Dear Substitute Teacher

*The following is a note that I wrote to the substitute teacher who subbed for my 4th grade class while I was out for a day:

“Dear substitute teacher,

            My name is Judy Barker. I have been the sub for this class for the past week and will be here until Spring Break. This class is very talkative, but very bright. They need constant encouragement, but a firm hand. Be stern, but gracious. I will give you a list of good students, not-so-great students, and students who may need extra help/attention. Please let me know if any of them misbehave. As for teaching goes, I’ll leave you everything you will need and a schedule for the day. They have a line order. I have left that with you and they know where they need to go. If you have any questions, the teachers next door will help you. Thank you for being me today!

                                                God Bless,

                                                         Judy Barker”

For the past 5 months, I had the privilege of being a substitute teacher for the Polk County Public School system. I was at a school teaching second grade one day and during class, the assistant principal walked into my classroom and asked if I’d sub for a 4th grade class for the rest of the week. I decided to give it a shot and see what would happen. It was only for a week, right? Well, the first day wasn’t too bad. However, the rest of the week was awful. I got to know the class’ story as a whole. Their teacher moved to a different city. Then their new teacher quit on them because she really disliked them (and told them that) and they didn’t like her. At this point, their teacher consisted of a multitude of different subs. When I stepped in, I didn’t know I’d be there for almost 3 weeks until their new teacher (who is fantastic) arrived. I got to know these students really well. I even went on a field trip with them! We all got along well. With that being said, things weren’t easy. I had some problems students who didn’t like to obey authority or do their schoolwork. Every school and class has these students, so this is nothing new. I got to talk with them more and learn about their lives. I found out that some students don’t get regular meals at home, but are fortunate enough to be able to take a bag full of food home with them on the weekends, some students have been abused, and some students have a great home life. I even taught a girl who had just lost her dad to cancer.

My heart broke every day for one reason or another. These students were so broken and they didn’t have anyone who was willing to help them. During my time with them, I was able to encourage them and help them succeed in certain goals. I got to love on them and be there for them. I loved when they’d walk into class in the mornings and tell me all about something cool they did or something new that they learned. I loved getting to listen to them talk about things that made them happy. It put a smile on my face when I saw a student who had been a decently behaved student give away his special treat to the one student who didn’t earn it. He was showing love and grace and he didn’t even realize it. This was one of the coolest moments of my life.

After Spring Break, I began subbing for other schools and classes. When you enter a classroom for the first time, it’s almost impossible to know what kind of students you will be teaching that day. For me, a prayer each morning that I would pray consisted of me asking God to place students in my path that needed love, encouragement, and kindness. I knew that if I could encounter some of these students, I could help make their day a little better. I always had “trouble students” in my classes. I could tell that they would act up on purpose just for the attention. They didn’t care what kind of attention they got as long as someone was paying attention to them. That broke my heart. Their parents didn’t really care about them and we all could tell. So they would do what they had to do to attain attention from other adults. Often times when a student would misbehave, I’d pull them aside and talk with them. I’d encourage them to make better choices. A lot of the students that I pulled aside were students that had a lot of influence on other students. I would tell them how much of an example they are and how they can be a good leader if they did the right things. A lot of times I could see the transformation in them after this talk. The little bit of confidence and encouragement that I gave them was what they needed. Throughout the day I’d encourage them more and thank them for doing the right things instead of the wrong things.

Overall, I learned a few things. 1). Kids these days are struggling and as a society, we aren’t doing too much to help them. Parents want to be a friend instead of a parent and in a lot of cases they don’t even want to be a parent. This leaves kids feeling hopeless, unloved, and not valuable. This causes them to try to find love and acceptance in places that will only encourage them to follow bad paths. 2). The world is full of broken people who are hurting. It’s our responsibility as Christ-followers to love and encourage them no matter who they are or how hard they make your life. 3). It’s important to have guidelines to live by and it’s ok to still have fun while following those guidelines. There’s nothing more chaotic in a classroom than having a fun activity and the entire class completely ignores all of the rules. This results in someone getting hurt, property getting damaged, students getting scared for their safety, and teachers getting frustrated. Rules are good and it’s important to have fun inside of those rules.

Didn’t Jesus say, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.”(Matt. 19:14)?
Society can be harsh and treat kids like they don’t matter and like they don’t have thoughts, feelings, emotions, or dreams. Jesus reminds us to treat them as the special people they are. They are so important and we need to remind them of that importance.

So, to all of the teachers and substitute teachers out there who are on summer break, thank you for all that you have done to impact the future generation of people. Thank you for being patient, making countless sacrifices, and for loving your students. Without your diligence, we’d be in even bigger trouble than we are in now. You are incredibly important and your hard work doesn’t go unnoticed!

And to all of the good substitute teachers out there, keep up your good work and keep fighting the good fight! Your love, gentleness, and kindness don’t go unnoticed. You do a special job that is crucial to the functioning of society!

*Also, congrats if you’ve made it all the way to the end! You’re the real MVP for reading this whole thing!