By Joe Rector

Variety is the spice of life. I’ve discovered the truth of that statement again during the days of substituting. Some days I know in what subject I’ll be substituting, but many days are filled with surprises.

On many days, I enter the school knowing what the day will be like. Maybe it’s because I’ve done a good job or because teachers are familiar with me, but for whatever reason, I walk into rooms and students automatically groan or shake their heads. They know that I am friendly but demand that they do the work left from them, even if we all know the assignments are nothing more than busy work. Sometimes I allow students to listen to music on their phones; however, some teachers instruct me to have students keep their phones in book bags or pockets.

Young people have much smaller bladders than folks in my generation. Otherwise, why would so many ask to go to the restroom sometime during class? I learned the first day of subbing that refusal to let a child go was frowned upon by school offices. What I do insist is that each person who leaves lays his or her phone on my desk before exiting. That causes some arguments as students want to know why I insist they leave them. I answer that if I have their phones, I know they are coming back. Enough said.

On other days, I arrive at a school without having any idea what subject I’ll cover. Upon picking up the sub folder, I sometimes laugh and sometimes groan with the news of what my job for the day is. Underclass courses are sometimes painful to endure. I’m not much into immature behavior, and those classes often have students who try to be funny or to challenge a sub. I’m not usually amused with their humor, and I don’t plan on allowing any student to take over a class.

It’s ironic that some of my jobs are in math classes. People who know me realize I am a weak student in that discipline. On one occasion, a class was taking a test, and one student came up and asked me to help him. I declined, he asked again, and I declined. On the third request, I told him that I couldn’t help him even if I wanted to because I had no clue what he was doing.

I’ve also subbed in biology and chemistry classes, two other areas in which I am deficient. The students worked on their assignments, but at some point, they all mentally wandered away from them. Who can blame them? I remember how confusing biology was in high school and college. I didn’t bother with enrolling in a chemistry course; I figured that learning symbols and working labs would end in a failing grade.

Just the other day, I sat in for a teacher’s human studies classes. Old folks, that’s what we once knew as home economics. The new name goes along with the educational jargon that systems now use. The students worked in groups. Some of them completed information on nutrition, food borne illnesses, and parenting. The other groups were in the kitchens. They whipped up batches of zucchini bread during the period. I spent my time supervising as they cooked and offered suggestions, such as to be careful using a grater so that they didn’t bleed into the recipe. Some of my time was spent folding wash clothes and towels and washing and drying pans and utensils. I fit right in.

Not every day is a winner in the subbing business. However, some are fun or bearable enough to make the job worth doing. I like walking into something different each day, as long as the students aren’t behavior problems. Even after all the years away from the classroom, I still enjoy the company of teachers and the vitality of students.