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Substitute teaching gave me new respect for 'real' teachers

Fifty dollars per day is what the state of New Mexico pays a substitute teacher with no bachelor degree. So when I decided to start subbing, it wasn’t for the pay. Rather, I was trying to determine if a career in teaching would suit me after I retired from the Air Force.

And after working at six different schools, I’ve had many experiences to help me in my decision.

But I sure was a nervous wreck that first day. I knew the students were looking at me in the same way I looked at a sub when I was in school.

I’m not a devoutly religious man, but I asked God to resolve me of all the sins of my youth. But I’m afraid the statute of limitations ran out on begging for forgiveness.

In my second-period class, I asked a girl to remove her feet from the desk. I’d given a relaxed introduction and didn’t lay down the ground rules, trying to establish rapport before cementing authority.

The girl looked at me and said, “Why do the real teachers not care about this, but the fake ones like you do?”

I might only be a sub, I said, but I knew the “real teachers” did care about this. I asked her again to kindly remove her feet. She did.

My introductions have been stern ever since.

But for the few bad experiences I’ve had, I can think of many good or funny ones to take their place.

In a sixth-grade class, a student came up to me with a panicked face and said he had a bloody nose. I sent him to the school nurse. Five minutes later, he came back with a note that read: “No blood. Just red ink.” Apparently the student forgot he was sticking a red pen up his nostril and mistook the red on his hands for blood. What a goofball.

A heart-melting moment happened at the end of a kindergarten class. I’d spent the day working with a disruptive boy. He asked if I was coming back tomorrow. I told him I wasn’t. He started to cry and hugged my thigh. I found out later he didn’t have a male figure in his life. It took all my strength not to tear up.

There were so many things I learned, but I’ll limit it to a few observations.

First, teaching is a really hard job. It’s mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausting every day. I had no idea how difficult it actually was. I gained a deeper respect for what “real teachers” do day in and day out.

Next, establishing authority in the classroom is vastly different from what I’ve grown used to in the military. As a teacher, you have to earn your authority with each group of students.

Lastly, and this is the best part, the kids of Clovis convinced me that teaching would indeed be a profession I’d like to pursue. And for that, I thank them.

Kitsana Dounglomchan, a 12-year Air Force veteran, writes about his life and times for Clovis Media Inc. Contact him at:

[email protected]