By Jody Worsham
All rights reserved for therapy
I have taught high school for thirty-nine years. Subbing a full day in kindergarten last year was traumatic, enlightening, but traumatic. That was nothing compared to my half day subbing in middle school. If we really wanted to make a dramatic change in our penal system, judges would need only to sentence an offender to substitute teaching in middle school. Even the most hardened criminal would be begging for the death penalty after just a few days.
The teacher for whom I was subbing, and to her credit, actually expected me to teach. Cool, I thought. Most of the time I only get to push play on the DVD and maintain order. However, I had exactly five minutes to master the Smart Board ( 21st century chalk board) and comprehend the socio-economic and cultural significance of the valued contents of a middle class family in Japan that had been piled on the street in front of their house and the same for a family in Iceland. The teacher warned me that middle schoolers were a different kind of animal. She didn't tell me they were wild animals. She also said to seek the assistance of the principal if I needed to. She didn't say to yell for him as soon as the bell rang.
I managed to turn the Smart Board on before the first thundering herd arrived. The minute they entered the door, I knew I was in trouble. Somehow mob control was omitted from my college educational curriculum. I knew one family was having trouble regulating their child's medication so I understood the desk chair gymnastics that was going on. I did not anticipate the need for serious medication for the rest of the class. Ten students were really interested in learning so I focused on them while trying to keep the other twenty-five contained somewhere close to their assigned seats.
Mercifully the two and half hour class that was only forty-five minutes was over. Time for the next group. I was ready. I'd play the tough teacher. After one minute of class, one little person said "You're mean." Yes, I hadn't lost it. I could do this. I had put on my video-chair looking brace for my plantar fasciitis as the floors were some kind of concrete. "Hey, you under house arrest" came from the back of the room. I knew what she was referring to because I watch "White Collar" and Martha Stewart but I wondered about her frame of reference. No one in this class was interested in Japan, Iceland, or anything within ten miles of the school. Time to call in reinforcements. I knew the principal was in another wing of the building, so I would have to bluff (I also watch "The World Poker Series"). I stepped out and yelled into an empty hall "Yes, tell Mr. Smith that he is needed in room 211."
I returned to a classroom where ten were feigning a search for Iceland somewhere around Tahiti on the giant wall map, fifteen were reading aloud from the textbook about German technology, and eleven were trying to mute Angry Birds on their I-pod. I managed to bluff my way to the end of the period which was five minutes away.
There was a basketball tournament the last period so the teacher had suggested the class might want to attend. YES! Time to send the recess-deprived-high-maintenance-hyper-loud middle schoolers to a place where such behavior is acceptable…the gym. As I was leaning against the rail in the gym, two regular teachers came over.
"Subbing today? I could tell by the glazed look," said one.
"Yes, they said I was mean," I replied.
"Good, maybe they will hire you full time. There's ninety-five in this class."
"Don't worry," I said, "there'll soon be fifty-two. Some sub is going to snap and go on a screaming rampage and thirty-three will transfer to Alaska."
"Really?" she said all too hopefully.
"Luckily, they are protected by law so they all survived today."
"Are you coming back tomorrow?"
"No, I've been to Hell, I'm not going back."
As I herded my group back to class I observed a middle school teacher. "Ray, are you supposed to be running?" "Well, I was late and…" "Yes ma'am or No ma'am. Are you supposed to be running?" "No ma'am." "Thank you. Now continue walking." Ok, short sentences, repeat question, accept only the designated response, thank you, send him on his way. Got it…maybe.
The middle school secretary asked if I would sub tomorrow as I was making my escape. "No, sorry." I almost suggested she call the state prison for a list of those on death row.
Teachers of kindergarten and middle school must answer to a special calling…or have some kind of mental problem. I couldn't do their job. Thankfully, they are there for my children and I am eternally grateful. I shall look on them with greater respect and admiration and will ask Santa to fill their stockings with a sufficient supply of valium, Zoloft, wine, and other strong tranquilizers to get them to May.