From Mr. Killstudent’s Lethal Bag of Teaching Tricks: Worksheets
Let us revisit the four essential duties of a professional substitute teacher:
Today we will be focusing on duty #3.
“We got a su-u-u-u-b!“ A freshman boy deliriously spreads the good news, limbs flailing, almost breaking into air guitar.
(If any of you teachers out there think your students love you for all you do for them, then why are they so much happier when I, The Sub, show up?)
He continues, in wide-eyed excitement. “Are you The Sub?! What are we doing today?!!!“
(Such excitement is particularly baffling because you real teachers have, in your sub plans, almost certainly given them an unhealthy stack of boring classwork to do, which, though inanimate, is the sternest of babysitters…though you apparently trust it much more than you trust me: an actual, educated, human babysitter).
I reply calmly, as if reading the teacher’s lesson plans. “Today we’ll be bringing in strippers and lighting off bottle rockets.”
Mouths drop open in a brief paralysis of shock, exhilaration, confusion, and hope. I quickly douse it.
“…oh wait, I’m sorry, that’s next hour, ha ha. You guys have a worksheet.”
One day I said this, just for my own amusement. I see substitute teaching as a kind of performance art, where the goal is to simply get a reaction from the audience, to see if I can make their facial expressions – and, perhaps, their minds – twist in new ways.
However, the incidental benefit here is that I just turned you – their real teacher – into a humorless dispenser of dull punishment. At this point, as far as they are concerned, only a villainous child-hater would give them a worksheet (or, even more nefarious, a packet – i.e., an army of worksheets). And every villain needs a charismatic hero to save them from the humorlessness, even if the worksheet can never be defeated.
(Quick fashion tip: wearing an earth-tone sweater neatly pulled over a dress shirt so the collar sticks out, pressed, professional pants, and a stony facial expression provides a nice, straight-laced, professional-substitute-teacher look to contrast with any uttered absurdities. Besides, the administrators like it for completely different reasons, and certain ladies like it for yet other reasons.)
“Dear substitute teacher,
Thank you for taking my classes. Please write down the names of ANY – capital letters! – students who give you a problem. No bathroom passes – bold italics! – unless it is an emergency! – exclamation point! Also, please let them know their Chapter 17 tests have been moved back a day, to Friday.”
[Pause. Look at the students and calmly tell them.] “Your Chapter 17 tests have been moved back a day, to Friday.”
This is usually as colorful as sub plans get. But color can always be added in later:
“Dear substitute teacher, thank you for taking my classes. Please write down the names of any students who give you a problem. Look out for 2nd hour in particular, they are immature little liars [at this point, slow down, pretending to be shocked at what it says] who will…stab you in the back…if you…geez…”
A girl’s mouth drops open. “Mrs. Johnson wouldn’t say that about us!”
“Yeah, she would,” a boy calmly corrects her.
Another boy in the back yells out, certain that he has outwitted me, “you’re a liar. She didn’t write that!”
I shake my head slowly, keeping a somber face. “I’m just reading the notes. It says, ‘they are rude and incredibly…wow…I can’t even read the rest, it’s not appropriate for school. Are you guys really that bad?”
“Nooo,” the girls in front say in monotone unison.
“Yes we are,” the boy calmly corrects them.
The boy in the back, ready to pull the mask off and reveal this impostor, a la Scooby Doo, walks up in an attempt to grab the lesson plans out of my hand. “No way it says that! Let me see what it says!”
If I am lucky enough to remember his name from attendance, I pull it away and pretend to read on:
“Pay special attention to ALEX P. – capital letters, bold italics! Do not tolerate his terrible behavior! If he gets up from his seat, send him directly to the office – three exclamation points!!!”
Alex P. pulls his hand back timidly. “Really?”
While I glare at him with all the expressionless intimidation I can muster, the rest of the class whispers to each other, in sincere agreement, “yeah, she would probably say that…”
Of course, sometimes a teacher does leave a note about a specific class or student to “watch out for.” If that happens, I don’t actually read that part out loud. Usually, I try to be much more direct:
“Your teacher says you guys tortured the last sub.”
There is a stress-diffusing laughter, followed by a cathartic shout of, “that sub was crazy!“
And at that point we can all move on to our worksheet, knowing, in solidarity, that the school system has absolute contempt for everyone in the room.