One Bad Day
Monday morning, 8:00 AM. It was a typical school day in April, one of my first few days as a substitute teacher in the district.
I acknowledged the sixth graders with a nervous smile and a soft greeting as they ambled in. Most filed right past me without so much as a glance in my direction, leaving me to falter in my words and trail off into a mumbled "Good morn..."
Ding, Ding, Ding, went the sound of the school bell, barely audible above the buzz of the morning chatter. I pulled out the door stop, and the door clicked shut with finality behind me, enclosing me in the Language Arts classroom with a whole menagerie of substitute-eating beasts.
Only one or two sets of eyes focused on me as I slouched my way to the front of the room.
"Quiet down, please," I said, raising a hand. This caught the attention of two of the students.
One, sitting with three of his friends at the front middle table, was a buck-toothed, blond boy with large, arrogant, blue eyes. He glanced up at me for a moment, taking in my youthful appearance, my inexpensive watch, and my cheap shoes; then he turned away. I was nothing to him. I stood right by him as I attempted to attract the attention of the rest of the class.
"Excuse me, class. I need to take roll and if you can't hear me, you're going to be counted absent," I spoke a bit louder, attempting to sound more authoritative.
I had half the class.
"Excuse me, class! Your assignment is on the board. Please get started on it while I take roll."
"Alright, Miss Teacher Lady!" one girl piped up in a voice that carried across the room. This elicited giggles. "I need to sharpen my pencil!" She popped up, chin thrust forward, leading her wherever she went. Several eyes followed her swaggering form and a few of the students caught each others' gazes and smirked.
Finally, after much pleading, the class came to enough of a semi-quiet that I called roll. It was out on the door late. Not a good start. I had a feeling this would be a long morning.
As I strolled about the room, attempting to assist the children that had questions, I noticed several closed books that should have been open and several of the children talking that should not have been talking. Several times I asked them, quietly, to please stop talking and get to work; this had very little effect.
Then, the most grievous offense, I spotted two girls that had markers out and were actually coloring. One was the pop-up, forward-chinned, pencil-sharpening girl from before. The other was a baby-talking, eye-rolling ditz wannabe.
"Ladies," I addressed them, leaning over their table, "Please put the markers away."
"Hold on, Miss Teacher Lady," the forward-chinned girl replied, "I'm not done coloring this yet."
"Put them away now."
"Gawsh," huffed the other girl, rolling her eyes.
"Awight... Sheesh!" the baby-talking girl burst out, "I'm putting the mawkers away." She snapped the blue cap onto the marker she had just been using, then handed all five of the colors she had on her desk over to the other girl.
That other girl popped up out of her seat again. "I've got to give these back, Miss Teacher Lady," she announced, marching over to another table to hand the markers over to another girl who hastily stowed them in her purse and out of sight.
The buzz of conversation had, in the time my back was turned when dealing with those two girls, become a roar.
"Excuse me, class," I called, somewhat tentatively. I got no one. "Excuse me, class!" Still nothing.
Then the most mortifying thing of all happened. Another teacher suddenly burst into the room. "Excuse me, Ms. Hall's class!" she yelled. "Ya'll know how to behave! This is not how ya'll act for a substitute! I can hear ya'll all the way down the hall!"
Suddenly, all was silent and still. There was not even a whisper of sound. She glared at each student, dark eyes slowly sweeping across the classroom until insolent eyes gave way and could look her in the face no longer. She stood straight-backed and tall; her expression was unreadable, except for a slight furrowing of the brow. She stalked across the classroom with sure and measured strides. Her eyes caught every movement. Authority dripped off of her like sweat from a body builder.
As she told off the class I had failed to control, I shrunk meekly into the background, used to being regarded in the same way one might regard wallpaper. I watched, though, and marked down every movement she made. That was how I needed to act to get them in line. Project authority and recieve authority; appear weak, and they walk all over you.