The daily musings of a substitute teacher in East Central Illinois.

Playing It by Ear

Today I was a 5th grade teacher. Again. At Robeson Elementary in Champaign. Again. For my mother-in-law. Again. You see, I wasn’t supposed to be subbing for her for the third consecutive working day because her flight from Salt Lake City was supposed to be in last night. Unfortunately, it was delayed several hours and she didn’t get home until nearly 4 am. Fortunately, though, she knew about the delay with a considerable amount of notice, so I knew last night that I was going to be there. Equally fortunate, she has a student teacher who was planning on starting a science unit on chemistry today, on top of the math lessons that she’s been in charge of teaching for a few weeks now, and there was a reading group or two in the afternoon that she’d be meeting with. So all I really had to worry about was following up on the social studies unit on propaganda that we started yesterday.

So a pretty easy day, right?

Not quite.

The student teacher was sick, and she had the math manual with her. The science lesson plan wasn’t prepared or, if it was, she hadn’t left plans for it. And the reading groups were up to me. On top of all that, the teacher hadn’t had time to prepare lesson plans by the time I arrived at 7:30 this morning, so I had to play it by ear.

For many substitutes, this would be cause to run out of the room screaming. In fact, I nearly had a moment like this a few months ago when I subbed in Urbana for the first time ever. This was not true for me, though, because of one very important fact: I have been in this classroom more than any other classroom in three districts. And, of course, I am married to this teacher’s daughter, so I have the benefit of being able to eat dinner with her on a weekly basis and talk about her class. All of this, along with the various reasons I mentioned yesterday, combine to mean that, of all the substitute teachers in the district, I am probably the only one who could have salvaged today.

I had to play it by ear, and I think I managed to do an adequate job. Even with the near-constant talking in the class and having to frequently stop and wait for the class to settle down, was able to make it through the materials for the day. Now, I know that a teacher shouldn’t just be concerned about “getting through” but, honestly, that is pretty much my job as a substitute. It is a wonderful thing when I can do more than just the minimum requirements of my job, and I quite often do much more. I am quite certain that is why I am so successful at my job. But there are days when I am truly grateful that I am able to get through some days.

So, what did I do today? I shot from the hip, I winged it, I begged my coworkers for access to their teacher’s manuals (okay, I didn’t really beg; I just walked in and asked if I could borrow it and then made a copy of the lesson), and I made sure the students had plenty of independent reading time. Things actually went pretty well, particularly since I don’t think anyone had any idea that I was actually playing it by ear today. And, at the end of the day, that is one of the most important things. Did the students learn and did they feel confident in my ability to teach? I believe the answer to both is yes. Hopefully both teacher and student teacher will be back tomorrow, though, because I’m already scheduled to be elsewhere!


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