My Subbing Wall

“So how’s it going in there?  Is it really boring?”

My fellow sub had caught me right in the middle of a bite of my sandwich, so she waited until I finished chewing before I responded.

“No, that’s not a problem.  It’s just… The only student interaction I have is negative.  If they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing, I don’t get to interact with them.  It sucks.”

I’ve been a study hall monitor for a week.  I have one day left, and then it’s back to regular subbing.  I’ve appreciated the certainty of this week, going to bed every night knowing that I’ll be working the next day, knowing that I’ll be pulling a good paycheck this month.  I’m grateful for that.  I’m also glad that the consistency has provided me with the opportunity to get to know some of the other subs in my building.  It’s more than the lunch conversation (which is nice, because most of my subbing experience has involved eating alone).  It’s the opportunity to learn the ins-and-outs of the district from them, the differences between the internal subs and the external subs, the frustrations and strategies of the online scheduling program, and the best routes to navigate the crowded hallways.  I have more teaching experience than some of the younger subs, but they know the district better, so we can mutually benefit each other.  That part has been nice.

But there’s no teaching involved with study hall.  It’s a few minutes of classroom management to get the kids to settle down and be quiet, another minute to take attendance, and then it’s keeping track of the bathroom pass for the rest of the period, making sure only one student leaves the room at a time.  I entertain myself alternately with checking up on the blogs I follow and reading Game of Thrones on my nook.

I have a few funny moments, like when the one kid jumped out of his seat and silently fist-pumped the air in celebration — he’d just won a game he’d been trying to beat on his phone.  I gave him an amused look.  “I appreciate your silence,” I said, “but sit back down, please.”

As he sat, he let out a loud “WOOO!”

“Dude!  I just said I appreciate your silence!”  The half of the class that appreciated the irony laughed, while the other half just looked confused.

But that’s the best student interaction I’ve had in a week – and it was me telling a kid to sit down and be quiet.  It sucks.

I think I always hit this wall when I sub.  I look out over a roomful of students, wishing they were mine.  “My students, my kids, my teens.”  But they’re not.  So much so that I don’t even find myself accidentally using the possessive pronoun like I often do in other teaching situations.  I enjoy the work and I’m bringing home a paycheck, so it’s not a bad situation.  But the part of me that knows what it feels like to wake up excited for work, that has literally applauded astounding light-bulb moments from students — my students — hurts to see these kids and know I probably won’t have the opportunity to connect with a single one of them.  Not really.

Each year I face without a full-time job, I hit this wall, but then it almost always works out.  I start the year as “just a sub,” so I become discouraged, but then something happens to reaffirm my teaching identity and remind me that I’m appreciated for what I do.  I get asked to take on a long-term sub job or a maternity leave fill-in, which gives me at least a few weeks or months of real teaching.  Then I connect with the students and they become “mine,” even if it’s only temporary.  And darn it, I’m good.

So I give myself a pep talk to help break past the wall.  After all, I’ve left my mark on schools all across the country, from Seattle to Boston and Alaska to Florida.  And I’ve faced circumstances so much harder than a quiet study hall.  Walking to work in sub-zero temperatures, for instance.  Or dealing with pencil-flinging third graders.  Or creating curriculum and filling in the educational gaps for students who’d never had a real, trained Secondary Ed. English teacher before.  If I survived all that, I can find a way to break past this discouragement, too.

Right?

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