Daily Archives: February 5, 2014

My latest tales of “Life as a Sub.” And the Sochi Olympics are already a nightmare


So while I was running on the treadmill Tuesday, with the dulcet tones of Bon Jovi, Def Leppard and Smashing Pumpkins blaring through my earbuds, I realized that it’s been far too long since I’ve written about life as a substitute teacher.

This is now my second year doing it, and while in some ways it has gotten easier (I know which schools to definitely avoid this year, and have learned through trial and error some classroom management techniques that actually work!), the experiences have gotten no less strange, or interesting.

Some scattered thoughts on my life a New York City substitute, working in middle and high schools:

— It amazes me how, more often than not during a typical day, a kid during one of the morning classes will ask for a pen or pencil. “Where’s yours?” I helpfully ask. “I don’t have one,” comes the grunting reply.

“You didn’t bring something to write with to school today?”
And I am then stumped for a reply. My mind is always boggled when the student says that. How do you come to school with a whole backpack full of stuff, and not bring a writing implement? I mean, you can find a pen or pencil on the street on your way into the building!

— Sometimes I have conversations with 8th graders filled with intelligence and curiosity, like last week when a student and I discussed Egypt for a short while.
Then there were the two boys on Monday who spent five minutes arguing over who had actually just farted and smelled up the room. Teenagers are delightful.

— I hate it and love it when kids ask me questions and I just can’t lie to them. After telling some high school students in my class to stop talking and do work already, one of the boys turned to me and said “Man, it’s like teachers were never kids and never talked. Didn’t you ever used to talk to your friends when you had a sub in school?”

I looked at the kid, and then just walked away. I mean, that was better than lying, right?

— I know why the students are so happy when they see me upon entering the classroom; they’re just thrilled their regular teacher isn’t there.
Still, it is a little bit cool to have a job where your “employees” are so excited when they first see you.

— Special education teachers should make $1 million per year. At the minimum. I’ve had to sub for a bunch of special ed (or ICT, as they’re called in NYC schools) classes this year, sometimes by myself for double periods of up to 95 minutes. And I truly, truly have no idea how those teachers do it. It’s not just all the behavior problems and constant interruptions from the students; it’s just that it takes so long to get the class to settle down and actually do work, and that takes twice as long as normal.

Seriously, special ed teachers are saints. There should be statues built to honor them.

— It’s funny being a sub when you’re in the faculty room or teachers lounge; you don’t really feel like part of the conversation, but the other teachers also forget that you’re there and talk frankly, either to you or about you.
And I will say this, having spent my whole career in newspaper newsrooms before becoming a teacher two years ago: I thought newsrooms were filled with sarcastic, bitter people.

But man, we scribes have nothing on teachers. Wow, do they like to complain to each other.


**Finally today, the Winter Olympics are starting in two days, and I am very excited to watch. I’ll be blogging on ThriveSports.com a few times a day on curling, skeleton and speedskating, among other sports, so please check me out there.

I’m excited to watch the Olympics, and thrilled I’m not there. Do you ever remember an Olympics filled with this many negative stories and problems just a couple of days before they start?

All the news out of Sochi has been bad lately; terrorist concerns, roads and venues not finished, hotels nowhere near done (three of the nine media hotels aren’t finished being built yet. Vladimir, bubeleh, you’ve had SIX YEARS to get ready for these Olympics!) and the ones that are finished are either missing electricity, or hot water, or both.

I was horrified (and entertained) that the photo above is a sign from a media member’s hotel bathroom in Sochi; read more of the “working conditions” media are dealing with here. And here.

At this point it’ll be close to a miracle if these Winter Olympics aren’t a disaster.