Jeff has the best story of substitute teaching I’ve seen so far from readers:
I subbed for a year at Middletown High School in Middletown, Ohio in 1972. My friend and college roommate was the art teacher and I was very much at loose ends, not ready to settle into a full-time routine.
My favorite story was the day I was brought in to sub for the three-hour Vocational Ed class that met in an industrial kitchen and prepared the kids to work in restaurants. There were no lesson plans; absolutely nothing for me to teach. I had the students sit and do their homework for other classes, which they claimed they did not have.
Mid morning, a group of students said the teacher had told them to clean the walk-in refrigerator, so I let them do that. They went into the walk-in and closed the door, but it wasn’t long before the rest of us could detect the sweet smell of pot being smoked.
I went into the walk-in to deal with the situation and as soon as I entered, they all exited and closed the door, leaving me locked inside. I sat there fuming for about 15 minutes, then they let me out. I walked into a party in progress; everyone was high and they were cooking up munchies for all: omelettes, cakes, cookies—you name it.
There was nothing for me to do but relax and go with it. We had our little feast, cleaned the kitchen, and went on our way.
Substitute teachers are often referred to as babysitters because they typically show up to a classroom just to keep order while the regular teacher is away, keeping the kids preoccupied with a movie or busy work. This reader’s experience, on the other hand, was far more serious:
I was first a regular sub, then a long-term sub (same class assignment for the duration) at the “alternative education program” for boys who had been expelled for behavioral issues. My whole story is way too long to commit to text, but here’s the short version:
A first-year teacher was about to be sexually assaulted at the hands of about six of the worst boys. They were in a covered area, outside on a recreational terrace, with windowless walls on two sides and the only door having a small window. They were at a ping pong table, circling the teacher like sharks, with each one darting in to ruffle her hair when she turned to face the previous would-be attacker.
In my few seconds of observation, their escalation was obvious. So I slammed the nearest boy against a wall and marched him back into the building, banging into doors and walls every step of the way, and I did each of the others in turn.
The teacher was indignant. She “reported me” for being “absolutely brutal” in my handling of “these children.” In her defense, she was completely oblivious to the danger and simply saw me manhandle a bunch of kids. She was of the opinion that they were “mistreated by life and misunderstood,” which while not IN-correct says nothing about the state of their current pathology.
I quit on the spot.
Update from a skeptical reader:
I’m not sure I understand with what attitude we are expected to receive this anecdote. Presumably we are to nod at the sage wisdom of a veteran educator and praise them for averting a disastrous situation. Why should we be so credulous? The writer asserts that he (his masculinity is thoroughly unambiguous) can predict, and successfully predicted, a sexual assault which was about to occur, on the basis of circling and hair-ruffling. I’m not convinced.
Physical restraint, removing clothing, forcing the victim into obviously pre-assault positions—these I would take very seriously. I of course was not present to witness the situation, but from “a few seconds of observation” of “ruffl[ing] her hair” we can neatly conclude that a sexual assault was definitely about to occur? This is only my first problem.
As a minor note, the attitude of the writer towards the students seems problematic. He describes them as “circling like sharks.” That’s somewhat dehumanizing. He also feels the need to employ scare quotes when they are described as children. Are they younger than 18 or not?
But lastly, all of this aside, how does any of this justify the writer’s actions? He admits to brutalizing each and every one of the students, slamming them against walls and doors repeatedly. Why? Presumably he is trying to teach them a lesson. But what lesson is it, exactly, that he is teaching? That violence is the ultimate source of power? That justice is not restoration or the rule of law, but pure retributive fury?
His inability to understand his coworker’s complaint that he is exacerbating and reinforcing the very worldview that leads to the kinds of acts he purports to have prevented is the most frustrating sort of bull-headedness. I hope no one glorifies this kind of behavior. If he had not quit, he should surely have been fired. That fists are not universal problem-solving tools is precisely what violent young men need to learn in school. Indeed, it is hard to teach them anything else until this one lesson has been taught. If this teacher can't grasp that, I am quite glad he is no longer charged with the care of children.
If you’ve ever been a substitute teacher—or any teacher, for that matter—who felt compelled to physically intervene with a student, please drop us a note: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I substitute teach in Maryland. I went for a half-day job in a fourth-grade class. I walked in and the teacher said, “I was too busy and left no plans. Do what you want.” He also warned me about a problem child. So, long story short, among other things the boy kept running out of the classroom. The fourth time I tried to stop him—after all, I am responsible for his safety. Reporting it to the office had been useless. I told the assistant principle [AP] of the boy’s behavior before I left that day.
Two days later I got a call from the AP. The parent complained that I “grabbed” her son's arm, so the AP accused me of child abuse. After the school filed a request to ban me, I was reprimanded and banned from the school and received a letter admonishing me for my inappropriate behavior. The complaint contained quotes of things I had not said—but I had no recourse. There was no person willing to meet with me. The system made up quotes and never let me defend myself.
All this for $19.00 an hour.
My father worked as a full-time teacher at a middle school in a rough part of Kansas City that had a fair amount of gang violence, so he—a large 6’2’’ retired Army veteran—was always called upon by teachers to try to neutralize an especially rowdy or violent student. (The security guard at his school would actually try to avoid such confrontations.) Physical contact with students is always incredibly dicey for a teacher, regardless of context, so if a student was a threat to others, my dad would try to quickly get him in a fireman’s carry—a safety maneuver, as he would remind parents—and haul him down to the office to detain, often for a police officer. He got assaulted many times but still had parents protest that he shouldn’t have intervened at all, so it was a really fraught, unofficial part of his job. (If you’re a teacher, of any kind, and have any advice or stories to share regarding violent students, please drop us a note.)
A reader in Texas, Dave, recalls a high point and a low one from his days of subbing:
I essentially got assaulted one day. I was the sub in ISS (In-School Suspension) and was helping a student with her homework at the desk upfront when I saw something flying toward me. I managed to duck just in time. It was a pear, and it hit the wall five feet behind us, with enough force to splatter us both with chunks of the pear. I wasn’t exactly sure who threw it, although I knew which desk it had been sitting on all morning, but dude should have been on the baseball team; that was a strong throw and pretty damned good control.
I did almost exclusively middle and high school, but I once did a day with a second grade class that was by far the most fun I ever had as a sub.
The district had told me I’d just be a teacher’s assistant that day, but when I got there, they told me I’d have the class to myself. The kids must have known they had a newbie, because it was starting to get a little rowdy when the office came over the loudspeaker to ask if everything was OK. They clammed up and I told the office we were fine. Then I said to the class “Y’all didn't tell me they could hear us at the office!” They thought that was the funniest thing ever (and honestly, I had no idea they could hear us at the office), and the rest of the day, they were in the palm of my hand. I even considered going back and taking some elementary education classes because it was so much fun.
In contrast, Bernie had a terrible time with second graders—and subbing overall:
I’ve attempted to do some substitute teaching a couple of times in my hometown, Burlington, NC. I found the position to be nearly impossible as it was presented to me. I was rarely called to be a sub, and most of the time when I was called, it was the morning of the day I was required. In two years I was never given the opportunity to teach two days consecutively at the same school.
Since most of my jobs were at schools I was not familiar with, I spent a large portion of my time trying to figure out where the lunch room was, what the proper procedures were to get there, and what I should do while my students were eating. Just imagine filling orders at Amazon one day, a local coffee shop the next, and working on the Ford assembly line the next.
Then there was the issues concerning the rules at each school. I was never told how to handle the use of electronic devices in class. I occasionally would resort to asking the students what the policies were concerning phone use. Of course, that made it difficult to determine which students were trying to mislead me.
Even though I was a male over the age of 60 while being a sub, there was virtually no respect given to me by the older students. I was just another sub to be ignored. In some of the high schools the discipline in class was atrocious. I struggled to keep the chaos from spilling into the hallways.
After a couple of assignments in elementary schools (one day at each, of course) I realized I was more intimidated by 2nd graders than I was by adolescents. Controlling a group of unknown 7 year olds was very difficult. They were often very sweet young people, but keeping the class orderly was nearly impossible, if there were some kids intent on acting out.
Even though I had raised two boys, had a MBA and needed the job, I finally gave up trying to do this work. I never learned the layout of any of the schools because I almost never taught at the same school twice. If I limited the grades I was willing to “teach,” my opportunities to work plummeted. Naturally I was given the classic treatment of subs by many students: no respect, no discipline, and little cooperation. I say “classic treatment” because I remember subs being treated the same way when I was in school.
Our school system had gone to a completely automated program of determining need and finding a sub. The system resulted in random assignments to a variety of schools. Of course, there were the subs who were called by individual teachers who received multiple consecutive days in the same classroom, or the subs who got assignments to replace teachers on maternity leave or other extended absences.
I never had the opportunity for one of these better assignments. As the author stated, you needed to have a friend as a teacher or know the person in charge of substitutes at a particular school to get a good assignment.
I removed my name from the substitute list after two years of trying to adapt to the changing conditions of this work. I have great respect for public education teachers—perhaps even more so now. But being a substitute teacher is not teaching; it is baby-sitting under the worse conditions possible.
Pity the substitute.
Regarding that automated program of random sub assignments, Bernie might have instead benefitted from the tech mentioned by this reader, Luke, who subbed in the Seattle area:
Many ex-substitutes talked about getting phone calls in the evening or starting from 5 a.m. for open sub positions, but I did mine all online. After checking a website online for a month, I started paying 5 dollars/month for a sub app that sent me notifications as soon as an open position was posted (and allowed me to reserve an opening from the app). I got as much work as I could handle.
The most popular such app seems to be SubstituteAlert. Mary in Kentucky doesn’t have to worry about such apps because she seems to have a pretty steady gig at the same school:
After teaching English/Language Arts to middle school students for 30 years, I retired at the end of May 2016. My plan was to come back this fall as a “guest teacher,” a title coined by a dear friend and fellow educator. Yesterday was my first day back at Burgin Independent School, a small independent school where I spent 16 years as a teacher.
I taught all day, and when I left I realized that I had no stress, no papers to grade, and no state-mandated paperwork to complete. There was actually intellectual space—no racing thoughts, no future plans rolling over in my mind. Just the peace that comes with doing what I was meant to do, without the stress. I loved it.
I think you substitute teach because you want to, no because of money. But I also understand why people give up on this option, given the social state of our country. There are tough situations with kids these days. But I will never give up on them, and my presence in the school after active duty has ceased gives kids something consistent in their educational lives.
And no, I am not a babysitter; I am a teacher, a mentor, a guidance counselor, a friend. I am not a “sub.”
To end on a high note, here’s a retired lawyer who ventured into subbing:
I especially liked special needs classes in elementary and middle school. The experience is heart-wrenching and tremendously joyful. There are no words to properly describe the fleeting experience of connecting with a child who most of the day appears to be inhabiting a distant universe. You cannot imagine the intensity of the satisfaction that comes from teasing just a couple of normal sentences and eye contact from a child who is incoherent most of the day, and then have that same child recognize you when you come back to sub the next week, run to you at the doorway, and give you a big hug.
Some classes are boring. Often the teacher had time to prepare a lesson plan for you, which might just consist of having the class answer the six questions at the end of Chapter 9, and then start reading Chapter 10. So you just take attendance and make sure no one sets the room on fire. But I have now decided that at age 68, I do want to teach as a second career, prepare my own material, make a difference in someone’s life, and hopefully get an occasional hug.
The latest teacher to email us, Patrick, shares a disturbing account of his subbing days:
I have been enjoying your series on substitute teaching, as I have been a sub in a number of varied situations. Just a brief background: I am a New Jersey based music teacher and spent five years (which included extended school year) as an outside “contractor” teaching music in a self-contained school for autistic students. I loved the work and—if I may say so—was very effective. Working with students who were on various points of the autistic spectrum was beyond rewarding.
I loved teaching so much that I decided to become a certified teacher through a program in New Jersey called “alternate route.” This basically means you earn your certification while working. I moved from my school for autistic students, and was hired into an inner-city public school in Newark. I was initially hired as a substitute because the school is very tough to teach in. The principal and administrators wanted to make sure I could “handle it” before they allowed me to pursue my certificate.
I should also tell you the principal was completely inept. He had no presence in terms of discipline, nor in terms of building a school community. These things were vital considering the community around the school is mired in poverty. Directly behind the school is one of the most notorious public housing projects, where many of the students came from. On my first day I was directly warned by two teachers that the principal was losing control of the building.
My first few weeks weren’t bad. I was able to establish myself and began offering lessons to students before school. I started a school drum line and was doing OK. It was not “easy” by any means, but I was holding my own and getting work done.
By December, however, the school began slipping into complete chaos. Fights became a regular occurrence, and I felt like I was breaking up two a day. One day a fight between two fifth-grade boys became so intense that I had no choice but to go into the scrum and try to break things up. I did not lay hands on anyone, but I was trying to get between the boys when one of them turned around and began choking me.
Luckily a student ran down to alert security and a guard came running in. The boy took his hands off my neck and ran away. I was left sitting on the floor in shock.
Mind you, I was merely classified as a “sub” (even though I was there every day, writing lessons plans, coming into school early to give lessons, and even starting a mentor group for older boys), so I had no support from the union, no paid time off. Nothing.
By the time January rolled around, the school was just plain out of control because the students knew there was no recourse for bad behavior. The dance, art, and gym teachers and I sat down a large group of 6th and 7th graders—some of our best students—to beg them to stay on track and not get caught in the nonsense. The school got so bad that full-time teachers were taking leaves of absence due to stress. Some teachers were physically assaulted. Verbal abuse from students was a daily thing. Substitute teachers refused assignment at the school.
This reached its pinnacle in the early spring when I was put up against my smart board by a 7th grade boy who turned to the class and said “Take a picture because I’m about to beat the shit out of the music teacher.” Luckily two other students came to my aid and get him to back off.
Not only did I finish the year, I went above and beyond the job of “substitute.” I presented concerts, gave lessons, established relationships with some of the toughest students, and made an impact. But in the midst of the chaos, I was never able to move into the alternate route program. The principal was let go at the end of the year, and, due to school closings, I was moved out and replaced with a certified/tenured teacher.
So all of the work I did was for nothing. I was informed it couldn’t be applied towards my alternate route work, which I couldn’t believe. A year in this school wasn’t only worth a teacher’s certification but an MA in Education AND Purple Heart!
However, I was so affected by my time, and the kids, that I still returned to the school for the year after and continued to run a mentor group free of charge.
Another sub, Paul, was able to avoid the violence in his school, and he offers some advice to other teachers:
I was tempted to do a little storytelling about my fun times as a sub after I read your “Chill Substitute” note, but I realized I’d be playing the part of Jordan Peele in the clip you embedded, since my story is strangely parallel: On one subbing assignment, I ended up toasting hot dogs in a glass-blowing class. No mind-altering substances were involved for me, but otherwise the stories track rather closely!
I’ve also had a tiny bit of experience with one of your other topics: school violence. I’ve only been peripherally involved in a few fights between students. What I’ve noticed—and other teachers should feel free to correct me, since I’m new at this [email@example.com]—is that fights tend to be more vicious between girls, and they tend to be between younger students. Boys are generally one-punchers, and the juniors and seniors usually have enough maturity (or apathy) to avoid actual brawls, or at least to avoid them on campus.
I’ve long felt the best way to handle a fight (any fight) is to keep it from happening in the first place. One day during my student teaching, my mentor and I noticed that our hallway was much more crowded than usual, probably waiting for something—probably a fight. We waded out into the crowd and made ourselves visible, and the crowd dispersed.
In contrast, a fight broke out just outside my door on the one day I hadn’t posted myself in the hall. Since it was two boys fighting, it was over by the time I got outside. Another day I did get between two girls, which was against all my training. They tell us to never interpose your body into a fight, as you might get hurt. I took that risk anyway and it worked, but it might not have. Probably my smartest move in that encounter was to widen the gap between the combatants: as an administrator took one girl to the office, I took the other in the opposite direction—ostensibly to her locker to get her bag, but mostly to keep them out of sight of each other for a while.
Other times, a student comes looking to start trouble with me. In that case, the best way I’ve found to deal with it is a sort of aikido [a Japanese martial art]. One day when I was subbing, I was handed a note by a student that said “Fuck you sub” (and yes, I automatically corrected his punctuation in my head even as I read it). I handed the note back to him and cheerfully said “Thank you!” As I walked away, I heard another student ask the note-passer what I’d said, and I heard the note-passer say, baffled, “He said ‘Thank you’!” The note-passer gave me little other trouble that period—and he returned to my classroom no less than three times, over the course of the day, to ask if I was mad about the note.
My philosophy is that if a student wants to start a fight with you, why give them what they want?
I felt like I passed a test that day, and my confidence as a sub skyrocketed. In fact, that confidence may have helped land me my current full-time teaching job. Now classroom management is much less of a problem (though I’ve found that my laissez-faire attitude that I had to adopt while subbing is still with me, which is not always for the best). What’s killing me is the paperwork which I never had to deal with in the past, including inventing emergency sub plans. I should probably do that tomorrow, come to think of it …
Impeachment is now effectively inevitable. Taylor’s testimony fleshed out the biggest open questions, including whether there was a quid pro quo with Ukraine (there was), what it involved (military aid), and what Trump wanted (investigations of the Biden family and the 2016 election.) Congress has now heard from career civil servants and from political appointees, all telling a similar story, and Taylor removed the last scintilla of doubt. With that, it’s all but impossible to imagine a scenario in which House Democrats don’t vote to impeach the president.
The senator is best positioned to pry the Republican Party from President Trump’s hands.
Donald Trump has never feared another elected Republican. Over the course of five years, he has bullied and insulted, mocked and complained about nearly every GOP officeholder past and present, including George W. Bush and Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Jeff Flake. He knew that the Republicans who dared to stand up to him couldn’t hurt him (Bob Corker), and that the Republicans who could have hurt him wouldn’t dare stand up to him (Paul Ryan).
All of which has led Trump to believe that there is no possible danger of the Republican Party being pried from his grasp. But Trump may at last need to rethink that calculus.
Mitt Romney’s attempt to excise Trump from his party started early. In March 2016, he became the only former Republican presidential nominee to take a public position against Trump’s candidacy. This act of resistance didn’t work, however, because while Romney had moral authority, he had no real power.
A framework meant to help people become more attuned to their partners now gets treated like a personality test.
The idea that there are five distinct “love languages” may be as familiar to some people today as the idea that there are seven continents, four seasons, or three Stooges—which is a pretty spectacular showing, all told, for a concept that was introduced in a 1992 book by a Southern Baptist pastor that was aimed mostly at married Christian couples. The author, Gary Chapman, based his theory that everyone has a primary love language (that is, a category of behaviors that they most immediately associate with affection) on his own observations as a counselor. Enumerated in the book and now well known to millions, the five love languages are quality time, physical touch, acts of service, giving and receiving gifts, and words of affirmation.
How a subreddit seemingly destined to devolve into chaos stays remarkably sane
“I cheated on my ex during our relationship and she found out shortly after we broke up,” a Reddit user posting from the burner account Khaleesiscorned wrote in the spring of 2016 in the subreddit r/relationships. “She’s blocked me on everything, but briefly unblocks me every Monday to send me Game of Thrones spoilers before I can watch. How do I get her to stop?”
The fullstory involves a number of details that are not particularly redeeming: The original poster actually cheated multiple times; some of his friends joined the ex in her cause because they no longer wanted to be associated with him and in fact actively disliked him; at no point did the poster acknowledge that this woman is obviously very funny! The post was eventually removed by the subreddit’s moderators as potentially fake, but not before a screenshot of it went viral on Twitter and dozens of outlets circulated the story with headlines like “Girl Gets Sweet, Fiery Revenge on Ex With ‘Game of Thrones’ Spoilers.”
One of the planet’s most dramatic extinctions was caused in part by ocean acidification, which has become a problem in our own era.
The worst day in the history of life on Earth, so far, happened almost exactly 66 million years ago, when an asteroid roughly the size of Manhattan slammed into the Yucatán Peninsula.
You may know the story. The asteroid—which arrived, probably, in June or July—immediately drilled a 20-mile hole into the planet’s surface, vaporizing bedrock and spewing it halfway to the moon. The planet shuddered with magnitude-12 earthquakes, loosing tsunamis across the Gulf of Mexico. Some of the ejected debris condensed in orbit and plunged back to Earth as searing spheres of molten glass, which torched the land and turned forests into firestorms. Other debris remained high in space, where it blocked the sun’s rays and began to chill the surface of the planet.
A man-made blaze on a remote Utah mountainside could provide valuable insights into the behavior of the powerful wildfires growing more and more common out West.
Sometime later this month or in early November, if the weather cooperates, the U.S. Forest Service will fly a pair of fire-spitting helicopters over a remote mountain in southern Utah and set the forest ablaze.
While the helicopters are pelting burning liquid fuel at the treetops, dozens of firefighters will be providing support on the ground, using drip torches and flamethrowers to create a towering wall of flame that will stretch from the forest floor to the sky. As the heat builds and the blaze roars across spruce- and fir-stippled canopies, a small army of scientists will launch weather balloons and drones, drive radar- and LIDAR-equipped trucks around the perimeter, fly specialized research planes overhead, and gather data on fire-hardened GoPro cameras to analyze the inferno from start to finish.
The short-term costs have been brutal, but the longer-term ones could be far more significant.
Today Donald Trump stood in the White House’s Diplomatic Reception Room before a portrait of George Washington, who 223 years ago warned of the danger of foreign entanglements, and declared the United States disentangled from the Middle East—a region America’s leaders have for decades considered vital to national security.
Yet ever since he announced the precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from northeastern Syria this month, giving way to a brutal Turkish military offensive against Kurdish forces there, Trump has witnessed the grave consequences of this disengagement. Just in the short term, recent days have brought the slaughter and mass displacement of Kurds, whom the United States relied on to cripple the Islamic State in Syria; the collective shudder of U.S. allies around the world at America’s rank betrayal of its battlefield partners; and the springing loose of at least 100 ISIS fighters from prisons operated by overwhelmed Kurdish-led militias.
Our unpredictable and overburdened schedules are taking a dire toll on American society.
Just under a century ago, the Soviet Union embarked on one of the strangest attempts to reshape the common calendar that has ever been undertaken. As Joseph Stalin raced to turn an agricultural backwater into an industrialized nation, his government downsized the week from seven to five days. Saturday and Sunday were abolished.
In place of the weekend, a new system of respite was introduced in 1929. The government divided workers into five groups, and assigned each to a different day off. On any given day, four-fifths of the proletariat would show up to their factories and work while the other fifth rested. Each laborer received a colored slip of paper—yellow, orange, red, purple, or green—that signified his or her group. The staggered schedule was known as nepreryvka, or the “continuous workweek,” since production never stopped.
Ambassador Taylor delivered a 15-page opening statement that detailed the “confusing and unusual arrangement” involving the nongovernment employee Rudy Giuliani’s “irregular” role in making aid to Ukraine conditioned on the promise to investigate the family of one of President Donald Trump’s political rivals, Joe Biden. Taylor testified that Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney had ordered an Office of Management and Budget staff member to “hold security assistance to Ukraine,” even though the Defense Department had determined that the “assistance was effective and should be resumed.”