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Annie Lane: Trials and tribulations of teaching

Dear Annie: I was a high school teacher for nearly 40 years, and, before I landed a full-time public school job, spent a year or two as a substitute. I know the frustrations of students who assume you don’t matter because you’re not “our real teacher.” It can be even more annoying when the students are teenagers. Yes, parents should teach their children to respect the temporary teacher as they respect the regular one.

I have been very careful to leave complete and easy-to-follow lesson plans every time I have had to be out — mostly for trainings or district responsibilities. One time, I even postponed driving all night to be at the arrival of my first grandchild in order to make sure there were lessons to carry into the week without me. I informed all my classes that I would back and that I would discuss with the substitute teacher any misbehavior in my absence.

I have had subs who didn’t bother to read my lessons left behind, and others who “couldn’t find” things left with stickies that labeled who was supposed to get what. That includes worksheets left directly under the instructions to hand them out. I had one substitute teacher who announced to the class that I was a slob. He spent the day taking everything out of my desk, sorting it, and replacing it in different drawers. It took me weeks to find anything again, while the students, left without anything to do as he put my lesson in one of the drawers, watched him. A colleague had a substitute announce that her lesson plan was “dumb” and ceremoniously throw it in the trash so he could talk about what he wanted to instead.

Then, of course, there were the substitutes who really didn’t like kids, called them names, said they were stupid, made racist remarks — the list goes on and on. The few subs who really were educators, and the others who could be trusted to follow lesson plans, were fought over and worked every day they wanted to, but there weren’t enough to go around in our district.

Students are quick to pick up that a sub hasn’t a clue or doesn’t like them. Some imply that they shouldn’t like their regular teacher, and others simply want to sit at the desk and eat, not doing the job assigned to them. When that happens, they are going to, at the least, try pushing the envelope, and, at most, become obstinate. Not all subs are created equal, which is deeply unfortunate.

— Recently Retired Educator

Dear Retired Educator: It is unfortunate that some substitute teachers don’t take teaching seriously and some students don’t respect the substitute teacher. The truth is that in every profession you get professionals who take their jobs seriously and do wonderful jobs. Sadly, you also get people who don’t try as hard or are not as good. We cannot change others; we can only be in charge of ourselves. Whatever your profession is, if you know that you gave it your all and tried your best, then you can put your head on your pillow and have a nice night’s sleep.

Send your questions for Annie Lane to dearannie@creators.com.

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