A Substitute Teacher’s Tale: By EDITH MONK HALLBERG

Friday December 24, 2004

I’ve been a substitute teacher for 23 years. I could practically do the daily routine with my eyes shut; Go to the office and get the key and sub folder with timesheet, ICM numbers, referral/detention forms. Go to the room, put your name on the board, check for lesson plans and materials. You might have time to warm up the room unless you have yard duty (about 75 percent of the time). Then you pick the kids up on the yard, or welcome the Middle School kids at the door. The kids take down the chairs and put their things away. Then it’s Attendance and SHOWTIME! 

Yes, substitute teaching is performance art. You’re always on-stage, modeling, adapting to any changes in schedule, thinking quickly to avoid tricky transitions, gaps in the plans, and any unusual behavior. I always act confident and am ready with a good sense of humor. 

I can smell out the class clown, the stoolie, the scapegoat, or just plain not together kid. Often, if class monitors haven’t been appointed, I know which ones to choose. And, I can tell a lot about the regular teacher not just by the plans, but by the arrangement of the room and of the materials. The behavior of the class may also be an indicator, but not always. 

I really enjoy the job despite the insecurity of work availability, no benefits, and some mistreatment from students and some administrators. 

Often there’s no support when you need it, and multiple day jobs with some 

classes are almost impossible without it.  

So, the legendary Cat Lady becomes a professional persona. Elementary students call me Edie The Cat Lady, the Middle School kids have to address me by my formal name. I can’t go anywhere in the Bay Area without adults and kids greeting me because I was their substitute. I try to act as if I remember them, but I usually don’t. But they remember the stickers, stories and rewards that I bring to them, or perhaps something about the time that I was teaching their class. 

I have so many stories about my experiences teaching that I don’t know which one to tell. Substitute teachers share their stories and comments about students, teachers, and principals when they come to our monthly meetings at a Berkeley restaurant the Wednesday after payday. 

One very happy story is what happened to me at an elementary school a few years ago. I went to the office to start the day and a 5th grader came up to me. 

“Are you the sub for Mr. Watson today?” she asked sweetly. 

“Why, yes I am,” I replied as I usually do. 

“Then these are for you!” she said, handing me a large homegrown bouquet of flowers. 

I thanked her then and the rest of the class when we were all settled. Mr. Watson had not only left the “Guest teacher” a note on the board, but the kids had “rules” for whenever there was a substitute. 

Tears still come to my eyes when I tell this story. Just that one experience will keep me going for another dozen years.