The way they portray being a substitute teacher on TV and movies is either total anarchy that looks like a self contained riot, or the fateful connection that suddenly breaks through to those difficult but soulful students who were only misunderstood and waiting for that wise sage of a teacher.
Don’t worry, I am not going to bust your bubble (though I feel like doing just that). It isn’t that this is the farthest thing from the truth, but rather that it isn’t a choice between A or B. A and B merely represent the furthest points on the pendulum swing. Most substitute classes are just rather dull. There isn’t time to make a connection and everybody, students and teachers are on edge.
My situation is not that of a high school teacher, which has given rise to those two archetypes mentioned earlier. I teach “adults” how to speak, write, read and listen to English because they (or more likely their parents) are hoping it is the key to a better future. I also teach adults who are more motivated and hardworking–but they aren’t the main focus of this story, so we’ll let them be for the moment.
Today, I was asked to substitute as an emergency. I was prepared for the class and I expected it to go well. From the drop of the hat, things did not go well. I could tell from the room layout that they had already split into two groups. One group was interesting and hard working. The other was arrogant and snotty. I have seen this before, and was prepared to deal with it.
The first half of the class wasn’t fantastic, but it wasn’t terrible. I had several battles to wage and others to ignore, but we moved along. I wasn’t going to make a breakthrough, but I hoped for a bit more civility.
Oddly enough, after the break that entire side of the room had decided to leave. I had a moment of recrimination. Did I cause this? Then, I decided that I didn’t really care. They were spoiling the class, treating the other classmates and myself disrespectfully and so good riddance. I only hope they decided to take time to go and watch a movie in English (today is the discount day) rather than scouring the streets for Pokémon.
The remaining 8 students seemed just as relieved as I was. As you might guess, the class flowed quite well from that point on.