178. Substitutes

On some days, your child walks into the classroom and sees an unfamiliar adult face. The teacher isn’t there, and some other adult is there instead. For some children, once in a while, this is a treat. Either a day without the teacher is not such a bad idea, or this particular substitute is fun to be with. Or both.
But usually, it’s not such a treat. Some children are angry at the teacher: what right does she/he have to be away? The teacher belongs here, with the class. Some children are worried: is our teacher okay? Will we ever see our teacher again? Some are quietly sad: I miss my teacher. My teacher makes me feel good.
The relative stranger who walks into this situation has a hard job to do. For many substitutes, the job is akin to being a professional enemy. The substitute did not personally see to it that the teacher got sick, or had to attend some conference or workshop, but there is no one else to blame. The substitute must cope with the situation, either by following the plans left by the teacher, by coming in with his/her own plans, or by winging it.
The day, no matter how well planned, is somewhat unpredictable. There’s no telling how each child will react to this strange adult. And for the children there’s no telling how this adult will react to unusual behaviors that are already old hat to the regular teacher.
A child may have strong convictions about the way the day is “supposed to be,” and the plans left by the teacher won’t be enough evidence to contradict this child’s preconceptions. To this child, there’s a certain way things ought to be done, and there’s no substitute for the teacher. The substitute is only a babysitter, or stepparent, and the teacher had better hurry back and make things right again. School is hard enough without having the teacher – the one stable force – doing something else somewhere else.
There are all sorts of situations and factors that contribute to a person’s decision to become a substitute teacher. It’s not pure masochism. And substitutes are teachers. They often have that same sense of mission, that same love for children, that many teachers have. But it’s a hard job – not one I’d want. So next time you’re getting a gift for your child’s teacher, get one for a substitute, too.

Comments are closed.