Confessions of a Seventh Grade Substitute
The third edition of this four-part saga is perhaps my favorite. I’m about to get a few things off my chest.
I was always good at math in school—until math got to a point where it included more letters than numbers. After that, I was pretty much faking it. Thank goodness there are still mostly numbers in the first portion of seventh grade math. Regardless, I hadn’t really done math since my freshman year of college. I’m an English person, ya know.
So I made sure to stay one step ahead of my students to make sure I remembered how to solve their equations. I didn’t want to tell them the wrong thing, thus teaching them incorrectly, infecting their minds and projecting them into a life of failure, drugs, and TV dinners.
Teachers and subs are obviously supposed to dress nicely, but they can usually get away with some forms of tennis shoes. I strictly wore nice dress shoes. I also went unshaven for the entire duration of my subbing. I did these things to appear older and more dominant, because sometimes I, too, look 12.
It must have worked, because they think I’m old. They often asked me if I’m married or about how many kids I have. I’m 22, mind you. I asked one class how old they thought I was. The highest guess was 38. For one class, I told them that I did have kids. One was about their age. His name was Louis. I gave up the charade within a few seconds when they all tried to find him on Instagram.
I roasted them. Regularly. It was the only way to get them to legitimately listen. Yelling, the silent treatment, and write-ups only did so much. You got a taste of some of those roasts in my last post, but they were not even close to some of my best ones. I’m sorry that I cannot include them; I’d have to drop names, and I’d rather not face imprisonment for confidentiality infringement.
I tried not to smile, which you’ll read more about in just a moment. Regular teachers smile, and it’s great that they do, but smiling allowed them to see that I have weaknesses. However, sometimes I couldn’t help but smile. It mostly came through when one of them did something stupid.
There are certain names that I now REFUSE to name my future children because of my students. For example, every time I hear *bleep*, I think of back-talking. Every time I hear the name, *bleep*, I think of a kid with a sinus nosebleed.
This confession is not so much of a confession to you as it is to my students. I have a life outside of being my substitute teacher self. Really.
I was an absolute fuddie duddie when I was in teacher mode, but I had to be. A couple of students saw me in the local grocery store and they didn’t know how to talk to me because I was wearing basketball shorts and sending a Snapchat to a friend. Anyway, I was a completely different person in class—a person I don’t even know. This brings me to my longest and most personal confession.
People asked me all the time about how substituting was going. I’d always say something like, “Oh, it’s going,” or give a sarcastic remark about it being peachy. But right now, I want to take just a moment and break from my goofy montages of being a seventh grade substitute and talk about how it affected me.
I have been a bubbly person for most of my life. I smile almost subconsciously, and it’s really not that I’m painting on a smile, but it’s because I’m actually happy for the most part, or that I’m trying to spread some happiness to someone else. I know how completely fake that sounds, but it’s true. I’m pretty good at staying positive, even when life sometimes inevitably bites; it’s one of my strengths.
But this experience made me smile less. As you read before, it began willingly. A teacher gave me a tip that I needed to be stern and a little less bubbly if I didn’t want my students to see right through me. So, I began on the first day deliberately trying not to constantly smile. I wanted to be serious, not peppy. I wanted to be kind, but to show the students they weren’t going to pull anything over on me.
As I progressed, however, I didn’t have to consciously choose to not smile as much at school, which was starting to carry over into my real life. I found myself not smiling as much when I was with my roommate at night, or hanging out with my family or friends on the weekends, or speaking with other teachers outside of class, or passing by strangers on the street.
This came to a head during the fifth week of subbing. It was in my first period class. I was usually more mellow in the morning, but as the day went on, I became harder around the edges as more-challenging students came through my classroom. But this was the first period of the day. Class had only been in session for five minutes.
A student asked me, “Are you OK?”
“Yeah, I guess,” I said. “Why?”
“Are you depressed?”
“No? What makes you ask that?”
“Because you don’t just not smile anymore. You frown.”
That hit me like a truck. No, I wasn’t depressed, but she was right. I was frowning, and I wasn’t even aware I was doing it. It was five minutes into the day and the very act of being there was making me sour.
So, you want the real seventh grade substitute tell-all?
It was often terrible.
There were times when they were all wanting something from me, but all of them wanted different things. And instead of raising their hands, they would engulf me, and for a moment, I couldn’t even formulate a sentence to tell them to sit down and that I’d get to them eventually.
There were times when a couple of them expressed hatred towards me. Swore at me. Said I was mean or that I didn’t care. That’s not exactly the greatest to hear when you’re trying your best to keep calm and composed.
They just wouldn’t listen. I would tell some of them the same thing literally ten times, and it hurt me to feel ignored.
I had to yell at least once in every class period. If I didn’t, they wouldn’t sit down or be quiet long enough to get anything done.
I was under pressure to teach them. In the back of my mind, I thought I wouldn’t do them justice, and that I wouldn’t give them the knowledge they need—that my weeks with them would be worthless because they didn’t learn anything.
I would dread going into work in the morning and count down the minutes to when the day would end. I couldn’t enjoy Sunday afternoons or evenings because I knew an entire week of school was ahead of me.
The worst part was that I was trying to keep everything bottled. There are countless people who have jobs or circumstances far worse than dealing with seventh graders. On top of that, this job was only temporary. A vapor in time that was helping me count down to what will be an adventure that some only dream about. I’m about to move to England, for goodness sake. I thought that complaining about my job or sharing how much it was affecting me made me sound whiney, or dramatic, or unaware of what true unhappiness was.
But you want to know my last confession? This whole thing was good for me.
I have never been good with practicing patience. You don’t know patience until you spend 35 hours per week surrounded by 20 screaming, hormonal seventh graders.
It made me stronger. I’m kind of a pushover, and I always have been, but I quickly discovered that I couldn’t let them walk on me.
I counted my blessings a lot. Yes, some of those kids are terrors, but they are the products of their upbringing. For some of them, my 45 minutes of yelling at them were the best and safest parts of their days.
I found a new respect for all the teachers I’ve ever had. You know that phrase “Those who can’t do… teach?” I hate that phrase now. Teaching is hard, and exhausting, and underappreciated. It’s the most important occupation because the best, or most powerful, or smartest minds in the world would not exist without it.
Somehow in the midst of all the ridiculous stories that I could never make up and all the chaos that I dealt with while trying to teach, I happened to learn quite a bit myself.