Thursday, May 31, 2012

Thoughts on Substitutes from the Kids

My mother in law has the best job in the world, she works at a church in the preteen department.  She has been able to have many a great conversation with the kids.  Recently she shared this article that she was writing for the parents of her students based on a conversation she had had with them.  I thought I would share this delightful insight with other subs out there.
The Substitute

My favorite times with our Preteens are those moments when everything stops and the plans are set aside, because someone has said something that touched a nerve.  I can almost see the gears grind to a halt as the entire group looks to me to see if we’re going to let the comment go, or continue as if nothing different had taken place.

The Horror of Substitute Teachers was a recent such topic. And what had begun as a simple checking in with each other—“How was your week?” evolved into a passionate discussion. Everyone’d had a substitute teacher experience. Complaints included (of course there were complaints!) a teacher expecting the worst from a class, without knowing them firsthand, and that the day was a waste of time. Soon the real problem emerged: a substitute teacher doesn’t know me. A substitute teacher doesn’t commit to know me, as they are temporary. There is no investing in a relationship, because neither party anticipates anything ongoing. So neither one tries.

I listened to the subtext. “I need to be known.” “I’m not like that.” “Take time with me, and it’ll be worth it to you.” “I can care, if you give me a chance.” “I miss my real teacher.”

We talked about how God created us to need each other, and when we aren’t even acknowledged by name, it stings. It leaves us a little empty. Six tedious hours led by a person who won’t even try to know me discourages me at my very core.

My son is married to a lovely woman of substance. Loni is a delight. And she is a substitute teacher. I promised our Preteens that I’d ask her what it’s like for her to be in such brief relationships all over the map. And here’s what she told me: “When I walk into a classroom for the first time, it’s pretty easy to tell which kids get into trouble. That shows itself right away. I overlook that, and announce first thing in the morning: ‘Today is a new day. Today you get to start over. You and I don’t know each other, and we get to begin any way we choose.”

I couldn’t wait to share this with our Preteens. “Guess what, you guys! Loni gets it!” I told them about the new start. They all agreed it was brilliant. Our conversation the previous week had been built on our common experience—which pointed directly to our relationship with God. We need Him to be constant in our lives! He made us to need him and each other. We recognize when that isn’t happening, and it feels
wrong. And then…we find a Loni. As a Christian, she is able to sense what is missing on days when she is the ‘other’ teacher. And so we got to walk away from this whole interaction knowing that one person, even if they touch our lives for just a moment, can share the love of Jesus. How can we do the same?

It was so awesome to hear from the kids perspective on how having a substitute affects them!  I know that I will definitely continue to tell each class that they get a new start with me each day and that although I am only here for the day I would like to get to know them and hope to see them again!  I hope that this article can help other subs out there to have more positive relationships with the students they teach!


  1. Kyle and I attended a lecture at Catholic University on the subject of Black Education in D.C. It was at once the most moving talk I've been to, the hardest to hear, and the most eye-opening.
    One of the things one of the speakers, the principal at a local Charter school, told us was that for troubled children from unstable homes, especially, what they need is stability in the classroom. They need to know that the person standing before them in the classroom will be there again, and that they (the students) matter as individuals, as humans. How do you convey that as a substitute? How on earth would Kyle and I convey that as a travelling educational outreach program? How do you build trust?

    What a tremendous challenge it must be for the substitute teacher who does care about the students.

    Congratulations on "getting it" and being able to make that connection. You're so strong and brave. I don't know that I could do it.

    May God continue bless you, hon!

  2. This is a great article, apparently written by Ben's mom, what wonderful praise Loni!


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