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Why I decided to become a substitute teacher

I was a classroom teacher for five years. The principal of our school was a strong woman, a no-nonsense woman with a huge heart and high expectations. I trusted her and enjoyed working with her. It was what my young thirty-something-year-old self needed, a strong female example of a good leader. She helped me grow as a teacher, and she let me express my creativity in my lesson plans instead of following a cookie cutter template.

Subbing

Unfortunately, the hours I put in as a teacher due to FCAT (standardized testing) greatly affected my family and my attitude. I didn’t like who I was becoming, so I left. However, I didn’t leave the students. I became a sub so I could still visit classrooms and hopefully find ways to help them, inspire them, and most importantly listen to them. That’s what I’ve been doing for almost ten years.

My Experiences

I always assumed that I’d never really know if I made a difference in a student’s life as a sub. Teachers get to form close relationships with their students and sometimes receive letters or notes of thanks from parents or students. I would guess that means more to most than their paychecks. I know that was the case for me. My goal as a sub, however, was simply to listen to the students and hopefully make them smile–to be a light in their day, that’s it.

There was a time I took over for a teacher for two months and was allowed (by another awesome principal!) to do a novel study on MYSTIC. It was one of my favorite times as a sub because I was able to combine my love of writing and reading with teaching. We read MYSTIC together, and I created lessons that incorporated the Language Arts Standards. Some of the students made projects, one of which was a painting of a character from MYSTIC that hangs on my office wall. Well, those 6th graders are now in high school. This year as I’ve entered high school classrooms I’ve had students running up to me telling me how much fun they had in 6th grade!  They’re scattered throughout the district I never know when I’ll see them. One student even said, “Hey, aren’t you K.D. Rausin?” which made me laugh because he not only remembered my name but he also pronounced it correctly. I keep my writing life separate from my subbing life unless I’m asked to share my books.  Each time a ninth grader risked talking to a new sub in front of their peers I knew I had made a difference in their lives.

This past week subbing for high school was tough. I spent Thursday and Friday reassuring students that the classroom doors were locked and that if there were a threat, I would do everything I could to protect them. Students wanted to check the windows to see if they opened; if there was a way out. They wanted a plan. They wanted to know they were safe.

Safe from who? Another student. A student who needed help.

There are many things we can and should do to help our students, our future. One thing I know would help is taking the time to be a mentor. There are children in our schools and in our neighborhoods who need an adult to listen to them. When adults begin to care about all children, not just their own, then we teach our children to care for one another. We teach them not to ignore or, even worse, make fun of a child who is perceived as different. We must teach our children to care about each other and to reach out if we see someone who is hurting. What I’ve witnessed in our high schools are some teens who have been taught to ignore or make fun of those who are different from them. I speak up every time I hear students being unkind, but I am just one person. The second it is ignored with a kids will be kids attitude is the second we tell students it’s okay to make fun of each other. When more adults speak up, teach tolerance, teach kindness, and show compassion for students who may be hurting then we set the example. The strongest students will follow instead of staying quiet, and then they become the difference, the light, for their peers who are hurting. Afterall they are the ones on the frontlines. Why not arm them with skills to prevent an incident that could take their lives.

I never fully understood the difference I could make as a sub. For the past nine years, I’ve visited classrooms all over our district.  I’ve interacted with more students than I ever would’ve as a classroom teacher. The subject I’ve taught, even if just for one day, is compassion. Perhaps when schools adopt a curriculum around compassion, I’ll find myself in my own room again. Until then I hope more people join me in looking out for kids in their community, offering words of kindness, and letting them know that they matter, they are seen, someone cares.

Never have I come home from a substitute teaching job and cried. Until this year…

The phone rang for middle school. My inner voice said you know it’s going to be tough. Delving into a class full of hormonal teens trying to figure out their place in the world can be challenging. I’ve done it for the past three years, subbing in classes that can be difficult to find subs for because of behaviors. Slowly it’s taken its toll, and this year I had decided to sub only for high school. Then came the call for middle. I figured I had all summer to rest, an attitude of positivity and a heart wanting to help. So, off I went to the most challenging job of my life.

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“Every child deserves a champion … an adult who will never give up with them, who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.” – Rita Pierson

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When I said the class could work in groups a smile stretched across his face. He looked as if I had just told him we were taking a trip to Universal.  He grabbed his backpack and darted over to two other boys.

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My mother-in-law was sitting outside a store in her power wheelchair drinking a cup of coffee waiting for her ride when a stranger walked by and dropped some coins into her coffee cup. Imagine her surprise! She had no idea she needed help.

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I watch it happening before my inquisitive eyes. Girls sitting in a middle school classroom silent, unwilling to speak up when they know the answer, unwilling to correct the boys when it’s obvious they’re frustrated with the continuous outbursts or immature fart noises. They sit there. They follow. Some giggle. Why?

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