years of teaching. It also takes a strong person to comfort students when they stay up all night caring for a sick person going through chemo and then when she dies. Some of the toughest days that I faced shortly after my dad died from cancer too.

  8. Tommy

    Thought this might be a great option in retirement to finish that teaching certificate and finally make difference where it really counts! Still thinking about it!
    Thank you for reminding me about why I was considering it in the beginning!

  9. mvz76

    I am a sub, also a retired teacher. One thing that always sticks in my mind and heart is wondering about the children that had issues or got sick when I was in their classroom. Were they okay by the time they got home? Did I handle the situation with the special needs child correctly? Did I cover every lesson in a way that the students will be able to continue with their own teacher without missing a beat? I want to make sure that I was able to support that absent teacher, even if I may never meet her. Thanks for your article.

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