Adventures in Subbing, Part 3: The Whole Truth


In 2015, I added another hat to my hat rack. In addition to my Writer hat and my Poet hat and my Library Clerk hat, I started wearing a Substitute Teacher hat, which stills fits a little lopsided.

In October, I wrote two blog posts about my new role: Adventures in Subbing, Part 1: The Disadvantages of Not Knowing Anything and Adventures in Subbing, Part 2: The Advantages of Not Knowing Anything. Both posts focused on the humorous and positive aspects of the job. Yes, I shared some of my “troubles,” but those troubles mainly amounted to minor inconveniences like not knowing where to park or vague suspicions that I might be talking to a criminal (which was all in my head). I ended the second post with a rant about how the kids are mostly wonderful and you should approach every job with a positive attitude, showing respect for everyone you encounter.

I still believe all that.

BUT… now that I have more than three sub jobs under my belt, I’ve experienced a few situations which were less than ideal in a non-funny way. I don’t really want to write about them, partly because I try to keep things upbeat here on the blog (and in life in general) and partly because I don’t want to throw any particular school, teacher, or student under the bus (even if I might have wanted to a little bit at the time). I would rather just learn what I can from those experiences and move on.

The problem is, if I pretend like those bad days didn’t happen, then I’m doing a disservice to all substitute teachers who’ve gone through similar things. If I post nothing but sunshine and rainbows and ignore the ugly side of the job, then I’m lying. To myself, to my readers, and to anyone else who’s ever had a class of eighth graders completely and totally ignore them for an hour and a half.

The truth is that subbing is a hard job, and sometimes people make it even harder than it needs to be. So, in an effort to present both sides of the coin, I am admitting that subbing is not all roses and free day-old donuts.

The Whole Truth(s)

  • Sometimes your “lesson plan” will consist of a stack of uninformative packets with a sticky note on top that says, “Return at the end of class.”
  • If the school where you’re working does not have a strict policy on cell phone use, good luck.
  • Just because you accepted a job to be an aide in a seventh grade Language Arts class doesn’t mean you’ll actually be an aide in a seventh grade Language Arts class. You are a warm body on campus and the office will place you where they need you most.
  • You may, at some point, find yourself “teaching” a subject you are not qualified to teach, in which case you will feel stupid every time a student asks a question. (Example: I (an English teacher) was placed in a sixth grade math class with another sub, who was an art teacher. Sixth grade math has changed a LOT since we were in sixth grade, and we weren’t that good at it even then. We ended up having to get another math teacher to come teach us what we were supposed to be teaching the kids.)
  • While it is possible to become invested in a child’s situation after knowing her/him for only one hour, it is not always possible to make a lasting impact on that child’s situation, and that’s hard to accept.
  • No matter how old/wise/patient/rational you are, being ignored and disrespected hurts.
  • Often, there will be ZERO instructions in the lesson plan for what to do if a student misbehaves.
  • Sometimes there is not even a phone list in the room so that, in order to call the front office to ask someone to come deal with an unruly student, you actually have to look the school’s number up on your phone.
  • Sometimes a known trouble-maker will do something mean to a student with Aspergers, causing that student to scream and run out of the room, an incident which could have been prevented if you’d had any information about any of your students’ needs. But you don’t. So you spend the rest of the day trying to make sure the student is okay and, even though he is, you still leave at 4pm with a heavy, heavy heart.

Despite the negative experiences I’ve had at some schools, I still say there’s more good to be found in subbing than bad. I still say you should treat ALL students with respect. I still say you should walk into every classroom with a smile, if you want to have a chance of getting one in return. But there are going to be days when all the smiles and respect and good-planning in the world don’t work. And on those days, I wish you a safe drive home and a hug from someone you love when you get there. Or a glass of wine. Or three.

[Note: This post is old. I wrote it weeks ago and only decided to share it now. All of the sub jobs I’ve had so far in 2016 have been (mostly) lovely.]

Published by Carie Juettner

Carie Juettner is a former middle school teacher and the author of The Ghostly Tales of New England, The Ghostly Tales of Austin, The Ghostly Tales of Burlington, and The Ghostly Tales of Dallas in the Spooky America series by Arcadia Publishing. Her poems and short stories have appeared in publications such as The Twin Bill, Nature Futures, and Daily Science Fiction. Carie lives in Richardson, Texas, with her husband and pets. She was born on Halloween, and her favorite color is purple.

6 thoughts on “Adventures in Subbing, Part 3: The Whole Truth

  1. Oof. Yes, well, that sounds about right. I remember some kids being horrible to subs when I was a student, and I imagined it hasn’t changed much. At least you’re positive and optimistic about it; I remember getting jaded subs who couldn’t care less. Any school who gets you is very lucky, whether they realize it or not. ❤

    1. Thanks for saying that. I honestly can’t imagine why anyone would choose to sub if they didn’t care about the kids to some degree. It’s a mostly thankless job, for sure. But there are usually a few moments that make it all worthwhile.

  2. Like Annie says, some kids are very mean to subs, and you handle it gracefully, Carie. Your heavy heart and genuine desire to see the students do well made me tear up. Thank you for sharing the good experiences and the trying.

    1. Thanks, Ashley. Fortunately the misbehavior is rarely directed at me. I’m more likely to be ignored that spoken to rudely and have yet to have a student do anything I would consider “mean” (to me, at least). Maybe they can tell they wouldn’t get the response they want. 🙂

      1. Being ignored might make you mean to them! 😉 Just kidding. But that’s good that they sense you’re not to be messed with. Hehe. Truly, everyone can see it is a hard job, and any school is lucky to have you.

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