Archive for the ‘subbing’ Category

The complaining bracelet

June 1, 2013

On Wednesdays I get together with a group of girls for a couple of hours. We talk about our children, our husbands, our mothers and, probably more than we should, other women.

We’ve been doing this for years. We call it our therapy group. We bag on one another with wild abandon, and laugh ourselves healthy.

One day Tessa was telling us about something she had seen on TV. She called it a complaining bracelet.

It’s one of those rubber wrist bands people wear to support cancer research or the military. The idea is to put it on your wrist and then go 21 days without complaining.

If you complain, you have to switch it to the other wrist and start again. According to the program, 21 days is how long it takes to create or break a habit.

Someone on the show said to the project’s founder, “I have a friend who should do this.” He told her that was a complaint, and she had to move her bracelet to the other wrist. This bracelet is strict.

Tessa said the people who made it to 21 reported being happier and healthier. She said we don’t realize how much we complain, or how unnecessary it is, until we do this. She, herself, had no interest in doing this.

I loved the idea. I stole my kid’s school football wristband and announced, ‘One.’

The first Wednesday I showed up wearing it I was mostly quiet. I felt like a guard at Buckingham Palace.

The girls asked me questions: Didn’t you go dress shopping with your daughter? How’s the remodel going? What did your husband do for your birthday? I just smiled and shrugged.

Then they broke me, “How was your trip to visit your mother-in-law?”

I sighed and took the bracelet off. No point in wearing it on Wednesdays.

The experiment was wonderful. I was aware. I was positive. I was getting extra affection from my husband.

I still moved it from wrist to wrist occasionally, but I was different. I felt happier and healthier.

Then I started substitute teaching.

I never made it past ‘Three.’


May 27, 2013

In the English class I taught today, I made a list of big words and gave meaningless bonus points to students who could define them. It’s amazing how badly children want imaginary points.

I pulled from former ‘word-of-the-week’ terms at my house. I used to put a vocabulary word on the fridge every Sunday — ignominious, wan, penultimate. If my kids used the word 10 times that week, they got to choose something out of the prize drawer.

This was right up my daughter’s alley.

My daughter was loquacious right out of the womb.

Her first word was a sentence: Read-a-book.

By 18 months she was conversing clearly. People who heard her for the first time always whipped their heads toward me in surprise.

I confess I cheated. During her infancy I was finishing my linguistics degree, with a focus on language acquisition. She had better have spoken early.

When she went to the doctor for her 2-year check up, the nurse tested basic mental and motor skills. She asked her to point to the balloons on the wall. She asked her to hold up three fingers.

Then she gave my daughter a piece of paper and a pencil. “Can you draw circles?”

My daughter nodded, “Side by side or concentric?”

“Nevermind,” the nurse said. “I got what I needed.”

So did my daughter. I have it in her baby book, under first bonus points.

What a difference an aide makes

March 14, 2013

It happened again.

Despite my caution, I ended up with another special class. They tricked me this time by listing a teacher’s name.

When I asked at the office what subject I had, she gave me three initials I didn’t recognize.

It took three questions to learn that there is another secret code for ‘children with behavior and emotional problems.’

I was optimistic right away. There were two aides who knew the children, knew the routine and had been trained for this. They had the four students under control. I seemed to have no duties.

I wanted to sit down with my novel, but that felt improper, so I walked around the room looking at what the kids were doing. I don’t know what my goal was, but it seemed teacher-like.

Let me introduce you to the class, who sat around the room in a semi-circle facing the wall.

First we have the boy whose job it was to curse. He was doing a math sheet, saying, “This is bulls***. Why do I have to do this f***ing s***? What kind of a**hole. . . ?”

The next boy was all about colors. He had multi-colored shoes, clothes and  backpack. He had pushed aside his math and was busy licking his desk.

The boy by the door was calmly working.

The girl in the class appeared to be applying makeup, but she was using a blue PaperMate.

Colorful boy stopped licking his desk and raised his hand. “My name is Matt.”

I introduced myself and put my name on the whiteboard. The girl began a campaign to prevent the others from using it. “Call her ‘Person’!”

Cursing boy made my day when he shook his head at her and told her she had issues.

The boy by the door finished his work and moved to face the wall, where he could press his nose deeply into his P.E. clothes. He was about 6 feet tall.

Cursing boy called me over to tell me about himself. I realized these children were smart.

He was telling me about his father, who is a ‘Po Po.’ I thought this was excrement, but I found out later it means police officer.

While I was listening to his story, trouble started with the boy against the wall. He was seated, facing away from the aides, who were upset.

“Carl,” an aide said. “Hand it over.”

“I’m Enrique,” Carl said.

“Do you want to spend the rest of the day in the office?”


“That’s it, let’s go.” I didn’t want them to take him away. I loved these kids.

An aide had his elbow. As they left the room Carl said, “Enchildas.”

I wish I could remember the three initials. I can’t wait to go back.

The standing on my desk story

March 5, 2013

During the year I subbed, or as I refer to it, Hell, it was on this date I finally got a job for my daughter’s class.

My daughter wasn’t there.

She was with her teacher at the school’s talent show.

At the end of the day, her friends said, “Your mom told us a story about standing on her desk.” She told me she heard this 30 times. 

As many times she said, “Yeah, I know that story.”

My daughter doesn’t think I’m as entertaining as I do.

I had to tell it after I introduced myself, because one of the children said, “Instead of calling you by name, can we just stand on our desks to get your attention?”

Middle school kids think they’re entertaining.

The first week of high school my geometry teacher was beginning a lecture on finding the measurement of an angle when I butted in, “Can’t we just subtract the other two angle measurements from 180?”

In hindsight I get that his point that day was to show us a different way to get the answer. His response to me was “I never said the angles equal 180.”

Yeah, but don’t they?

“Show me where it says that.” Silly me, I thought he really wanted me to.

He went back to his lecture.

I found it in the book and raised my hand.

He went on with his lecture.

Undaunted, I stood on my chair.

At this point it was a showdown. I sat toward the front. He couldn’t pretend not to notice me.

He pretended not to notice me.

I stood on my desk.

He no longer had the class’ attention. He dropped his chalk hand to his side and shrugged as if to say Uncle.

“Yes Miss C?”

“Page 94!” I was proud.

He didn’t seem proud of me. He went on with his lecture.

I never did learn the other way to find the measurement of an angle.


March 4, 2013

Two years ago on this date I taught eighth-graders how to write sonnets, and I told the children what I know best about sonnets: They have 14 lines.

Here’s why I will never forget that.

A month after the magical week of meeting my husband in Hawaii he flew to my family reunion to declare his intentions to my clan.

My grama was one of nine children, none of whom had died at that point. They were all there. Piling on all of their offspring made a big gathering.

My boyfriend and I had jumped in on a Trivial Pursuit game with two of my cousins and my mom. I was trying to look smart.

He read from a card, “How many lines are in a sonnet?”

I answered “five” and grabbed for the die. I was feigning confidence.

“Wait,” he seemed reluctant to tell me I was wrong. “A sonnet has…”

“Oh a sonnet,” I interrupted. “Seven.”

I made for the die again.


“Oh a whole sonnet.”

That afternoon of fun was a pack of trying-to-catch-a-mate lying.

I was pretending to be a knower of things, and he was pretending to be a liker of games.

Our pants were aflame.

The special day class

February 26, 2013

Here’s how I learned the hard way to be careful which sub jobs I accepted, during that awful year I waited to get back into the newsroom.

Usually the Web site lists the teacher, grade range and subject. When it’s a two- or three-hour job it just says ‘IEP.’ This is secret code for ‘meeting.’

When I get to the office I have to ask what grade or subject I’m teaching. I also have to ask where the bathroom is. Otherwise they just hand me keys and say ‘F-7 is over there.’

In this case, the office employee (I don’t know what they’re called; I only know I will never use the ‘secretary’ word again,) said there was a variety of grades. “It’s a special day class,” she said.

This turned out to be secret code for ‘Children with extreme emotional or behavior disorders.’ But at this point in the story I didn’t know that.

I got to the room and saw a teacher, an aide, a Braille instructor and 20 assorted special children who were not behaving predictably.

I soiled my underpants.

The teacher said, “When I go, tell them to partner up and quiz each other with these telling-time cards. Have them get in a line at 1:45 and walk them to the bus.” She left.

The aide grabbed her coat too. This was not going to be good. She introduced me to the class, then said something to effect of, “They can’t tell time, or partner up or work independently in any way. Bye.”

The Braille instructor took the blind girl into a little room and closed the door.

I stood in front of the children and had many articulate thoughts of panic. What I said was, “Um.”

I pulled out the telling-time cards. A boy in the front row walked over and took them from me. He pulled one out and sat on the rest. This was exciting because he had evidently sat in water at recess. He put the other card in his mouth.

I didn’t know what to do.

I had brought children’s books with me. I didn’t suspect they would sit and listen, but I guessed it would pass some time with the trying. It went better than I had hoped. It was a visually miraculous book about color, and they got to see colors change through layered transparencies.

They were fascinated. I was brilliant. I’m Super Sub. Give me a cape.

Next I offered to teach them a song. The first song that popped into my head was “The Little Green Frog.” This was a tragic idea.

It starts out “Ah-ump went the little green frog,” with a tongue sticking out and popping back in on the “Ah-ump.” Little kids love it.

I got as far as the word ‘little’ when all hell broke lose. 

A child in the center of the room stood up and pulled on his hair with both hands. He was yelling, “I’m angry! I’m so angry!”

I went there, squatted in front of his desk and asked him to tell me what he was feeling.

“I’m so angry!” he was almost sobbing at this point, pulling hard on his hair.

“Can you tell me why you’re feeling angry?” I tried to sound soothing and calm. I was not feeling calm.

“Because you’re crazy!” he yelled. Then he ran out the door.

In isolation this would have been bad, but when he had first stood up, two other children got out of their seats — one chasing the other with a rolled up paper in laps around the cluster of desks. Bad I could have handled. This was beyond bad.

When Angry Boy ran out the door three other children ran out after him. Once outside, they scattered and hid.

I had to leave the room unattended while I corralled them. This took about until the end of the day.

I was late getting them headed toward the bus, and they were in no kind of line. I didn’t care. I was walking toward the bus and in a general way they were kind of following me.

My biggest accomplishment that day was waiting until I was in the car to cry.

I called my husband as I drove to pick up my children from their schools and told him the whole thing, blow by blow.

He had the gall to laugh heartily throughout the telling.

“Honey?” he finally said. Good, here comes my sympathy.

“Will you tell me that story again tonight? I loved it.”


I’m not over it

February 15, 2013

This morning, by way of dangerous driving on my part and lots of luck from the cosmos, my son was on time for school. He had been out late at a badminton game and overslept some.

I’m no stranger to this. I treated my high school tardy office like homeroom.

But one semester I took an introduction-to-law class I was motivated by. I was motivated to attend, study, do homework and be punctual.

The cosmos did not support me.

During this particular semester, the city underwent construction, which hopscotched its projects in synchronicity with my desperate and changing route to school. The street I took to avoid the road closures was inevitably unfortunate. I was running into class seconds after the bell everyday.

Here’s the thing: I was running in prepared. For the most part, I had thrown the honors classes in the wind in favor of shooting pool at the local bowling alley, but this class had me home at night reading the text, and up in the morning primping for high school. This was the one that was getting me back on campus.

And I was trying to get there on time, which was new for me.

On the day of our first big test I slipped into my seat in the back corner, right inside the door. I was out of breath, but the bell was still sounding. The teacher counted out the exams and handed them to the first person in each row for passing back.

My row was short one.

I raised my hand. I was all smiles. I was ready for this test.

Mr. Wheelock asked me to step outside the room with him. I was to go back in for my backpack, leave and never come back.


I own a lot of irresponsibility. My mistakes were my fault, and I passed up plenty of offerings from the cosmos. This event, though, I’m bitter about.

I’ve chewed on it for 20 years, and can’t figure out what I could have done differently. I was leaving early, changing my route, planning ahead. I couldn’t get there.

Added to the loss of the class was the humiliation of walking back in that silent room for my things.

The cosmos has a sense of humor. Mr. Wheelock appears to be the only teacher I had who is still at the high school, where I’m now subbing as a Spanish teacher. We have the same planning period, and cross paths in the hall outside the bathroom every day.

I don’t say hi.

My dad used to say…

February 11, 2013

Today one of my students was complaining, “It’s too hot in here.”

I told her, “My daddy used to say, ‘It’s not hot; you’re hot.”

Know my my dad says now? It’s hot in here.

The weather

January 23, 2013

One day when I was subbing I asked a student to take the attendance to the office.

“Is it cold out?” she asked.

I told her, “Yes, but it’s a dry cold.”

This tickled me, particularly because it was raining.


January 14, 2013

Three years ago I was substitute teaching some for extra money, (my real job is as a copy editor.)

One day I was at my old junior high school taking over a friend’s English class on what I still think of as the archery field.

The children were fascinated to know PE class used to include a week of archery. I was fascinated that anyone would think this was a good thing. Archery terrifies me.

And as so often happens, I started explaining, and it started sounding ridiculous to me….

Every year in spring Mrs. Tilson marched us across the campus in our little white shorts and bright yellow — which they cooled up by calling ‘gold’ — striped T-shirts. We stood with our backs to the busy street, facing blocks of hay with targets on them, and heard about the dangers of the feathers.

That’s right, the feathers.

‘Don’t get your fingers in the way of the feathers,’ is how the speech began. ‘When they whiz by, they’re like razors. They will cut your fingers.’

And then came the worst part. Mrs. Tilson told about the kid who held the arrow too close to his face, and when he released it, a feather sliced his eyeball in half.

In preparation for writing this entry, I Googled ‘archery dangers,’ ‘feather dangers’ and ‘archery safety tips.’

Guess what. Mrs. Tilson is the only one who knows about the feathers.

I was dismissed from the PTA

August 23, 2012

Today is Gloria Steinem’s 77th birthday.

My mother grabbed the women’s lib movement of the early seventies with both hands and held on tighter than John Travolta to a mechanical bull.

She didn’t wear dresses. I was taught “housewife” was a dirty word. My bedtime stories came from Ms. magazine. At 3 I knew what ERA stood for. I knew Gloria Steinem’s birthday.

Naturally, I spent my childhood dreaming of taking my husband’s last name, wearing an apron and being an H-word.

When I refused to live with my boyfriend before we got married, my mom said, “Where did I go wrong?”

It was sheer rebellion that had me specify ‘I now pronounce you man and wife’ was the phrase to be used at my wedding. (Although it was sheer sassiness that had me specify ‘You may now kiss the groom’ follow it.)

When I quit my job and joined the PTA my mom gave me a bitter speech. “That’s just a clique for moms who don’t work. I tried to be in it, but they treat you differently if you have a job. And they schedule meetings so working moms can’t attend. They disapprove of moms who aren’t H-words.”

I heard this lots. I figured it for outdated if not emotionally skewed information.

When the kids moved from elementary to middle school, I ignored the PTA and joined band boosters. Go ahead and brag about knowing me — I was the vice president.

For my youngest child’s last year there, I joined the PTA on the hospitality committee. The PTA president — a close friend and fellow band booster — asked me to do this, based on my cooking or baking all the food for several band events.

I would be doing things like the welcome-back faculty breakfast and baked goods for teachers at Christmas, right up my alley.

There was another change at the beginning of that school year. I started working as a substitute teacher.

I know you think I’m about to concede my mother was right. I’m not quite that big a woman.

But I’m going to suggest it.

Several weeks before the Christmas break I did what the committee chairwoman asked: I pulled out my recipes and made a 15-item list of items I thought would be great for faculty gifts.  I was excited to do this. The previous year they had made Rice Krispy treats, half-dipped in chocolate.

I told the committee chair to pick two items. I would make them both.

I didn’t hear back for a long time. Then on Dec. 5 I got this e-mail, which I cut and pasted without altering:

I was talking with Sally today and she told me all that you have going on right now, with Substituting and all. You sound overly busy at an already too busy time of year. So I can’t in good conscienciousness ask you to make anything, let alone 400 of a bake item. And since we need to have them packaged and ready by the end of next week…  I think we will just go with the simpler idea of the dipped pretzels this time around.  Thank you so much for thinking about all this and in a less hectic time of life it would have been perfect to have your yummy treats.  I hope you agree.

I was gobstopped. That H-word had dismissed me because she found out I had a job.

Now, I’m not saying my mother was right, but I may give my daughter the same warning when her time comes.

The Candy Lady

July 7, 2012

The school year started today for the area’s year-round schools. This means I could be called in to sub again.

Somehow my stories have given Uncle Mike the impression that I like subbing. I’d like to take this opportunity to disabuse my reading audience of that ridiculous notion.

There’s irony in this story, so I’m starting with a seemingly unrelated scandal.

One of my girlfriends was the PTA president for my daughter’s middle school. We were sitting around at the school one afternoon when I mentioned I didn’t participate in the membership drive because of the reward.

Kids who sold memberships were given candy by the PTA.

By coincidence, the day after my grousing, I got an e-mail from one of the teachers, who also happens to be an old friend.

She reported that somebody called the principal to complain about teachers’ giving candy.

I wasn’t he, but I agreed with the complainer. When I tried to take my son off food coloring, I painstakingly read labels at the store, only to have him come home with pockets full of Jolly Ranchers. Teachers doled them out for correct answers.

The principal told the caller she wasn’t about deprive her teachers of this effective incentive. The parent cited the education code violation and threatened action.

The principal was forced to issue the moratorium, and was bound by policy to protect the caller’s identity. This was bad news for me.

According to my friend’s e-mail, the faculty believed I was the offender. She said she didn’t believe it.

If this is confusing, I’ll clarify some distinctions: The PTA and the school are separate entities. A complaint about the school was a can of worms I did not want to open. What I made was an unofficial mom-to-mom comment about what the PTA was doing, by way of explanation as to why such an involved parent did not buy a PTA membership. Sadly, this was in front of a witness.

I was trapped. The person who knew I was not the guilty party was mum. The person who suspected I was the culprit was telling everybody. The teachers hated me. I was The Anti-Candy Lady.

At the same time, this was going on:

I worked my second day as a substitute teacher — which, please remember, I hate.

The teacher left instructions. ‘There is candy in my desk. Give it to the kids who are helpful.’ I kept this to myself, meaning not to do it.

These second-graders were perfect. They were helpful, sweet, enthusiastic and full of personality, the lot of them. At the end of the day they asked where was their candy.

I was running the reading table, and the autistic boy’s aide got the little candy bars out for the class.

A week later I was on that campus again to drop something at the office. It was recess time.

Children came running to throw their arms around my knees and proclaim their love. They had a sub that day. They told me they begged their teacher to request me instead.

Their teacher told them I would never sub at that school again, because I gave them candy. She labeled me “The Candy Lady.”

At least I’m balanced.

My most embarrassing moment

April 22, 2012

Today I was asking my students my questions, and one of them got, ‘What’s the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you?’

He was rock climbing and his pants came down.

This reminded me of something that happened in college. I can’t believe I didn’t think of this story before.

Throughout my phonetics course I was working on a research project. We each had a date at the end of the semester for a presentation.

I had a rough go of it from start to finish, but finally finished.

The morning my presentation was scheduled, it snowed heavily. My bike ride to school was only about three long blocks downhill and across campus, but snow meant I had to leave early.

I put on a button-down sundress with a wool sweater, knit tights and UGG boots. Boulder has a different standard of style and formality.

When it was time to go, my 5-month-old son was still nursing. He was on the cusp of sleep and still gulping milk.

I waited as long as I could, but finally had to pluck him off, hand him wailing to the babysitter, tug down my sweater and go.

I pedaled hard and arrived in a sweat — half from the workout and half from nerves.

I ran in a little bit late. I assumed my name had been called, because people were looking around the auditorium in question.

Once I got to the front, I took a deep breath and peeled off my sweater. My dress was still unbuttoned and my nursing bra flap was hanging open.

I looked down at my exposed breast to see a swell of milk drip to my shoe.

My professor, a sweet little woman with graying curls, quickly stepped in front of me. With her back to the crowd she smiled and tried to offer comfort. She said, ‘It’s OK, we’ve all been there.’

That being the case, I guess this wasn’t a very interesting story.

The story story

April 11, 2012

In my subbing, I’m using a lot of what I learned from my children’s best teachers. I volunteered in their classes every week, and knew which teachers were worth their stuff.

My kids’ first-grade teacher was that teacher they make movies about. Her demeanor was patient and maternal; her consequences were consistent; her lessons were creative. She was always on top of the latest findings in education. More than any teacher I’ve watched, she had a reason for the way she said or did everything.

And she sang and played guitar.

By the greatest stroke of luck, she was my son’s teacher when he went through his second surgery, the one to remove the tumors. It eased my mind that she was who I was turning him over to during this emotional year.

When I saw her again this fall, I learned that he had an emotional impact on her, too.

She had done a segment on author style. The children had to write a story in a famous writer’s voice. My son wrote “How the Cobra got its Hood,” a la Rudyard Kipling.

It was about a baby cobra whose parents were divorcing. As they fought for custody, tugging the child this way and that, they permanently changed their little one.

We were stunned. We didn’t know anybody with kids who had divorced. How did he get custody battles in his frame of reference?

The next year this teacher divorced, and her husband threatened to fight her for the kids.

She remembered my son’s story, and in an act of selflessness and love, let him have them.

It scares me some that he motivated her to do such a painful thing.

She shared with me that she believes she was being a sent a message.

All these years she was thinking of him, letting him influence her actions, and here I am everyday among children in my new job, trying to be her.

We didn’t even know.

A student’s rabbit

April 3, 2012

I taught science at my old high school that awful year I was subbing.

The teacher’s note to me was ominous. Period by period it listed the kids I should expect to send to the principal.

Some children’s names were annotated with “keep on an eye on him; he likes to write on things (not paper);” or “takes things that aren’t his.”

I can’t remember if I just inferred, or if he outright said, “These are a bunch of thugs.”

A large man popped his head in before first period to tell me he was nearby if I needed help.

Point taken. I hate subbing.

Early in the day, after everyone was done with the assignment, I asked the children questions. I’ve learned that children of all ages love to answer questions, and I have about 20 at the ready.

I always start with “What’d you have for dinner last night?” followed by “Where’s the farthest you’ve traveled?”

I was about on my fifth question — What pets do you have? — when a little ruffian told me had a rabbit. He said it’s always sneezing.

“He has snuffles,” I diagnosed. I once had a rabbit with snuffles, name of Cyndi Lop Ear. The sneezing is adorable, but serious. He promised to take his rabbit to the vet.

The boy behind him, with a shaved head and cut-off sleeves, interjected, “I once had a rabbit. I ate it.”

This child was on the teacher’s list with two asterisks. I ignored him.

I was about to ask a child what her dream car was when he interjected again.

“It was a chocolate rabbit.”

OK, sometimes I like subbing.