I was expecting some kind of finality to settle in my gut last Wednesday, as I took my yellow timecard with my signature on the bottom, slipped it into the machine where I punched out, and walked out of a school office for what in all likelihood was my last-ever day as a substitute teacher.
After six years, and more than 200 days trying to keep New York City elementary, middle and high school kids from killing each other while I supervised them, I worked my last day on the job last Wednesday. I proctored the state math tests at my favorite middle school, Robert F. Wagner on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and then taught the rest of the day.
And so I thought, given that I kind of stumbled into the job of substitute teaching (I couldn’t get a full-time classroom position so I started subbing to get some experience), and then enjoying great portions of it, that I’d feel some sadness, or nostalgia, at the end last week.
But nope. I was just beat. Tired from the day, tired from kids being nasty to me (on my second to last day, a smart-mouthed 7th-grader responded to my admonishment of him “Dude you’re just a substitute, I’m not listening to you.”) and tired of what’s often a thankless job.
There are a lot of great things about substitute teaching: No grading papers, no parents to call or deal with, and no principal or assistant principal breathing down your neck with reminders about testing and curriculum.
But there are also a ton of bad things. Like, as stated above, getting zero respect from students. Like never getting into a rhythm in a school, or a class, because you’re only there for a few days at a time. Like never getting fully respected by the faculty and administration at the school, because many of them are inclined to let terrible behavior go when a substitute is in the room.
I don’t want to sound ungrateful for the opportunities I was given; when I left full-time journalism seven (gasp, was it really seven years?) years ago and became a teacher, I didn’t know if I’d get a chance, anywhere. And the fact that I got to sub for six years, and was asked back at my favorite schools over and over again, meant I got to forge some bonds and relationships with students and teachers.
There were some highlights, to be sure. I’ll never forget the student who walked out of class one day and looked me in the eye, solemnly, and said “Mr. Lewis, thank you for your service.” Like I’m a war veteran or something.
There were hilarious moments like when an 8th-grader asked me “When you were a kid and had a sub, did you do work that day?” And I had to stifle a laugh and say “I plead the Fifth.”
And there were sad moments, like being at a middle school the day high school acceptances and rejections were announced, and seeing the sad faces of 12-year-olds who never should have to deal with such pressure (the competition here in NYC to get into a top high school is insane.)
In the end, it was a great life experience, being a sub, but it’s ending for a few reasons: 1, I just don’t have time for it anymore, but 2, we’re moving to Long Island and there’s a whole process I’d have to go through to substitute there.
So I wrap up my time as a sub happy I did it, but happy it’s over. Which is not too bad as life experiences go.
**Finally today, something completely different: This is a guy named Joseph. He builds machines. He makes videos about them. This one is pretty amazing, and I don’t even know what’s my favorite part. Probably the baby. Or the hammer that starts the Skype call on the laptop.
The whole thing is freaking amazing. Just watch and realize that genius takes many forms.