No Substitute

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 cars.com 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.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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17 thoughts on “No Substitute

  1. Spilled Milkshake says:

    Being sick is never easy, especially when you are also worried about your students and falling behind on your work. Here’s to hoping your sub doesn’t eat at your desk or redecorate your room!

    Get to feeling better soon. The honey and lemon in a cup of hot tea has been working wonders for me. I’m still sick, but it makes me feel a bit better!

  2. brenda says:

    I just typed those exact words “I am not a very good sick person”; another blogger I enjoy reading is down for the count like you. So sorry to hear, and hope you are back at the chalkboard soon. I think in your case it’s harder (not the being sick part) trusting those precious minds to someone else after all you’re the one who has pushed and pushed and encouraged them this far. I am never upset about not missing work; my clients are not precious minds I lose sleep over. Feel better soon.

  3. Kathy says:

    I don’t think it’s ever easy to leave our jobs whatever they may be when we are sick. As a SAHM there have been a few times where I really have been down for the count and I just have to trust that everything will get done without me, maybe not my way, maybe not even well, but the world can survive without me. But like you, I feel it’s sometimes more trouble than it’s worth!! I went to a very progressive high school in the early 1980’s, and when a teacher was out 3 or less days we had the period free to go to the library, watch a movie in the common area or go to a music practice room. It was very nice. Of course they don’t do that anymore! But it was a great idea!! Take care and feel better!

  4. Michael Ann says:

    I do think teachers have it hardest when they are sick. Most other jobs, when someone is sick, they are just not and everyone just works around it. Teaching is a whole different thing. You can’t just not show up. I know many times my husband has gone into work when he should have stayed home to rest, because he hadn’t made lesson plans for a sub. I really feel for you and hope you get better soon!

  5. My Inner Chick says:

    –I work for the schools, too.

    A few weeks ago, a teacher told me that one of her subs looked out the window and uttered in front of the entire classroom “What the fuck, it’s snowing!”
    —Now I’ll tell you, she will not be comin’ back to Mac. High. HA HA.
    hope you are feeling better. X

  6. mamawolfe says:

    Hi Christina, no redecorating done…phew!
    Brenda~that’s funny we’re thinking of the same thing…and thanks for the good wishes.
    Kathy-that school sounds super cool! I don’t know why we couldn’t do those things now-why have things changed so much?
    Michael Ann~ thank you. I don’t like to be grumpy at work-it’s ok at home 🙂
    Inner Chick~ you made me spit! That is TOO f’ing funny!

  7. Chris says:

    I love your writing you’ve written some great posts. Thanks for visiting my blog today, so sorry you’re not well, but it did mean you had some time to visit me. Thanks again and get well soon.

  8. Dee says:

    You’re right, it’s hard being sick when you’re a teacher, especially a good teacher like yourself who values the students and wants to share learning with them and help them explore the wisdom lying within.

    And some subs are truly gifted. (I know I could never sub. I tried.)

    But perhaps your conclusion is correct. You need to take care of yourself and come back refreshed to the students. They will welcome you with open arms.

    Peace.

  9. mamawolfe says:

    Hi Chris, thank you for the well wishes. You’re right-I did get some blog surfing done!
    Hi Dee, yes, they are always glad to get things back to normal!
    Hi Lacey, I’m sure many students feel like you did…they just don’t always say it. I do appreciate the ones who come to me and give me the ‘real’ scoop. Now subs won’t even say if kids were misbehaving because they think it’s a reflection on their teaching and they won’t be asked back.

  10. lisa says:

    LOL! I remember some interesting subs in my day! I don’t envy what you likely come back to when you’ve been off sick!

    I’m hope you feel better soon!

    Lisa

  11. Susan Kane says:

    When I needed a sub for my class, I set up the plans and such so clearly that even a zombie could teach my class. No micro managing–just didn’t want any excuses.
    Hope you are better!

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