Debbie Williamson

Out of the Abundance of the Heart



January 2018



The Work From My Soul

Written by , Posted in General, Substitute Teaching

It was one of my first jobs as a new substitute teacher. I’d passed the CBest, been fingerprinted, and was nervously preparing on that January day to do my new sub thing in an 8th grade advanced math class. Middle daughter’s advanced math class.

Not everyone knew we were related and she begged me not to tell the others. However, mid way through the period she decided she needed water, my water bottle — I guess the little cherub was thirsty. So in a moment of mothering clarity, I said she could have it only if she told the class we were mother and daughter.

Reluctantly she agreed, and the water bottle was hers.


When daughter #3 got to middle school, she realized pretty quickly that it was a bonus to have mom there regularly. My presence meant free access to food, water, money, and signatures, if in fact none of that had been collected at home earlier. She didn’t love me subbing in her classes, but I promised not to embarrass her. We settled into an uneasy truce.

At the beginning of my new career, I discovered subbing elementary and high school was not for me. The little ones, way too needy — they’d cry and spend all day telling me I wasn’t doing it how their beloved teacher did it. And where is she? and when is she coming back? and why is she gone? and we don’t do that now! and it’s raining so we have to eat lunch in here with you today. What?!?!?!?! Cue head in hands trying not to loose my mind. Yep, not for me. The Valentine’s Day party with a class of 4th graders sealed the “NO ELEMENTARY SUBBING” deal for me.

High schoolers are just scary.

Kind of like the Three Bears — Too hot, Too cold, Just right.

Over these years I’ve subbed primarily at two middle schools — the one our daughters went to, and the one I’m at now. And I have loved almost every minute of it. There are days, of course, like with any job, that serving coffee at Starbucks might be a better calling, or selling books at Barnes and Noble.

But as I look back on these 14 years, I’m grateful for this wacky, wild, wonderful job and mindful of the influence I believe I have on eager, impressionable young humans. Even when they roll their eyes, or refuse to do what I’ve asked, or lie, or forget their homework, or tell me that that’s not how Mrs. _______________ does it (I guess Middle Schoolers do that too), or make fun of the way I pronounce “rather”, or want to high five me with the dirtiest hands, or say sorry when they really don’t mean sorry and they just want me to get off their backs, or mumble swear words as they’re leaving the room, or pretend not to know what I know they know and insist I explain it AGAIN . . .

But I love my job. Even as they ask why I’m not a real teacher. Yep. Not a real teacher. Because subbing and putting up with above shenanigans is apparently not being a real teacher. Sheesh.

Last week was the epitome of most of my days. I was in an 8th grade room for the second day in a row. The day before, several boys had not been on their best behavior. Imagine that — 8th grade boys not following directions. Anyway, the next day I informed these hooligans that unless they were perfect, they’d be getting a referral. (Not really sure what a referral is, but it’s enough to make most of them shape up.)

Yea, except for one of the boys who just couldn’t help himself.

He insisted I tell him what he’d done wrong the day before, which I had done the day before. And then he told me he’d bet me $100 that he actually wasn’t guilty of what I’d witnessed.

Uh huh.

$100, he said over and over. Of course, I wasn’t going to engage him in a who remembered more accurately what happened the day before, so I said, “I’m not going to discuss again what happened yesterday.” When the bell rung, he slunk out of the room muttering vulgarities that I couldn’t hear, but that the other students told me he was saying. Super.

Another one for the win.

The next period, though, one of the boys said I was his favorite sub.

And today, 6th graders cheered as I opened the door.

Yep, just right.

So here’s to another semester, showing up and doing work that comes straight from the soul of me.


(For more posts on my life as a substitute teacher, go to the “categories” section on the right and choose Substitute Teaching.)


  1. Carissa
  2. Kathy
  3. Maggie Gamester
  4. Rose Marie Neufeld