Substitute teacher

When I was a little kid, every day I’d wake up for school, it was always the same drill, the same getting up way too early, way earlier than a human child is supposed to naturally wake up. Breakfast was a haze, I always remember sitting around the kitchen table, half-asleep, constantly pissed off at my brother reading the back of the cereal box while eating his cereal, annoyed in the way that an older brother gets watching his younger brother just sitting there content, minding his own business.

It was just a regular school day. Summer vacation would still be months away, even Friday felt impossibly out of reach. All I’d have to look forward to on any given day was going to school, sitting in class, bored, trying not to get in trouble for fidgeting in my seat too much. Then I’d go home, I’d have to do my homework, help set the table for dinner, and then it’d be bedtime.

But every once in a while the universe would hand me a present, would break up the monotony of the school year with its routines and assignments and homework. Every now and then I’d arrive at school, I’d line up in the cafeteria to wait for the teachers to bring us into the classrooms, and we’d walk down the hallway and I’d see all of my classmates entering up ahead.

Something would be different. I could hear giggling, euphoria. Whereas normally the chatting would be silenced by our teacher immediately upon walking through the door, this time something was definitely different, instead of shutting up, everybody was getting louder. What was going on? Who was inside?

And I could already sense it, that our teacher was out, that, for whatever reason, maybe she was sick, maybe she just took a personal day, it doesn’t matter, she wasn’t there. It would be a substitute teacher. And for the rest of that day anyway, all bets were off.

My school had a rotating cast of subs. The best was Mrs. Tackish. She should have been our regular teacher. She loved kids. She loved us. While our regular teachers would yell, scream, “Stop laughing! Get in your seats this second!” Mrs. Tackish would welcome us to the classroom with a huge smile, a, “Good morning children! I’m so happy to be substituting today! We’re going to have so much fun!”

And we would. Of course our regular teacher probably left some bullshit photocopied worksheets for us to fill out, but Mrs. Tackish saw right through all of that nonsense busywork. Let’s play Seven-Up instead. Seven-Up was the greatest, seven kids selected to stand in front of the class, everyone else remained seated, putting their heads down on their desks. With nobody watching, each one of the seven would tap someone on the head. A hand was raised to indicate you’d been tapped. Then the seven lined up back at the front and each of the seven who’d been chosen got one chance to correctly guess who had been the tapper. If you got it right, congratulations, you got to take a turn up front.

Or there’d be hangman. It’s actually not that great of a game. I mean, not for an adult. Recently I found myself at work, it was dead and so a bunch of us started playing hangman. The category was movies, my coworker put five dashes and then three dashes. He showed it to me and I immediately said, Cabin Boy, to which he stared at me in disbelief for like a while, because how did I get it so quickly, with no letters?

But in grammar school? Hangman was the shit. It was all about putting things up there that the teacher had no idea about, like names of cartoon characters, weird little inside jokes. Under normal circumstances, mild giggling would be acceptable while playing hangman, but with Mrs. Tackish, even a full-blown uproar was tolerated.

Unfortunately, The Tackish (as we referred to her with utmost reverence) wasn’t always available to sub. In that case, our school would default to the B-team, which included the recent college grads still looking for teaching jobs, a bunch of retired nuns who used to teach school decades ago or, if things were really bad, somebody’s mom or dad would have to fill in. I always felt really bad for whoever wound up having to sit there while their parent pretended to be a teacher. It was painfully obvious how bad of a teacher impersonation they were performing, and everyone would make fun of that kid for at least two weeks, how he had to sit there and either call the teacher mom or Mrs. and then his own last name.

I wish we could have subs in the adult world. I wish that I’d show up for work some random das and instead of my regular boss there’d be a sub, and even better, it would be Mrs. Tackish. I’m a waiter, and so tables would start complaining about this and that, and instead of me having to explain the situation without upsetting anybody in charge, I could just go to the Tackish and laugh, like, hey Tackish, get a load of these clowns at table twenty-five. And she’s go, “Oh Rob!” like trying to be in charge, but really just getting a huge kick out of it, out of all of us, just goofing around and having a great day.

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