(Originally Posted 12/11/20)
Flashback to May 2018.
It had been at the back of my mind for years, but when my children were all in school it was time to really give it a try.
I had earned my BA in English years earlier and I knew that our school district was in need of emergency subs.
Emergency subs in Washington State need to have a Bachelor's Degree,
to complete and pass a background check, and to have the application
initiated by the school district. It is not a hard process, but the
paperwork can involve some hoop jumping.
You need to submit proof of degrees (official transcripts), so be ready
for that element. Emergency subs usually get paid less than a certificated sub.
After completing all the requisite paperwork, I dove right in! There was a very short training packet and a few videos to watch and that was it! I had my first substitute teacher job.
Our local middle school was the first to call me and were quite surprised that I was neither afraid, nor turning them down. They were genuinely shocked that I was willing to come, with no questions asked.
I know that sounds like a cliff-hanger, but really it was very uneventful. All my early jobs run together. They were unremarkable and very little was required of me. One of my early jobs was in wood shop where I was literally only asked to show a movie. Before you judge the school system too harshly, remember that wood shop requires many specific skills that I do not have. It's definitely safer for me to stay far away from those powerful tools. The most remarkable part of this class was watching three seventh grade girls draw on each other's faces in permanent marker. I did ask them not to. I reminded them that it was permanent marker, to which they giggled and called me an idiot.
These girls also laughed at the mountain man in the movie who created all of his own tools, built himself a cabin, filmed himself, and survived in the deep wilderness of Alaska long before reality TV.
"Alone in the Wilderness" by Dick Proenneke is truly a work of art.
This man is an original conservationist and survivalist.
His self-made documentary was made in the 1960s.
As a kid who was obsessed with "My Side of the Mountain" by
Jean Craighead George, I was happy to watch this documentary
five times in one day. The best line is, "I don't want these logs
looking as though a Boy Scout was turned loose on them
with a dull hatchet" in reference to his hand-hewn logs for his cabin.
The students did not appreciate this joke. It got precisely zero laughs.
I subbed in this class again a year later and was pleased to
see this DVD at the ready. The middle schoolers still didn't get his jokes.
So maybe that was my first taste of real middle schoolers, but to be honest, I was enthralled. Middle school is the very best kind of people watching. You can't look away. You know what will happen next and it's often horrible and awkward, but bless those poor things because it's fresh for them. It's real. It's the biggest thing yet.
Another thing that really captured my attention at first was that students had an almost immediate reaction to my presence. They were either excited for something new and were friendly, or they saw me as some sort of betrayal to their regular teacher and hated me. Some would loudly groan, others would slump down, or make a comment like "not again". This was all before any of them had met me. I am not sure whether to chalk this up to experience with substitute teachers in the past, or if it is something more complex. I am still trying to figure out this phenomenon. And don't tell me the "they smell fear" bit, because I have never felt afraid or intimidated. Maybe the fact that they didn't smell fear made them angry? I can't be sure.
But for those few, there were much more who wrote me kind notes, wanted to talk to me, asked earnest questions, and even one who made me a bracelet. The ones who would whisper something hard they were going through to me with welled-up eyes.
That got me.