It happens at the same time every Sunday evening. Just as Mike, Morley, et al. make way for Murder, She Wrote, feelings of uncertainty and apprehension engulf me. These charged emotions concerning the inevitable approach of Monday are new. I love teaching and the often exhilarating atmosphere of our secondary schools. However, such is not the case this year. I am a teacher without students to call my own--another casualty of the recession and reduced state funding for education. I am a substitute.
Sleep only proves to be a temporary respite from my pervasive thoughts of gloom and doom. I awaken every couple of hours. When the alarm clock finally starts to beep, I curse the dawning of the new day. As I shave, shower, dress, and eat, a little voice reminds me that all of these predawn efforts could be fruitless. I may not even work today.
My anxiety level increases as the minutes tick by. The jangle of the telephone at 6:33 puts an end to the uncertainty. It also brings a flood of conflicting emotions. I am relieved to be working today but also fearful of what might happen. Is the job at the high school or one of the three junior highs? I would prefer the former. With fingers crossed, I scoop up the receiver. The assignment is to cover an English class at the high school.
During the 20-minute commute, I repeat the name of the absent teacher. It is almost as if I am attempting to adopt his identity. What will I encounter today? Have adequate lesson plans been prepared? Are the seating charts and proper texts available? Will the students honor my reasonable requests?
My fears begin to subside after locating the teacher’s desk in the faculty work area. He is well-prepared and organized. I count my blessings, for it is nerve wracking to substitute without the proper materials. One becomes adept at “punting.’' Today, at least, there will be no need for that.
On the whole, it is an average day. There are no noteworthy incidents, only the usual difficulties: talkative students, their seemingly overactive kidneys, and a multitude of “physical maladies.’' There are also some catcalls and disparaging remarks. While most of the faculty are supportive and sympathetic, some seem to regard me as an ignorant “rent-a-teacher.’' My degree and certification are equal to theirs. Seniority was the deciding factor in my dismissal, not incompetence.
Sure, the day has its bright spots. The students who say “Hi,’' the few who thank me as I passed out paper, and those who hold the door open reaffirm my faith in young people. The convivial atmosphere of the teachers’ room provides a much-needed morale boost. Still, the best moment occurs at 2:15. As I hand the substitute report to the office clerk, my body finally relaxes. The school day is over. I survived. But this spirit of accomplishment is short-lived. After the dinner dishes are tucked away, that uneasy feeling returns. Where will I be tomorrow?
The facet of my life that matters most, professional satisfaction, has been stripped from me. Economic realities force me to endure days filled with disrespect and confrontation. These thoughts I take into the arms of Morpheus.
Chuck Lapre The author is a substitute in New Bedford, Mass.
A version of this article appeared in the February 01, 1992 edition of Teacher as Will I Work Today