Since I have retired, I have gone back into substitute teaching. In California one must have a 4 years degree and have passed the CBEST. They’d like a sub to at least be able to match high school students’ mastery of their subjects. They don’t always get that but they try.

You also need a spotless criminal record. I have had high level clearances from the Department of Defense, the Defense Industrial Agency, the Postal Service and even been vetted by the Boy Scouts for childcare. That and I’d done a spot of subbing decades ago when I was between careers. Not to worry. I have been finger printed and intensively background checked more times than I care to count.

I seem to have accidentally stumbled into a niche for learning disabled & K-6 students. So far it has been mostly moderate to severe autism. For some reason, subs really don’t want to work those classes. I don’t know why. You get two class aids who know everything the class does so there is no need to absorb pages of sub notes from the teacher. They don’t play the game of pulling fast ones on the sub. The class is smaller so at the end of the day you really feel you have come to know about all these children as individuals, rather than stand-out individuals from a herd.

One thing I have noted is that the classroom aids, (another job I looked in to) while good-hearted and well meaning people, haven’t received any training specific to autism. My own “training” was growing up with high functioning autism, aka Asperger’s. So when a student started plugging his ears and looking distressed during music, I knew immediately that he was going into sensory overload and the aids didn’t. Took him to the far end of the room until the noisiest part was over and he was OK.

The very first class I was assigned to was a K-1 class for kids on the autism spectrum. I didn’t see a lot of spectrum-type behavior but some appeared clearly gifted.

One girl was prone to wander away at the slightest opportunity. She was also able to read my substitute handbook to me. She was 5.

A boy was able to tell me about the asteroids and could tell me a dozen species of dinosaurs and what they ate. Also age 5.

Another girl told me that life evolved in the ocean and then came onto land. Then a comet smashed into us and destroyed everything and allowed us to evolve. But she wasn’t worried because God would protect us from another comet impact.

In another class with mostly pre-verbal kids, I am told I made a breakthrough with a boy who had never spoken to anyone before. He even insisted on sitting in my lap and he’d never shown affection to another adult in class before. He didn’t seem severely handicapped to me. Maybe he just didn’t have anyone worth talking to. A little voice in the back of my head was worrying about the physical contact and another voice was shaming me for doing so. The aids seemed to have no problem and said they’d suggest me the next time the teacher needed a sub.

I spoke with the teacher later about this and she said they didn’t really understand the things they were saying. They were just repeating what they’d heard on television. I had a different impression. They weren’t just reciting fact, they were speaking with inflection and excitement.

Do not underestimate a child’s brain. When I was that age I was already reading two grades above K level while most of the K-level kids didn’t read at all. Teachers didn’t like it because I hadn’t learned through “Phonics“, I’d learned by asking what a word was and what did it mean and deduced a few letter sounds on my own. My textbooks were road signs.

What does that sign say?

Do not pass.

What does that one say?

Pass with care.

What does that sign say?

Stuckey’s Restaurant, 50 miles. <Exasperated sigh!>


Obviously I’d be stumped at words I hadn’t seen before, right? Wrong. I had already begun to figure out what some of those letters sounded and how words got arranged in a sentence.

Every normally verbal 5 year old knows to say, “I need to pee!” rather than saying a random list of pee related words. Not to know such a thing would be a sign of disability.  If they didn’t understand language at some basic level they would spout the words out one word at a time or in incorrect order. Kids understand subject-verb-predicate long before diagramming endless sentences. They just don’t have the labels yet.

One day at 5th grade recess I found one of these little guys. At some point in time almost every kid cycled by looking at it with curiosity. I protected the critter as I explained what44920396_768812376798721_6729301278440030208_o.jpg it was and why one shouldn’t harm it. At the end of the period I scooped it up and moved it off the playground. It was a fun experience and a chance to teach a bit of natural history they might actually remember.

Last Tuesday I subbed for a class of third graders. It was the best subbing experience I’ve ever had. It was a textbook example of what a class should be like. That, of course, is all thanks to the teacher.

These kids were actually quiet. They did what they were requested. The “class leaders” filled me in on all the little things you never see in the substitute plan the teacher leaves. I understand that. If you were to detail everything you do in a day at work you’d fill far more pages than a teacher wants to leave.

As soon as they went outside for PE or recess, it was utter pandemonium. But when the time came to go in again, they lined up without needing to be herded like wayward sheep. Then they bided their time until their next opportunity to release chaos upon the land.

At least 3 of the kids came up to me and hugged me. Never had that happen before.

This was a regular rainbow class. Black, Caucasian, Hispanic, several varieties of Asian. Ancestries so mixed up you couldn’t put them in any identifiable group. Nobody had a preponderance and nobody was alone. Until that happens to society at large, I do not believe that racism or any of the other xeno-isms will go away.

A girl said to me that she her mother was Thai and her father Filipino and that was really strange. I told her there was nothing strange about it. It just makes our world a more interesting place. What was strange (to me) is that a child I’d never met before would say such a thing to me.

One of the girls sat alone on a bench crying during PE because she wasn’t allowed to play any ball type games by her parents. (No explanation.) I asked which of the other kids didn’t want to play kickball and got together a group to send to the well padded swings, monkey bars and gerbil habitat.

I don’t know if I was “allowed” to do that. I think they were all supposed to play some kind of organized sports activity. Forget that! No child was going to be left out on my watch. Didn’t get into trouble – but if I did it would be easy to feign ignorance.

At the end of the day the kids waiting to be picked up got to sit under a large sun canopy over some turf or the shade of some nearby tree. That is one thing most of the other south facing schools don’t have. I’d sure hate to be a kid waiting on asphalt for their parents on a 95 degree day. Worse yet when it rains.

Working with young children is a fantastic antidepressant. Which is good because I finished easing out of my Prozac prescription a month ago.

I leave it to you to analyze the pictures a kindergartner gave me.