Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Just Call the System: My First Substitute Experience

Oh my wow. It is so hard to believe that it’s been nearly a month since the first day of school!! Today was the 18th time I walked to my very own classroom and flipped on the lights, wrote my learning target on my very own whiteboard, and greeted bus students during my morning duty. It was the 18th time I took morning attendance, walked my students to the cafeteria, and sipped gulped my coffee during morning announcements. 

It’s also the 18th time I’ve walked out of the building feeling like a complete and total failure. Seriously. At least twice a day I remind myself to smile just a little bigger in order to compensate for the fact that I have absolutely no.idea.what.I’m.doing. True story.

It's okay though because day by day I’m starting to feel more settled and confident in my surroundings. My most recent victory was figuring out how to schedule my own substitute. Now, I know this sounds like chump change to you "seasoned" teachers, but no so for us newbies. 

My county requires that new teachers attend 8 days of training their first year teaching, the first of which was scheduled for today. I was told about the training about two weeks ago, so I had plenty of time to schedule a substitute and figured it couldn’t be that hard, but needed a bit of guidance. So I started asking around. It went something like this: 

Day 1.

Me: Hey, how should I go about scheduling my substitute for TIP training…?
Teacher A: Just call the system. 
Me: Oh….um...ok. [Not wanting to look completely ridiculous, I pretended that I knew precisely what she was talking about and figured I’d save my question for the secretary who might be able to answer it in more detail…]

Day 2.

Me: Hey, I was just wondering what I need to do to ensure that I have a sub for next week.
Secretary: Oh you just need to call the system. 
Me: Oh. Well, how do I do that?
Secretary: You know, just call and enter you ID number and it should be simple from there. 
Me: Right. Ok. [Still completely in the dark about ‘the system’, I figured I’d spread my ignorance around … third time is the charm, right?!]

Day 3.

Me: I need help scheduling a substitute (I reasoned that if I worded it differently I might sound more pathetic and therefore more worthy of sub-scheduling assistance...)
Teacher B: No big deal, just call the system. 
Me: Ok, well not to sound completely stupid, but what exactly IS the system.
Teacher 2: The substitute system. You know. The system. Just call it. 

At that point I felt a bit like Buckwheat from The Little Rascals when he asks Spanky if he knows the number for 911.

I cried. Then I laughed. Then I cornered my principal until he gave me some inside scoop about the secret system. Then I felt like Nicolas Cage guarding the Declaration of Independence when he gave me a sticky note with the all important sub-system-number written on it. The angels sang. And then I scheduled my sub. 

Because my training didn't start until 8:30 this morning (and school starts at 7:30), I stopped by for homeroom. I met the substitute, and spent 20 minutes blabbering about the rules, lesson plans, and helpful students. I felt like a nervous mom using a 15 year old babysitter for the first time. I couldn't quite make myself leave my babies! Finally she cut me off and said "Honey, I've been teaching for 30 years...I think I can handle it. Bye." ...And she kicked me out. I'm glad she did or I might have stayed all day. I restrained myself from calling to check on them at lunch (no need to embarrass myself more I reasoned...), and made myself drive straight home after PD. 

Thankfully I have the same fabulous substitute for my second day of development tomorrow, but I really can't wait to be back with my little people on Thursday. How do you feel when you have to leave your class with a substitute? Anything you do to ensure a smooth day for students and sub alike? I want to know!

Hope you all had a fun filled Labor Day weekend and a spectacular Tuesday. 



  1. Such a sweet and thoughtful post! After 4 years I STILL hate leaving my kiddos with a sub, but if I have a good one I feel a little better knowing they're in good hands! Sounds like you have a good one :) Our sub system is funky, too.. so I understand :) Have a good day at training!


  2. Wow...seems like your school is not super friendly to newbies :/ They should have given you a handout with that sub line info and all that jazz. Sorry it's been overwhelming, but you'll get there! Each day is better...just be confident in yourself. Not sure how you'd feel about it, but head over to my blog and check out the book I talked about in this morning's blog post. It is really helping me a lot this year :)

    Tales of Teaching in Heels

    1. I think it's just that everyone has been overwhelmed with beginning of the year madness -- I'm actually really lucky to be working with some super great/helpful teachers (really, everyone is so nice...) and now that I am settling down into a routine the little things seem less stressful. I agree, though -- I think it's important for new teachers to have information about things that maybe veteran teachers take for granted (and don't generally have a lot of time to spend helping us with...), so a handout would have been great. I think it's worth mentioning for future new teachers. Three weeks in and I feel like I'm beginning to get the swing of things.

      Heading over to check out your blog post from the 4th.


  3. You are too cute! I've just started my 15th year of teaching and I feel the same way you did EVERY time I have a sub! I want to come in, give the run down, and by then it's usually and hour into the day and I really need to be at home with a sick kid. Even when I was on maternity leave I would check in often with the sub. I kind of like the feeling of mothering all my little firsties. It's just that now... I have 80 of them! :)

    Keep up the great work!!!! :)

    1. Wow, 80 first graders!? How do you do it?? Haha.


  4. What a sweet post. Thank you for being so honest, because it reminds veteran teachers that we need to make sure that new teachers feel safe asking us questions. I'm assuming you've not been given a mentor teacher to help you? Heck, well that's what your blog buddies are for!
    Now, here's what you need to know. And funny, it's the same thing you probably tell your students. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A DUMB QUESTION. Ask away. And if you don't get an answer that makes sense, ask again. Don't ever feel dumb around another teacher. They have experience you don't have, and you have ideas and enthusiasm they may not have. There's lots of good learning to be had on both ends.

    So, remind yourself that every step you take is a step forward. You know a whole lot more than you did 18 days ago. And you've learned a powerful secret. A lot of teaching is done on the fly, and nothing you learned in school prepares you for that. So trust your instincts and do the best you can.

    Okay. Time to get off my soapbox :) Hope you have a great rest of the week!

    1. Thanks so much for the encouragement, Marion! I actually just got hooked up with the county's mentoring program so I am thankful for that -- it's already been a help to attend a few new teacher trainings this week. Yessss, I tell my students that all questions are valuable -- isn't it funny that we don't even take our own advice? I have felt a bit hesitant to ask questions because I want to "have it all together", but each day I'm realizing a bit more that it's okay not to have it all together. I'm making peace with that fact :)

      Have a great weekend!