Replacement Referees not as Bad as Replacement Teachers

Seahawks Packers Monday Night Football play in endzone with replacement referees Golden Tate touchdown
This reminds me of the game spoons.  We broke a dining
room table once playing spoons.  We were hardcore.  
I guess I’m a lot like an NFL replacement official.  (You know, those refs who botched the Packers/Seahawk game, mistakenly handing the game to Seattle, and enraging the entire state of Wisconsin).  They’re gone now.  The real refs are back.  So everyone from bookies to fantasy football introverts can breath a sigh of relief.  We got our precious hallowed football back.    ESPN was starting to sound a lot like a message board: as in, hysterically overblown.  Relax people it’s just a game. 

Now; why do I feel like a replacement ref?  Well, I’m currently a substitute teacher. I had my own classroom for four years, but because of budgetary issues (I’m hoping) I was cut at the end of every single year, and then rehired at the beginning of the next.  Temporary contracts, all of them.  To all the angry anti-teacher crowds out there, this is exactly what you want.  Teachers without any cushy guaranteed contracts.  Don’t want any teachers relaxing on the job; putting their feet up on the desk, while sipping a latte, and forcing the students to jot notes from an overhead transparency.  ‘Cause that’s exactly what the classroom looks like to these anti-teachers who probably haven’t stepped foot in a classroom in twenty years.  Well, things change.  Education has changed, in some ways for the better, and partially for the worse, because of all these new expectations of teachers.  But that’s another blog completely.  
Cameron Diaz Bad Teacher feet on desk asleep
Student: Um, Ms. Diaz, can you explain one more time why we still watch your movies? 

As a sub, like a replacement official, the rules are different.  The kids are rowdier.  They don’t respect you instantly.  You have to establish yourself almost immediately, or the game (classroom) gets out of hand, and you’re throwing personal foul flags at kids who’ve never even spoken in the class before.  A good sub knows how to set the tone for the game, and not let it get out of hand before it even starts.  There’s not many good subs out there, just as there wasn’t many good replacement officials.   Each school building usually has about five substitutes they can truly rely on (and most buildings have more than 30 teachers; hopefully there isn’t a flu epidemic). 

philosoraptor meme know it all student teacher beatdown
Thought often, never said.  
Most days I feel like I’m one of these quality subs; but on some days, I just want to write the whole class referrals and send them to Roger Goodell’s, I mean, the principal’s office.   As a sub, I have no vested interest in that classroom.  I don’t have to be there for 18 weeks with the same kids.  I don’t have to smell the BO from Bob, or hear the incessant pen tapping from ADHD Addison, or have to deal with “I have to pee” Penny, every single day.  EVERY SINGLE DAY.  Not to mention as a sub, if I get through the lesson plan, great.  If not, well, I tried.  Being the real teacher every day means controlling the behavior of 35+ kids for eight hours, directing them through many different lessons at different points of the day, every lesson directly linked to a state standards, so that they can all pass standardized tests regardless of their incoming ability level or skillset.  A real teachers job is much more complex than that.  I maybe captured 5% of what a real teacher does in a day.  By far, it is the most stressful, difficult, rewarding, depressing, alienating, frustrating, maddening, touching, and passionate work I’ve ever done.  I’m sure most teachers (who’ve worked in other fields) would agree.  I say that now, as an unemployed, unpublished writer, who sits at a desk and tries to impress people with words in a dying medium.  I love teaching, just as I love writing, but I think they are both giving me heart disease.  I have 20/10 vision.  I should’ve been an NFL referee. 
Waldorf and Statler peanut gallary Muppet Show old guys
"You know Waldorf, in my time if I got out of line
the teacher just smacked me in the head with a cane!"
"Well that explains the brain damage, Statler.  Ha Ha"  
Regardless of everything I’ve just said.  There are those out there who think we could solve our nation’s problems by replacing the entire lot of spoiled Unionized teachers, and replacing them with temporary “real world inspired” instructors.  We could balance the state budgets, maybe, if we took away real teacher’s pensions and benefits.  Some of these replacement teachers would, no doubt, be substitute scrubs like me. And, there are some really good substitutes out there who could do the job.  Some of the replacement refs didn’t make a single mistaken call.  But there isn’t near enough of us scrubs with real classroom experience to make it through a week, let alone a year.  Hogwash, you say?  Well, I encourage you to volunteer, or guest speak at a school for a few days.  I dare you to ask the real teacher to leave the classroom during your stay there (which they aren’t legally allowed to do in most states).  I’d love to see how a normal person, with real world experience, would do with 35+ six- year-olds, or 27 hormonal adolescents, or even 22 jaded, well educated, AP seniors.  I don’t claim to be an electrician because I’ve replaced a wall socket before.  Just because you taught your child how to read, doesn’t make you a teacher, it does, however, make you a good parent. 

But, you might have what it takes to get through the week.  Congratulations.  Now ask if you could look through all the curriculum for all the classes you are required to teach for the coming year.  See what actual intellectual constructs you are required to teach to advance them to the next school year; now plan that out over 190 days; throw in the chaos factor for all 190 days (cause it will happen almost every single day); now add crazy parents, emotional drama, and school politics…oh hell, I can’t even tell you all the complexities of a school year, it’s like raising 30 plus children in a one bedroom home and having an overbearing disabled grandparent constantly telling you how to rear them better .  Take it from a failed teacher, the job is brutal. 

Congressman Clayburn asleep during hearing w/ john kerry sleeping in congress
"Mr. Clayburn, wake up, we're randomly clapping again!"
We go nuts when a game, a sport, a diversion such as the NFL cheaply hires hacks to do a real man’s job.  And yet there are millions claiming that someone else should be educating their kids so we can save some money.  This is our children we’re talking about, it’s a little freakin’ different than football.  Do you really want second rate, failed teacher, possibly creepazoidal, replacement homeschool moms doing this job? Please, just be a good parent, support your child’s needs and get involved with their school and if you have to replace something, why not Congress; it doesn’t take a teaching degree to know that a 10% approval rating would get you fired and replaced in EVERY other industry.  


  1. Hey Chris, now I have to scrub my latest blog that I was about to push the publish button on. It was about gross politics in science, religion and the schools and how politics distort truth

  2. No need to scrub anything. There's room for criticism of all things, as long as it's done with careful consideration of the parties involved. I'm defending teachers here, not because of an affiliation to the Democratic party or teacher's unions, but because it's something I'm heavily affiliated with, and I think, wrongfully attacked by people who don't understand the nuances and difficulties it entails. Are some teachers overpaid? Sure. Are some teachers ineffective? Of course. But as a system, as an institution do I think Public Education is broken? No. It's always getting tweaked (probably too often), and I think there has to be a rebalance of parents, students and teachers to really get us going in the right direction again.

  3. Whew! I just experienced an afternoon in the classroom with a non-preferred sub. It was chaotic. I could tell that your Mrs. Plumb wasn't too supportive, but I took control from the substitute several times because the kids (who are used to seeing me) were completely ignoring her attempts to direct them. The unknown educational assistant subs aren't any better.

    I think for me, one of the worst parts is waiting every summer to see if I have a job in the coming school year. I have known too many teachers to get too anxious about this process; either I have a job or I don't. I don't have any control in the situation. But my (non-teacher) friends and family get so worried for me that I get anxious for an answer just so I can get them to relax and let me be.

  4. Teaching is the most challenging yet rewarding thing I have ever done (however, my boys are still young ; )). It is so insulting when people criticize public school teachers. Like you said, there are some teachers who may be getting paid too much, but the majority of teachers I know are not teaching for the paycheck. I challenge Congress to step into any public classroom (heck, a private classroom would be fine, too) for one year and to live only on a teacher's salary. Because if public school teachers are being paid too much, who wouldn't want to be a public school teacher?

    P.S. If you are looking for more sub work, let me know.

  5. I subbed for three years, teaching almost every day in one of 3+ school systems. I'd take whichever call came first. At the same time, I worked at McDonald's and had a ten hour shift on Saturday at a radio station. Brutal schedule. But I WAS in my 20's at the time. I couldn't do it now.

    I remember a 5th grade class with a student named Cedric.... Well, on second thought, I think I'll save that story for a blog post...

  6. Thank you Chris. You understand completely. I compare my job to an onion: layer upon layer. In one 6th grade bloc class of 35 students I have a 3rd grade level reader through 9th grade level readers, abuse victims, immigrants, students from affluent families and from poverty, and everything in between. All you can do is your best. And you never leave work feeling like you've done enough.