Call it what you willóstand in, substituteóI
was determined to take the step of filling out
the application to become a substitute teacher
in the Frederick County Schools. I had heard
horror stories about the discipline problems in
the Emmitsburg School, but that didnít deter
me. I had behind me an incident in the South
Dakota school where I had spent one year that
gave me courage.
A freshman boy about my size decided to
become the class clown in a study hall. I let
his shenanigans go on for a while, and then I
struck and took matters into my own hands. I
went to this boyís seat, dragged him up onto
his feet, took him by the waist and set him back
down firmly. I used that occasion to prove to
the whole study hall that I meant business when
I was in charge. Word gets around, you know.
I didnít want to be a full-time teacher as
I felt an obligation to be home most of the time
with my children. But I also wanted to have a
bit of money of my own.
My first call came very soon. I have no idea
whose class I was in, but when Mr. Jones called
and asked me to come in, I went. Substitutes
must be ready to drop everything, all plans for
the day, or even for several days. Too many
refusals and the calls donít come again. So,
many mornings I put aside my ironing, my baking,
a shopping trip or even a good day for reading,
I had lots and lots of calls which means of
course, that I substituted in many areas in the
schools. I know that I was in very nearly all of
the elementary classes in Emmitsburg and most of
the high school classes. I think, however, that
I never taught for Miss Stull. She was so strong
minded that I suspect that she never allowed
herself to be sick.
Regular classroom teachers have a
responsibility to substitutes in that they are
required to have a set of emergency plans for
each class so there is no "What am I going
to do today?" There must also be a list of
names and a chronology of the hour-by-hour
activities. Without these "helps"
there is always a risk of chaos.
I was very lucky in that I had the ability to
learn names very quickly. When I called the
roll, I watched to see who responded and was
able to remember that name almost immediately.
Knowing the studentsí names, I think is the
first step in keeping order.
I donít know where in the Emmitsburg School
I began this venture, but I have some memories
of this experience I want to share with you.
Opening exercises in each grade consisted of
Bible reading by "the student of the
day" and the salute to the flag, the words
of which Mr. Eisenhower altered by inserting
"under God." I was surprised by the
Bible reading in a public school, as such a
reading would never have happened in any South
Dakota school. (Separation of Church and State).
I didnít bat an eye, though, as the children
were used to it and it was one time to get them
to act as a group.
I practically prayed that Iíd never be
called to go to the first grade as I was sure
that the wiggling of the six-year-olds would
drive me crazy. Not to worry. When I did go to
Mrs. Learyís room I found the most complete
set of plans, plus comments about which child
might be a disturbance or which ones would and
could be helpful.
As an example of the kind of information she
had in her notes, Mrs. Leary wrote, "Joey is
different. He likes to do things his own way.
"Helpful? Indeed it was. During reading
class Joey got out of his seat, put his fists up
to his chest and began chugging around the room.
I let him chug on. The other children,
apparently accustomed to his behavior, simply
ignored it, and the class proceeded. Joey
finally stopped chugging and went back to his
I like to read aloud to children and I knew
from experience with my own children that
reading was a way to still a restless group. I
was in Mrs. Eliotís 5th grade class one day
and after I had read a story to the group in the
reading circle, Maxine said, "Mrs. Richards,
you read just like a movie star. "Wow! I
would have read on forever if Maxine had wanted
Every teacher knows that elementary children
do a lot of tattling. The more a teacher is
willing to listen to the tattling, the more
complaints that are heard. At recess time one
day a boy came to me, "Mrs. Richards, Bobby
called me "snot rag." I said to him,
"And what did you call him?" "I
called him a snot rag." "Well, then
youíre even, arenít you?"
Both regular teachers and substitutes rely on
inventiveness at one time or another. In some
ways I had to use my inventiveness more in the
high school than in the grade school. For
example, I didnít have the ability to really
teach music even though I could play the piano a
bit. I found that rather than letting the
students "do homework," singing would
please them more. So we sang. Usually there was
one student who could play the piano, but if not
I would play. We sang favorite songs. The
singing got a bit rowdy at times, but that didnít
bother me. It was one way of getting rid of
Other classes where I had to be inventive
were math, science, shop and ag. Weíd have
spelling bees, math bees, and all the other
"bees" I could think of. Then there
was "Show and Tell," taking the kids
back to first grade and giving them a touch of
Probably my most memorable substituting day
was one spring when plans were being made for
the May Day celebration. Mr. Jones called and
asked me if I thought I could carry out the Home
Economics. part of this program as Mrs. Remavage was
sick. That challenge was made easier by the fact
that the high school girls thought highly of
Mrs. Remavage. She had been practicing with them
before she got sick.
We practiced according to her instructions
and when the day came, all went fairly well
except for the fact the lights werenít on in
the Auditorium. I didnít know how to turn them
on and neither did anyone else nearby. The show
was fine, but the parents and patrons sat in the
dark and only saw the girls in their class-made
finery while they were on the stage.
Mr. Corl always tried to make the students
behave in the manner of human beings. At the end
of one school day as the students were being
dismissed for the buses, a male student for whom
I had little affection said something nasty to
me as he left the room. Mr. Corl heard he remark
and sent this boy back to apologize. I accepted
his apology and said, "It didnít change
my opinion of you at all." He went merrily
on his way not realizing I had insulted him.
Early in my substituting there was a day I
wish I could erase from my memory. It was
hunting season and word was about that the
teacher I was in for had gone rabbit hunting.
One of the boys remarked that he hoped all the
pheasants would be shot as pheasants ate the
rabbits. I of course disputed him. Pheasants
were seed eaters, not flesh eaters. We argued
and argued. "Do not." "Do,
too." There was no way I was going to
change his mind, and he certainly wasnít going
to change mine. (Today, Iím wondering if
pheasants do eat rabbits. I read in the paper
recently that chicken offal is being fed to
cattle.) Any argument there?
Twice I really had more days of substituting
than I really wanted. One time was when Sue
Martin was in the 9th grade, I believe. The
other was the school year Ď57-58, the year of
the Asian Flu.
A ninth grade teacher decided after the first
month of school that he didnít like teaching
and resigned. Mr. Jones wanted me to take the
class for the rest of the year. I declined and
was glad I had. I had no idea what I was to
teach and got very little help, leaving me to
feeling that I had done a very poor job.
When the Asian Flu struck it affected the
whole school. I was in every class until I got
sick. That too was not very rewarding as
students as well as teachers were in and out and
no one, including me, felt very well. I donít
know if there was a substitute for the
substitute and at the time it didnít matter.
My substituting days ended when I was offered
a full-time job teaching English at the Thurmont
High School, which eventually led to teaching at
What did I take away from all those days in
the Emmitsburg School? One, in may ways it
prepared me to be a better teacher when I got a
real job. Also I felt good that I got to know
all of the teachers and all of the students. I
occasionally see some of the students and am
able to recognize them. I got to know most of
their parents as I was involved also in the PTA
from 1954 until 1966.
And not least, by any means, I saved all of
the money I earned ($18.00 a day) and bought
myself a new Volkswagen. I loved that little car
which I knew I had really earned. I have to say
that I never had any discipline experience that
I would call "a horror story." I
managed to get along very well with most of the
students and they managed to get along with me.
Have your own memories of
Emmitsburg of Old?
Send them to us at email@example.com
other stories by Ruth Richards