The Pain of Being the Spondy Sub

Last updated: December 2022

You all might know that I am a teacher, but I don’t imagine too many of my readers know what kind of teacher I am.

My current placement is as an Instructional Assistant to students “at risk”. These students, for whatever reason, are at risk of falling behind and/or failing out of school. Although the position has existed for a number of years, it became especially valuable during the dark ages of quarantine. Students would miss 2 weeks of school (or more) and would fall so far behind there was no conceivable way they could catch up.

That is where I came in. But, I also help students who have anxiety, ADHD, or some other reason why they might need extra time and a quiet space to get work done.

Unfortunately, due to the national teacher shortage, I have to substitute teach every day. Which I really don’t mind as it allows me to get to know more students and what they are studying, but substitute teaching can also be a major pain!

The pain of constantly moving

On the days when the Spoonie Godmother is on my side I get to sub for one grade-level class all day.

However, most days, she must be busy because I end up covering everybody.

First hour in Science. Second hour in Math. Then, back to Science before having to move again to cover an IA’s lunch, before going back to Science for 10 minutes. And of course I need to cover Music and Social studies too for the remainder of the day.

NONE OF THESE CLASSES ARE ON THE SAME HALLWAY!

(or floor)

I end up surpassing my daily steps goal in the course of 7 hours, my back is wrecked, and my legs become wobbly. All I can do is head home and go right to bed, hoping tomorrow will be “normal.”

Two positive things I have in my corner is my ADA accommodation that says I can not be placed in settings (like high needs special education) where I could get injured, and my rollator which takes a lot of weight off my joints when I am walking back and forth. (Plus it’s good for plowing kids out of the way, but this fact is in no way connected to this article.)

On the lucky days I am given my choice of assignments (because it is daily) All I say is “Let me stay in one spot if at all possible.”

The pain of P.E.

Beyond the pain of constantly moving, there is another way more dreadful step in substitute teaching.

Physical Education.

For starters, there is the problem with dress.

I came into school thinking I would be in my own classroom, with my own students, and if not, at least in the front of a classroom.

Now, I am leading stretches and walking the track in dress clothes...How comfortable! And if you are sensitive to the restrictions dress clothes provide, you can imagine the pain that alone causes.

Then there is actually doing what is required to teach P.E. Demonstrating how to throw a football, shoot a basket, lift a dumbbell, and whatever else the teacher planned for that day. Even if it’s watching students run around a track, unless I brought my rollator, there is nowhere comfortable to sit down.

P.E. is a total pain!

The pain of classroom stress

Remember when you had a sub in school? Some teacher who has 10 minutes to read a sub plan, doesn’t know the students, and has no idea what the rules are. You took advantage of them! Right? It’s okay, you can admit it, I probably did too.

Stress is a huge trigger for me!

Over the past year, my classroom management skills have improved, but when the assignment doesn’t make sense, when the internet is down, when classroom rules are in question, and when students just WON’T STOP TALKING! I start to flare.

My pain rises, my brain fog thickens, and things just escalate for me. The class experience gets worse for me, and worse for the students in a wicked spiral.

When I am in my own room, I have my rules and my students and everything is fantabulous.

But, when I sub the classroom stress is a major pain.

Substitute the pain

In these cases, there are a few things you can do that help with the pain of being a sub.

Make your rules clear from the start. If it's your personality, make a joke about why their teacher isn’t there and make it clear that today we will be following my set of rules.

Don’t yell. Increased volume only causes additional volume issues. Instead, calmly wait for the class to see that you are waiting on them to calm down. If you are lucky, a class leader will get onto them for you.

Don’t stress. Look, you might want to stand and deliver and be the teacher that changes their lives. But, chances are you will have a good day and the teacher will be happy you kept them alive. Nobody expects you to go above and beyond.

What tips do you have to make the classroom experience less painful?

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