Substitute Teaching or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the chaos

Substitute teaching is a terrifying thing. There were many days that I covered classes that I had no background in and the lessons were a learning experience for me as well as my students. Even though I will not be substitute teaching again next school year (much to the sadness of some of my students), I must say that I enjoyed the experience. Oh goodness, was it a learning experience.

I learned the importance of rephrasing and synonyms. If I had a dollar for every time I had to define a part of speech I wouldn’t need to substitute teach, and I can’t tell you how many times I would answer a question, ask the student if they understood, only to be told no. Alright, back up, try again. I take pride in my ability to explain just about any concept (as long I understand it myself!) to just about everybody.

I gained a renewed appreciation of special education teachers. A few times while I was substitute teaching I covered special education resource rooms. I must admit I found these assignments overwhelming. The patience and abundant teaching methods that these teachers possess is astounding.

I learned the importance of asking questions. Lessons plans (like all written instructions) only tell you so much. It is always best to get insight from someone who knows first hand. For me, that meant asking the students how things were normally done. Most students are creatures of habit and were more than happy to tell me how things “should be done”.

I learned my limits. There are just some things I can’t do. Try as I might (no matter how many times I substitute taught it), I don’t know how to speak Spanish; I can’t even roll my R’s! Geometry lies outside of my wheelhouse as well; give me algebra, give me trigonometry, give calculus and I’ll be happy. And I don’t know how to teach the basics. When one of my students didn’t understand the relationship between addition and subtraction, and between multiplication and division I didn’t know how to help. I find it quite simple to break something down to the basics but I struggle to teach the basics themselves. Perhaps I’ve been in school too long and simply take them for granted.

I learned that students ask the best questions. Children ask the exciting questions such as “Why did mammoths have little tails but dinosaurs had big ones?” and “If dragons were real and lived with the dinosaurs, how would they be classified?”. And their enthusiasm is infectious.

I learned something new every day. Just as youth is wasted on the young, high school is wasted on high schoolers. I definitely appreciated high school more the second time. History class became so much more meaningful to me once I left the tiny Midwestern cornfield I grew up in. Shakespeare was funnier once I didn’t need all of the jokes explained to me. I had a chance to make a chalk mural and helped make (and eat) liquid nitrogen ice cream twice.

So if any of my former students are reading this, thanks for making this year so much fun. I’ll miss you guys next year!


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