Confessions of a Middle School Substitute

So I’m sure you have all probably noticed our conspicuous absence over the past month or so.

We are utterly, abjectly, hang-our-heads-in-shame sorry. Both Jamie and I have recently taken on new jobs and I think we are both finding the settling-in process to be a bit of work. I’ve gone from working a very flexible, work-if-you-want-to kind of proposition inside the home to teaching again outside the home, coupled with my regular editing and writing commitments. After being home for the past ten years as a night owl who can wake up, get the kids off to school, and then bleary-eye the morning hours away until the caffeine decides to kick in, it’s been a fun awakening. No pun intended.

But I am loving being back in the school again, even if right now I’m just subbing until my long-term English position kicks in, in a few weeks. I subbed for a middle school art class Monday and Tuesday, and was forcibly reminded of why I have always said I’d never teach middle school. Never, no how, no way.

There are just so many…emotions.

And smells.

And noises.

The sixth and seventh graders were kind of okay. They watched a VHS video made in nineteen-hundred-and-froze-to-death and giggled when Degas and Mary Cassatt flirted awkwardly with each other. They were cute.

The eighth graders, though…whew. (And you know it’s not just you when the custodian visits you after school to ask how it went, because “some of them kids can be ‘rough.’”) One of them, a young lady, motioned me over urgently.

“I have a question that’s kind of embarrassing…I’m having an argument with my friend and was hoping you could help.”

“I’ll do my best.”

“Which hurts more, pregnancy or getting kicked in the balls?”

It was all I could do to keep a straight face. REALLY? Did this sweet-looking young lady really just ask me that? Thoughts rolled swiftly through my head. Maybe I should tell her to Google it. Nah…no telling what she might come up with. Ask your mother? I can see that one now. My substitute told me to ask you…No. Definitely not.

“Well…I assume you’re referring to giving birth over just being pregnant?” At her nod, I continued. “As to the other, I really wouldn’t know. I assume your friend is a male?” She nodded. “I’m thinking that’s the most painful thing he can think of to use as a point of reference, so for him it would be very painful, just like giving birth can be very painful for a woman.”

“Oh, okay.” From the back of the room came a sudden loud farting noise, distracting both of us from the suddenly awkward conversation. I gave FartBoy The Look, and after a couple of smaller bugling noises, he subsided.

Next there was the young man who did everything but ask me to the eighth grade prom.

“Are you going to be at Winter Glitz?”


“But why not? It’ll be fun.”

The other students poked him. “Dude, she’s a substitute! She doesn’t have to come!”

He sidled up to my desk a few minutes later. “Are you sure you’re not going to be at the Glitz? I’m going to be there.”

“Er…tempting. But, no.”

To put a cap on it, FartBoy slipped out of a crowd of four students anxiously awaiting the final bell at the door. There’s a small alcove by the door, so I didn’t think much of it. He was no doubt grabbing for as much freedom as he could get.

A minute later, I realized he was doing the worm on the hallway floor when another teacher stuck her head in the door, gave me the evil eye, and him a dressing down. After she left I caught his eye with my own.

“Thanks, dude, for making me look incompetent.”

“Uh…you’re welcome?”

Yup. I love eighth graders. And actually, I do. As tough as they can be for a once-in-a-while-sub, they are funny, wide-open, challenging, and oddly captivating.

One thought on “Confessions of a Middle School Substitute

  1. I have been thinking about you lately, happy to see your post. What fun to be on a middle school campus — great way to get post inspiration! I still miss my days as a 6th grade middle school teacher. Enjoy!


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