Tag Archives: the challenge of substitute teaching in the United States

Substitute Teaching is not a “Tea Party”

During the 1976-77 school year, I subbed daily in a half-dozen school districts during the first semester.

Substitute teaching is not easy.

Whoever called first at five in the morning — that would be the school district where I taught.

I taught in Arcadia, Monrovia, San Dimas, Rowland and a few other Southern California school districts I’ve forgotten. Most of the time, I worked in Rowland Unified in La Puente, where I interned the previous year.

When some of the teachers in Rowland knew they were going to be out, they requested me in advance and my calendar quickly filled up.

After the Winter Break, I was called to sub at Romier Elementary for a fifth-grade class.

Watch the video and discover what it is like from another substitute teacher more than thirty years later.

The teacher had a heart attack and was in the hospital. Two weeks later, the principal offered me a long-term position for the rest of the year when the regular teacher died.

I consider that fifth-grade class as the one from Dante’s Inferno, and I worried that this would end in me losing my teaching credential while landing in jail for murder and mayhem.

I asked, “Why me?”

After all, there were many substitute teachers with more experience. This was my first year. However, I needed the job.

That’s when I learned that I had been the thirteenth substitute teacher for that class — not a good omen. The other twelve left after the first day and refused to return.

However, I survived two weeks and discovered why the regular teacher probably had his heart attack and died — a rather drastic way to escape those kids.  He should have quit or retired.

In addition, I knew why I had survived — a combat tour in Vietnam as a United States Marine had prepared me for this teaching job.

This video shows a substitute teacher that lost control. With students like these, I cannot blame her. Do you know that half of new teachers quit within three years and never return to education? This is one example that explains why.

That fifth-grade class had thirty students in it. Half the boys were hyperactive, which probably isn’t the politically correct term to call them but too bad since over the years, political correctness has become a language bully.

One boy, James, would attack anyone that stared at him for more than a few seconds. It didn’t matter if the student staring at him was a girl or a boy. He jumped the other students and his fists started flying.

James should have been America’s secret weapon in Vietnam.

Another example why it is so challenging to teach in America’s public schools may be found at Narcissism at its Best.

As a substitute teacher, it would have been nice to have a black belt in judo or karate. I knew one sub that did, and he started every a class with a demonstration of his skills to tame the wild beasts.

Once the class from Dante’s Inferno was mine, I moved the desks around to create a better arrangement for controlling the hyperactive gang.

I moved the teacher’s desk and placed two bookshelves behind it to form a space in a corner large enough to hold one desk so no one could make eye contact with James.

Another recent substitute experience.

The problem was, James wouldn’t sit still, and I had to keep my sonar turned on. When I sensed he was moving, I’d throw my arm up as if it were one of those arms at a railroad crossing to keep James from getting out and causing a train wreck with the other students he attacked.

At times, when it was too quiet in that cubbyhole hemmed in with bookshelves, I’d discover James on top of his desk spinning on his head like a top with his feet in the air.

If I saw any child from that wild bunch lifting a fanny off a chair, I’d fling myself across the room twisting my face into a Marine Corps drill sergeant‘s evil, killer mask.

“Don’t move another inch,” I’d say in a menacing tone that threatened bodily harm. There was never a dull moment. It was in that class that I perfected the killer sociopathic stare that would serve me well until 2005 when I was paroled from the classroom after thirty years.


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

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  Note: This revised and edited post first appeared as a three part series on January 31, 2010 in Substitute Teaching is not a “Tea Party” – Part 1


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