A Substitute's Worst Nightmare
Today I was a 2nd grade teacher at Leal Elementary School in Urbana. This was my first time teaching in Urbana, even though I’ve been on the sub list since November. I have been called by the sub line before, but it has always been in the mid-morning when I was filling an assignment elsewhere. (Unlike Champaign and Mahomet, which use an online placement system, the Urbana school district uses the Champaign Telephone Company to make calls for substitutes.) I was glad to have an assignment, especially since I had just had two days of no work due to the weather. I had also heard good things about the Urbana district in general, and Leal specifically, so I was expecting to have a great day in a new building and a new district.
What I was not expecting was to experience a substitute teacher’s worst nightmare. Not unruly children. Not profanities. Not arson and/or defenestration. No, this was worse.
I entered the building and was greeted by the office staff and helped to find my classroom by some other teachers. I entered the room, and saw a room nicely organised and tastefully decorated. I went to the teacher’s desk expecting to find a class list, directions on how to take care of attendance, lunch counts, and a classroom management plan and, of course, the oh-so-important lesson plans.
I found none of these items. I started to worry. I looked around the room, thinking maybe they were on another table or near the computers. No such luck. Then I started to panic. I scoured the room, and there was nothing. Nada. Zilch. I was not prepared for this, and I had no idea what to do. None of the other teachers in the hall were even at their rooms, and the students were going to be entering the building any minute. What to do, what to do???
Then the principal walked in. He introduced himself, started to show me around, gave a few pointers, and didn’t notice my look of panic. So I did something I try never to do: I interrupted him. I said, “Um… there aren’t any sub plans!” He paused and said, “Really? Oh, she usually emails them. Wait. She would have sent them to me, and my email is down. I’ll try to find out.” He then pointed out that there is a student teacher who would be arriving soon and an aide who would be there all morning. The panicking started to wane. The student teacher would know what was going on, right?
She came in and had no plans. She had a general outline of how the day would go, but that was all. The principal came back and said that the teacher said the student teacher had the plans. So we improvised some. Quickly, efficiently, and on a prayer. PE first thing. Then reading groups until lunch. After lunch, math, then Music, then more math. Science at the end of the day. We can do this. We are going to do this! Woo!
And that’s exactly what we did. The day was incredibly smooth. The students were great. They had no clue that there were no plans for the day. (We aren’t crazy or stupid enough to tell children that!) They participated, they laughed, they asked relevant questions, one boy cried a few times in the morning because (apparently) I was mean to him (I told him that he is not supposed to do a Cub Scout salute during the pledge unless he is in his Cub Scout uniform–oops). Everyone had a great day, and the students all asked if I was going to be back tomorrow. I told them I didn’t know, but I hoped to see them again soon.
After chatting with the student teacher (who did a phenomenal job) and offering pointers on job searching, resume and cover letter writing, and how to get strong references, we talked about what tomorrow would be like in case the regular teacher wasn’t back, she left and I wrote up my note for the day. On my way out, I learned that the teacher was still sick, and I offered to come in for her again tomorrow. The sub line called me, verified that I would be there, and I left knowing that tomorrow would be even better than today.
Because tomorrow, we will have a plan.