Substitute teaching offers many challenges, but perhaps the greatest one is being a long-term substitute. A long-term substitute takes a teacher’s place from several weeks to several months. The teacher may be out due to illness, change of jobs, having a baby, or any number of reasons. Whatever the circumstance, a substitute teacher is needed for the class.

The good things about a long-term position include receiving a larger paycheck, having the same classes each day, getting into a routine, and not having to be concerned each day about getting a job. These things may make the long-term position satisfying for most people.

The bad things about the same position may include having the same classes each day, dealing with the discipline of the students on a daily basis, having to grade all those papers, getting all the grades recorded, handling report cards, dealing with parents, and any number of situations that may arise. The list of bad things will vary with the substitute.

Now, the ugly part of being a long-term substitute will be the students’ reactions to having a substitute. Most students will be loyal to their teacher. Therefore, when the teacher is replaced, the students will turn on the replacement. The students usually do not understand their feelings and emotions; they just know that another person has taken the place of their beloved teacher. This occurs even when the students do not like the regular teacher.

One of my friends accepted a long-term substitute position about two weeks after the school year began. The teacher who had been at the school and taught the class for about 20 years was ill and not able to complete the school year. My friend had been teaching the class for most of the first semester.

About two weeks before Christmas I walked by her classroom. She called to me, so I stopped to chat. She said, “Julia, you can teach this class. You have vocational certification.”

I replied, “Yes,” but was curious as to why she would ask such a question. She went on to explain that the class was getting to her. The students were a difficult group. One boy had told her that he hoped an 18-wheeler would run over her. I just laughed and explained that students always dislike the person who takes their teacher’s place. In this case, the original teacher had been in the class only two weeks, while my friend had been teaching the class for about 15 weeks. Time did not make a difference; she was still the person who took their teacher’s place.

My explanation did not help. My friend said her son was getting married and she had told the students she would be out the week before Christmas to complete the details of the wedding. She was NOT telling them that she would not be back after the Christmas holidays, and would recommend that I teach the class for the second semester. I agreed to accept her recommendation.

The second semester began and the students were upset that my friend was no longer their teacher. I had my share of difficulties with this group of students. In my case, I had taken my friend’s place, and the students didn’t like me.

It was only about two weeks into the semester when my friend was a substitute in a classroom nearby. When I saw her, she told me that the student who wanted an 18-wheeler to run over her had seen her that day. He told her, “Why don’t you come back to our class? Mrs. Nation is mean; we don’t like her. We want you back.”

We both laughed. It never fails; students do not like the substitute who takes their teacher’s place, even if the teacher is another substitute. That’s the ugly fact of being a long-term substitute teacher.

Julia Nation
Author: Julia NationEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Julia Nation grew up in the Humble area and taught for more than 30 years. Email comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..