No Substitute
Written by
November 2011
Written by
November 2011

I am not a very good sick person.  I don’t like stuffing my pockets full of Kleenex, dosing up on Sudafed, and trying to make it through my day.  But I don’t like the alternative, either.  Hunkering down in the house with a stack of unread newspapers, that novel I’ve been meaning to finish since last summer, lotion-infused tissues, a remote control and satellite TV isn’t what I’d exactly call my dream day off. 

No, I’m not a good sick person at all.  I don’t savor the time away from my students.  When a teacher is sick, there’s still work to do.  Teaching isn’t the kind of job a person just doesn’t show up for.  Those kids don’t sit quietly and study when the adult decides they can’t make it to work that day.  The substitute doesn’t just show up and create a fantastic lesson plan guaranteed to make them forget all about me.  Sad to say, when I get sick it just gets harder.  I’m stuck with what’s the better of two evils: trying to communicate intelligently to my students between blows of the nose, or trudging down to school in the dark to write step by step plans that anyone walking in off the street could present for four different classes?  Not an easy one.

But this week, I had no choice.  I was down for the count, and hunkering under the covers was my only option.  So I did what most teachers do-teach one day, write sub plans, stay home, teach the next, write sub plans, and stay home.

It’s not that I think I’m irreplaceable.  Hardly.   I know there are many young people out there looking for work, eager to earn a paycheck.  But in my experience, not many of them are substitute teachers.  Last year my students reported that one of my subs whipped out a grapefruit and proceeded to eat her breakfast at my desk during class.  Another one surfed on my computer.  And still another decided to ditch the lesson plans I’d prepared for my English class and instead gave a drawing lesson and then proceeded to decorate my classroom with student art work.

Now don’t get me wrong-there are some subs out there who do an awesome job.  They really do substitute for the teacher.  They take their job seriously, follow the lesson plans, organize the papers, and spend time helping students.  The problem is that these subs are the ones everyone wants, and when I’m requesting someone at the last minute those stars are not who are available to show up in my classroom.

So, I’m not a very good sick person.  Or maybe I’m just not very good at letting go.  I remember junior high-have mercy on the substitute.  It really is one of the toughest jobs out there.  But in the big picture, what difference does a day of chaos here and there really make?  Maybe I should just settle in, drink my herbal tea, catch up on the news, and get lost in HGTV and rest.  Maybe I’ll even get lucky when I go back to work, and those students will be glad to see me.  I know I’ll be glad to see them.  I’m really not a very good sick person.

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