Subbing: First Day

My first day of subbing was at a middle school on Austin’s east side. Later I found out from Annette’s mom, it was the worst part of the city in which to sub. It was far out of town in the middle of nowhere with only factories, strip-malls and pawnshops to dot the countryside. When I arrived I was told that there were 17 subs requested for the school that day. Partly it was because there was a teacher in-service that day but mostly it was because someone had shot at the police with an AK47 and now neighborhood was on lockdown and teachers were having trouble getting to work.

The teacher I was subbing for was doing the in-service onsite she told that she would be back at the end of the day. She also told me that they were great kids and that if they misbehaved to use the suspension forms. This should have given me a hint as to what was going to happen. Every teacher tells the sub that their class is good. She is the only one who ever told me to use suspension forms. All I had to do was hand out some tests and then an assignment. Easy.

First period was tired and they just tested me out a bit. They were loud and out of their chairs and screaming. The class talked, shouted, was rude, used foul language, etc. Second period was worse. They’d learned from the first period that I was unprepared. The kids thought the funniest thing was to ask for pencils and then break them, to ask for a test or handout and destroy it. I didn’t get a single test even handed back to me at the end.

In middle school teachers have little leverage because far and away the most important thing to most students is what their peers think of them. Every moment is an opportunity to be awesome or stupid in the eyes of their classmates. Cute girls who’re just becoming sexual and learning that they can command attention by getting boys to act out. In every class boys said and did all kinds of imbecilic things for the sexual bones that the girls threw their way: a smile here, a piece of eye contact there. While mysterious and seductive to their male peers, to someone twice their age their flirting was as subtle as a caveman dance. One 13 year old in first period left me a paper neatly folded on her desk: “My name is . My number is . Please call me.” It was shocking.

Paper was thrown; kids hit each other. When I got hit in the head with a rubber band I finally called school security. Without asking anything the man said “I’ll be right there’. Just before he arrived the kids shut up. They began working away quietly and when the security officer showed up at the door he asked what the problem was. I sheepishly told him that the kids had been out of control but they were fine now. He looked at the little angels and asked: “Are you guys being out of control?” That was all they needed and the room erupted in front of him in a blaze of insanity probably designed to show off how completely in control they were. “I wasn’t being disruptive. He was!!” said one. “It wasn’t me,” shouted his friend, hitting him. All hell broke loose. The security man made some brief threats about calling their parents and then he left and with him any semblance of authority. Looking back, it was all screwball comedy. This Asian kid who hardly spoke English came to me almost in tears. In a despairing voice: “Don’t call my parents! I’ve been working so hard!!!” As if there was any accountability at all.

The class’s reputation was so bad that by the last period, eight kids who wanted to do their work immediately abandoned ship and left for neighboring classrooms. “This sucks, is said one kid who stayed. Now it’s going to be all quiet in here.” And it was. Quiet and controllable. There was a conversation that went on and on… But that was ok. A cute girl flirting with her cute boys, an annoyance, not a threat.

While it felt like I was trying to stand in a cold rushing river for a few hours, for me the hardest part of the day was leaving. I tried to clean up the floor on which her class had used to store the contents of their backpacks. I wanted to let her know how the day had gone.

“It went ok.” I lied. “Nothing too bad.”
“Yeah, I heard they were out of control,” she said.
“Well, thanks.” I said.
“Thank you,” she said. And it was over.

She was stacking books and never looked at me during the exchange. The office told me I didn’t have to sign out. I left; feeling cheap, a call girl hired to keep the class busy while the girlfriend was away. Somehow I had misunderstood my role in the educational process and it stung. It was the toughest 75 bucks I’ve EVER earned.