As Maine prepares to go back to school, so do I.

Enough with retirement, golf and fishing. I’m more adept with a waffle iron than a five iron. Fish shun my lures.

I noticed a banner in town calling for substitute teachers and school bus drivers. I’d been warned; “It’s like babysitting, man!” “There’s no respect in classrooms anymore!” I’d been told that kids don’t take “subs” seriously (unless they’re sandwiches). Curious and undaunted, I signed up for an interview and was approved for middle and high schools.

These days, our schools need all the help they can get. Teacher burnout and pandemic upheaval haven’t helped matters. There’s an urgent need in Maine – and most everywhere else.

On my first day last January, I was assigned to a high school Spanish class. The only Spanish I know is “Dos cervezas, por favor!” No matter – teachers nowadays post lesson plans on Google Classroom. Once the bell rings and the roll call is taken, I introduce myself and they get to work. The day went quite smoothly. “Un buen día!”

The following day, I was thrown into a sixth-grade middle school science class. The kids worked me over like a buttered Christian tossed to famished lions. Water bottles needed to be repeatedly filled. I ran out of bathroom passes. Clandestine chatting and snacking … oy! Alas, I managed to survive.


The next day I had “lunch duty.” I noticed one of the well-behaved young lads from the previous day. I asked: “What’s your name again?”

“Jackson,” he replied. “OK,” I said, “I want to try to remember the names of the good guys.”

As I walked away, Jackson said with a grin: “Hey! You’re one of the good guys, too.”

“Subbing” isn’t “babysitting.” Like any job opportunity, what you get back is equal to the effort you put in. It was my experience that if one wants to engage with youngsters (I vaguely recall being one), they are more than happy and eager to oblige.

I designed a name tag that read: “I’m a sub – be nice!” I asked students to call me Buddy. I became the “fist-bump sub” in hallways. Towards the end of the school year, a young middle school lad told me in the company of his pals, “You’re the best sub we’ve had this year!” I asked why and, after a pause, he managed to answer: “You’re … kind.”

I never thought of myself as being particularly kind. Maybe my dog would. Perhaps it’s inherently part of my “good guy” persona. Apparently, the word got around that I was “OK” – that I’d passed the test. There was never a day at any school where the teachers would fail to thank me just for being there.

I’m looking forward to going “back to school.” If you think you’d like “subbing,” reach out. Kindness might be helpful. But caring for, and enthusiasm towards youngsters will surely get you through the day.

Class dismissed!

Comments are no longer available on this story