By Althea Atherton – Washington, DC

Last semester, I fell into the opportunity to teach a few semester-long classes as a long-term substitute. It was challenging, rewarding and unforgettable. But now that those classes are finished for the year, and because I’m not a traditionally trained teacher, I’ve stepped into a new role as a per diem sub – covering teacher absences because of illness, field trips or vacations. This is a totally different workflow.

Let me explain with some Rachel Maddow gifs.

When kids say, “You’re not a real teacher, so I don’t have to behave/be productive for *you*.”


I may not be your regular teacher, but I am a real adult, who is employed by your real school, to keep you on task, so I don’t have to give you a very real detention. Do your work.

Sometimes, teachers forget/don’t bother to give you a sub plan.


A plea to teachers: I know you have a lot on your plate, but for the love of Rachel Maddow, please leave a rough outline of what to cover. Covering a class that isn’t yours already means you have to earn the respect of each student from the ground up every single day. Are you telling me I also have to go in completely unprepared ? That’s really going to get them to trust me.

You don’t know the students’ names…or how to pronounce them.



Nobody likes to have their name butchered, and there’s nothing quite like the anxiety that comes with reading a name that could go either way. And for that kid who’s being a jerk in class? A threat to write them up is empty if you don’t know who they are, and their friends won’t tell you.

Students will say, “Can we just play a game? That’s what we did last time there was a sub.”


‘nuff said.

It’s impossible to plan ahead.


A teacher doesn’t often know they need to take a sick day until that morning, so your plans to sleep in may be ruined with a 6 a.m. call from your boss. You can try to set limits about when it’s okay to call, but that also limits your financial opportunities.

Good luck getting benefits or job security.


If you don’t get insurance from another source, you’re not going to get it from a school that hires you sometimes by the day, with no promise of work. But, the Affordable Care Act is a beautiful thing, so substitute teachers can get insurance now, too! #ThanksObama

But it’s not all bad. Substitute teaching has its advantages.

You can say “no” to work if you’re busy/not feeling great.


You don’t have to pre-schedule personal/self-care days – you just say “no thanks!” when you need to take them. There’s a whole list of potential substitutes for the school to call in your place!

You don’t have to grade anything.


It’s nice to have a job that doesn’t come home with you at the end of the night. And dealing with students and parents after giving a low grade is not in your job description.

You don’t have to do any lesson planning- you just show up and follow the instructions left by the teacher.


Except in those rare emergencies when no sub plan comes through, you don’t have to think about planning at all. The hardest part of teaching for me was making sure my class kept-up with the necessary learning targets and semester plans…but you just have to maintain a positive learning environment.

You don’t have to call parents.


If a kid acts up for you, you report it to the teacher and any necessary staff, but you don’t have to have that dreaded  phone call to tell a parent their perfect angel was not-so-perfect in class that day.

Often? You basically get paid for free time.


Teachers don’t really expect you to teach a lesson on the board. They usually expect their pupils to work independently or watch a video, so you get to hang out on your laptop and make sure they look productive, don’t hurt each other and don’t skip class.

Maybe you’ll accidentally learn something you missed in grade school!


I have learned class content alongside the students I was teaching more times than I can count! It feels great to learn something new as an adult, and you get to have that feeling every single day. Sometimes, when I am blessed with a great class, I’ll do worksheets alongside the students so we can figure it all out together.

The #sublife can be frustrating, but it’s a great way to stay productive during a transitional time in your life. If you are interested in trying it out, you can submit your resume to a local public school with the age range of your choice.