Monday, December 14, 2015

Substitute Teachers and Torment OR, Tormenting Substitute Teachers

   I haven’t received critique for my persuasive essay yet because my English teacher’s been out most of the week and I had the student court field trip on Friday, the day she came back. However, the presence of multiple subs has proved endlessly entertaining, so I’ll share a few stories while I wait for my essay.

    First, you must know about Janet. She is one of three by that name (not actually Janet, because I’m not naming names), and all three are in advanced orchestra, which makes it difficult for subs calling attendance. She is bold to the point of insanity. Case in point: When a substitute teacher requested her name last year, so he could report her misbehavior to her teacher, she hollered, “Chimichanga!”

    She is in my English class, which is one of the main reasons the presence of multiple subs was so entertaining. Janet has gotten the concept of bothering substitute teachers down to an art. First, she sasses them about whatever comes up - for instance, a teacher passed her a worksheet of questions about a poem, and she said, sounding thoroughly bored, “I don’t want it.  Can you take it back?”

    Once a teacher gets mad, he or she will immediately start the displays of power - “Would you care to discuss this with the main office?” “You realize I have you tomorrow as well, right?” “This is absolutely unacceptable!” - essentially trying to assert dominance. What’s really funny about it is that it’s obvious that’s what they’re trying to do. They feel this smirking eighth-grade girl has threatened their position, and now they must clearly establish that they are in charge and will not tolerate any more.

    Then she continues sassing them, trying to see how much they’ll put up with. They handle a surprising amount, considering how blatantly rude she is. They have all received the finger from her when their back is turned, which causes much sniggering among the nearby classmates. They start falling apart - completely losing control and basically ranting at her, and all the while she’s sitting there smirking, not even trying to hide her satisfaction at a job well done, and everyone else is enjoying the spectacle of a teacher comically screaming at this girl who’s making it perfectly obvious she couldn’t care less. The meaner the sub, the more satisfying it is to see them brought to justice.

    So Janet provided a lot of entertainment. Our first sub, a man who stayed two of the four days the normal teacher was out sick, played The Victim, the sub who makes a big deal out of acting nice at the beginning of the class, so they can immediately act like students talking during the warm-ups is a massive betrayal and they didn’t deserve any of it. (This is an example of the attempted guilting I talked about in my last post, The Power of Empty Threats. As I explained in said post, it doesn’t work.) Janet is merciless with these teachers - I’m not sure why they’re her favorite. Maybe because they’re so obsequious. Still, it is a very popular choice among substitutes, because it conveniently releases them of blame and pins any ineffectiveness on the students.

    On Monday, we started with the warm-up our normal teacher had left us. We were apparently about to get into morals, I discovered. I was determined to prove my teacher wrong about every story having a moral. The warm-up in question read, What was your favorite book or movie when you were young? What message did the author want you to take away from it? It was asking what the moral was.

    I knew whatever story I chose, she would find a moral in. So I didn’t choose anything with a storyline - to prove my point, I answered, When I was extremely young, I enjoyed the book Goodnight Moon. This has no moral. When the sub asked for volunteers, I raised my hand and shared my answer, wondering what this sub would do.

    “Well, maybe Goodnight Moon doesn’t have a moral per se,” he reflected, “but why do you think the author wrote the book? What message do you think they were trying to convey?”

    “Um…'Go to sleep'?”

    Irritation flared on his face. “That is really immature. I can tell you’re not going to do well on this unit.”

    Seriously. I am not making this up.

    The next day, I asked him what the message of Goodnight Moon was. He said he didn’t know.

    Wednesday, I got to miss English because I was performing in the winter concert teaser. Thursday, we got this lady whose name I never discovered. She played Authoritarian, the type that thinks they’re privy to the minds and hearts of students and therefore knows they’re not little angels. They’re the ones who intend to rule with an iron fist and keep students in line.

    At first, I couldn’t tell. She seemed nice, just tired, and I sort of felt sorry for her.

    Then, once I finished my warm-up, Janet asked if she could borrow my pencil for a second. I handed it to her. She wrote something in her agenda book and tossed it back. However, she tossed it a little too hard, and it bounced off my desk and rolled across the floor.

    “Really, Janet?” I muttered. She resumed her work and paid no attention.

    I got up and retrieved my pencil. A few seconds later, the boy next to me asked if he could use it, so I gave it to him. “Just don’t do what Janet did, or I’ll press charges,” I joked.

    “Why? What did Janet do?” he asked as he took the pencil.

    I snorted. “She threw it halfway across the-”

    “Excuse me!” yelled the sub in a tone that clearly countered Excuse you. “Why are you talking? This is warm-up time, not talking time!”

    “I finished my warm-up!” I objected, but she was still talking.

    “Why on Earth would you be talking now?” Her eyes were wide, as if she couldn’t believe that a student would dare be so disrespectful.

    “He wanted a pencil!” I cried, gesturing to the startled boy.

    “So? You don’t need to talk to give someone a pencil!” She stared at me disgustedly.

    I couldn’t think of another retort, so I put on my best sullen-teenager, wow-this-crazy-lady’s-got-serious-anger-issues face and shut up. Practically spitting, she stalked away.

    “Sorry,” whispered the boy, looking mortified.

    I shook my head. “It’s not your fault.”

    Kids always talk during warm-ups. There will almost never be a silent classroom. Therefore, even the ones who really prefer quiet - like me - have been forced to adapt and learn to register chatter as white noise, or they will never be able to complete their work. It’s a middle-school-created Darwin.

    In short, students naturally tune out the talking of other students while they work. Of course, it’s pointless to explain this to teachers, but it’s just a fact.

    A strange lady yelling in a very angry voice…that’s another story. Everyone was tuning out my brief murmurs, and then she comes along and shatters everyone’s concentration, by yelling at me about shattering everyone's concentration.

    Okay, I recognize and admit that I shouldn’t have been talking during the warm-up, but does no one else appreciate the irony of this?

    The moral of this story is: English teachers shouldn’t get a cold that lasts four days, or all hell will break loose back at school.

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