I started substitute teaching again recently. I did it in my twenties, when I lived in Orlando and was also working at Disney as a puppeteer, Universal as a stuntman, and driving a taxi cab just to keep things interesting. Back then, I just figured that teaching, even on a substitutionary level would keep me grounded in my glamorous life in the entertainment and transportation industries. This time around, since there just aren’t enough teachers anymore at a time when the children in the world I live in have gone awhile without them, I feel inclined to step in and do what I can. Plus, they give me money for doing it so that’s always a bonus.
Last year, I was primarily working at Brookside, McIntosh, and Sarasota Middle Schools. Because my natural time clock had me automatically waking up by 7am, their 9am start time fit in with my natural rhythm, and I love living life without alarms. Plus, I’d worked at middle schools in my twenties, and I was still a little uneasy about working with elementary aged kids and high schoolers, of course for different reasons.
But on my first day back this year, I was substituting for Art class at one of the aforementioned middle schools, and by the end of the day, I made a realization that helped me expand my horizons. Middle schoolers are quite possibly the worst people on the planet.
It’s not entirely their fault. Most of them have no control over it at all. They’re not quite adults and not exactly children, and as they are seeping into the primordial abyss of adolescence with its seething hormones and physical transmogrifications, leaving them to eek out their living by testing boundaries and stretching emotional limits, their search for meaning in a world of confusion that starts with their own bodies compels them to often identify as the worst version of themselves they will hopefully ever be. It takes a lot of patience and understanding to spend any significant amount of time with them.
And while I do see my service as a substitute teacher as a service to my community by guiding and caring for the younger generation and providing them with education experiences that will help to carve their character, it doesn’t necessarily need to be a great sacrifice on my part, which it often feels like when working with middle schoolers.
Since starting to wake up at 5am after returning from my cross-country motorcycle trip and its alignment with the start of daylight savings time, I realized that I could actually take other gigs that could get me back into the world earlier in the day, rather than merely an hour before sunset. I also figured that I needed to try to spend time with high schoolers and elementary aged kids because they couldn’t possibly be worse than middle schoolers. So I signed up for a day as an English teacher at Sarasota High School and a day as a kindergarten teacher at Ashton Elementary School, my alma mater, where I was educated from kindergarten to fifth grade.
Being a substitute for high schoolers is fairly boring and rather thankless. In middle school, they moved into the preposterous existence of pubescence, and they have gotten to a point where they’ve accepted their fate of having to endure the hellscape of being a teenager. Some make the most of it and do what’s required to move into an adulthood they imagine, and some of them have given up on emotional expression of any kind and are simply not impressed by or interested in anything. Either way, I don’t often feel that I have much to offer them, and they’re just not very fun to be around.
But to elementary kids, I’m a rock star! I’ve taught at six different elementary schools and have been in every class from kindergarten to fifth grade. Whether they know me as Mr. Steve, Mr. M, or Mr. McAllister, we usually have a lot of fun and some very memorable experiences.
On my first day as a kindergarten teacher, one of my students ran up to me on the playground and said with a pouted lip that another child had taken the shovel from him in the sandbox.
“What were you digging for?” I asked him.
“Nothing”, he said.
“Congratulations!” I told him. “You’ve gotten it!”
He thought about it for an instant, a big smile broke out across his face, and we both had a laugh.
“Now go play with something else,” I told him, and he ran off to have more fun.
There have been moments where I thought that I may have missed my calling, and that if I had not bounced around five different schools from fifth to twelfth grade myself, I may have gotten some career guidance that would have led me to become a teacher. And there are also days that I’m very glad that I don’t have to return the following day, days that I’m glad to not have to do it full time, and days that I’m very grateful that I don’t have to actually meet these kids’ parents. But for the most part, it’s a really rewarding gig.