The Smart Substitute for Good Teaching

HI MS. O’SULLIVAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

My little barely 4 foot self walked like a tornado into our junior high social studies classroom as I sang the greeting out loud and clear. Mrs. O’ Sullivan was the substitute teacher that seemed to always be there lately. Truth be told, I just enjoyed the look on her face as she looked like she wanted to lose it but smiled and greeted me instead.

Our class was the usual mix of craziness you can find at that hormonal stage in life. How anyone walks into something like that willingly as a substitute still baffles me to this day even as a teacher.

But she did.

Substitute teachers are the ones who are called for anywhere from months in advance to minutes before classes need them because a teacher cannot be there for whatever reason.

Thinking back to elementary school days, Mrs. Esposito was a very elderly lady who always kept her lipstick perfectly on. From the first sight of her, you would think she was a sweet grandma. We learned that she would be the fiercest substitute ever. You knew if you walked into the room and she was there, no one was getting away with any nonsense that day.

Every now and then, there would be the substitute that was someone’s favorite. Maybe there would be extra story time or art that day. To have a break from the regular teacher sometimes was a plus. It became special for kids who didn’t know if their teacher was out because they actually had a life outside of us or that something might have been really wrong. Kids live in a bubble when it comes to these thoughts of teachers being real people.

In 6th grade, we finally ruled the school. We were seniors and determined to have a good laugh at what would be the last substitute we would have. I can neither confirm or deny I sent a note around that we were all to stand and recite the pledge at a random time. There were many other shenanigans that went on throughout the day that ended with the principal splitting us all up into other classes. Obviously, I look at it fondly. Little did I know karma can come around before you know it.

Shortly after I got my go ahead to substitute, I ended up subbing in yes, you guessed it…a 6th grade class in Queens, New York.  The day ended with me crying in the school’s bathroom because I thought I just wasn’t cut out for this. They were WILD! When I got the call to go back in, I was scared out of my mind. The principal even said he would help out if I just tried again.

Deep breaths and I did.

It wasn’t perfect but it was better.

I subbed a lot that year and learned that this type of teaching is not for the weak. To walk into a room where you don’t know the personalities of those you need to guide that day or the procedures of the classroom is challenging. As a classroom teacher today, I am thankful that when I need off for whatever reason, there are people who stand in to take care of “my babies”.

And what of Mrs. O’ Sulluvan?

She went on to teach for many years in that school. It was a joy when I became friends with her on Facebook. The first thing I did? Yes, you guessed it again…

“HI Ms. O’ SULLIVAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Thank you, Substitute teachers.

My brother teaches English at the junior high we attended as kids. It is now a middle school. Before Mrs. O’Sullivan retired, I went to visit with my son and they took this picture. Clearly he was not amused by school at that time.

Good teaching happens everywhere. Amazing substitutes can keep it going. Happy Teacher Appreciation to all of you who do just that!!!

What is your favorite substitute tale? Join in on the conversation at 40 Wishes and Counting!


  1. says

    I can’t even imagine teaching, let alone subbing. I was too afraid of getting a student who was just like me or my brothers. We were jerks in school.

  2. says

    Some of my favorite teachers have been substitutes! In junior high we had an amazing long term sub for my algebra class and I was sad when our regular teacher came back!

  3. says

    My mum did it for a while between when she had been a SAHM and when she went back to work full time, around the time I first started school. When I was at school, we never caused problems for our primary substitute teachers (up to age 11), but being a secondary (11-16/18) substitute teacher was a dangerous job!

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