Being a Substitute Teacher is like being an Adoptee


For years I taught Elementary and High School. I taught a number of subjects ranging from Fourth Grade Math to Eleventh Grade US History where we learned about how society changes who we are as an individual and also how the US used its super powers to devastate, conquer and destroy. I taught about how all this destruction and the so-called manifest destiny actually changed people from the inside out.

I taught for many years, watching and listening and observing students who came from backgrounds where their parents care too much and not enough. I listened to parents bitch and moan and loath and also praise their kids who cared too much or not enough

I held the hands of my girls as they were growing up as the teacher’s kids so they in turn got special treatment and at the same time had higher expectations.

I spent a lot of my time observing, watching, being thankful, and realizing that the hand I was dealt was indeed strange and somewhat different.

As a teacher, I was the real thing. I still can be since I have my teaching certificate and license that are current. I was always Ms.________, licensed teacher and instructor and professional. I went to school for this, I seemed to thrive at this thing called teaching and yet, every day I was in the classroom, I found myself learning way more than I had expected.

Now that I am a substitute teacher, I find myself being very disconnected, like in adoption, I can smile and act thankful and pretend that adoption itself does not bother me. Like in adoption, I jump from one people group to another, trying to sit in for someone else…, someone I was supposed to be all along and someone I never could be.

For example; I could never be a math teacher and yet I sit in and teach a math lesson. The lessons are usually already planned out and my job is to hand out papers, take attendance and pass out more sheets of paper that tell students what to do. I can’t grade math stuff because I can’t explain math.

I know very little about science and yet I get to class right before the bell rings and I pull out that gigantic Chemistry book and read the first paragraph that is about cells. I don’t understand a thing about it but I am there, reading it to a bunch of High School kids who would rather pull out their Iphones and watch Netflix, Itunes or Youtube.

But there are subjects I substitute for and they are right up my alley. The humanities have always been a topic I was interested in. I majored in English and minored in Spanish while also obtaining a TESOL license, Freelance Writing degree and a number of other certificates which add to my repertoire of “good work as a black woman”.  Oh yes, my masters in Religious Studies does me very little good because though I have a Masters, Bachelors, Associates and others, I am still the black person who is expected to represent her race, her religion and also her creed. I am held to a very high standard and no standard at all. I’m not expected to succeed and yet if I do succeed, I am supposed to be a reflection of my people group.

Being a substitute teacher gives me the opportunity to see the educational world from a vantage point that I will always continue to love-NO GRADING.

When I was a teacher for the elementary grades, I felt the amount of grading was out of this world. Too much. As a substitute teacher, I don’t grade at all. I come in, read a script and move to the next class.

I equate substitute teaching to being an adoptee because all my life I feel that I was taking the place of someone or something. I would pretend to teach a class I knew nothing about, or live in a family I understood very little of.

The minute I felt I understood a subject, I have a new expectation placed on me. When I felt I knew my family, and the people who were raised around me, there was a new condition or rule I had to abide by.

I lived on the offense and on the defense as an adoptee and had to arrive on the offense and defense as a substitute teacher. I had to be flexible when it came to my schedule that I was handed and I would also have to defend and prove students in my class were actually getting work done and not joking around.

There were days I walked into a very nasty classroom with crap all over the floor and there were other days when the classrooms looked so clean I could lick the walls.

There were times I received thank you emails from teachers I had subbed for but hate emails from parents whose children sat in my classroom on the days I subbed.

Many days I would complete my fitbit steps requirement because a teacher had printed the wrong classroom number on the lesson plan and my kids would be waiting there without a teacher and I had to go find them.

As an adoptee, living with people who were not biological to me was like entering into a clean or nasty classroom. It was like receiving a nice thank you email and then a hateful letter all on the same day. It was like getting my exercise in while being told I was too fat to even do exercise.

For me, subbing is taking the place of someone else. It’s to fill in where there is something missing. For my adoptive parents, I apparently opened their “spiritual” womb. I am filling in where there was no spirit.

Substitute teaching can also be a surprise. You don’t really know what subject you are going to pretend to know until you are at school. Adoption is similar in that you don’t really know who you will encounter and in what way you will have to change your demeanor to fit the occasion.

In substitute teaching, you take on a role. You “play” teacher. As an adoptee you take on a role, you “play” the actual daughter of a person who didn’t conceive you, or give birth to you.

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4 Responses to Being a Substitute Teacher is like being an Adoptee

  1. As a Spanish teacher who has also subbed the last ten years, I totally can relate to this. Also, I hate math.

  2. awax1217 says:

    I too did the teaching route for forty plus years. I did the grind and paid the fine. I retired with many good memories and some not so good. Classes came and went. So I started to sub and found out what you discovered. There is no comparison in being a teacher and being a sub. The children treat you differently and your words go on deaf ears. I did three years of subbing and then gave it up. I then went to an alternative “bad” school where the children thrown out of regular school were sent. I did three years there and had nightmares for seven years. I could give you horror stories but you would not believe me.
    I then went to an amusement park which specialized in young children and that I did enjoy.

  3. You are highly qualified. Wishing you all the best

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