My Day as a Super Sub

By Kathleen Miller, Office of Communication and Community Relations
September 27, 2021

I got the call at about noon. My day job is working with the media to promote all the good things happening across Fairfax County’s public schools, but my boss had a question for me: Would I be willing to serve as a substitute teacher at Wakefield Forest Elementary School the following day?

Kathleen Miller substituting in the classroomI’m a mother of two boys, a kindergartner and a second grader, and have been an active volunteer in their classrooms over the years, but that is about the extent of any classroom management experience I could try to claim. However, I was eager for the challenge. I spent 15 years working as a journalist, before joining FCPS, because I love parachuting into new situations.

A friend and fellow FCPS parent asked, “No offense, but what are your qualifications to be a substitute?” I laughed, because I wondered the same thing myself. In the Editor’s Note below, I list the job requirements for substitute teaching. I could check all those boxes. And I was eager to help.

My First Day of School

My assignment was fourth grade. And, I was nervous. But Principal Sharyn Prindle and her team welcomed me warmly.

Mrs. Jones, whose classroom I would be staffing, had left a very detailed daily planner walking me through every hour of the day. All the classroom work I was to lead and assignments for students were prepared and waiting for me on my desk the teacher desk when I arrived. As were some nice notes of encouragement and a few Starbursts candies.

It’s Go Time

The students started to arrive around 8:25 a.m. Then 20 pairs of eyes looked up at me to get their day started. I stood and joined them in the Pledge of Allegiance (remembered it!), and began our math lesson for the day. We had a multiplication mystery to solve it included five pages of multiplication problems, and the answers corresponded to letters of the alphabet that the students could use to decode clues and solve the mystery.

To my delight, they were into it really, really into it! They didn’t want to stop working on it when math was over for the day, so I made a mental note to let them return to it if we had free time later. It was exciting to see kids so driven to succeed and to provide help where needed.

Picking Up Tricks of the Trade? You Bet!

The few behavior problems I encountered were minor: kids getting up out of their seats during partner work time to consult with classmates in other rows, and students being too chatty during quiet work time or when walking the halls.

And there were systems in place to help me when these minor issues popped up: chimes on the teacher’s desk that are struck whenever the class needed to quiet down and a chant they are familiar with that Mrs. Jones uses to refocus attention (“Ready, Set? You Bet!”). Every student wore their mask  even at recess with zero resistance.

After math, I led the students through a map-making exercise, in which students were tasked with drawing a guide to Splash Land, including key destinations and a Compass Rose. (Thank goodness, one student was ready to demonstrate how to draw a Compass Rose for the class because this substitute wasn’t totally sure.)

They went to specials, physical education, and music – a welcome respite where I could finally drink the coffee I’d brought in that morning. Then I took them out to recess, where I supervised a game of kickball. They ate lunch outside and came back for language arts. I read stories, they did some writing, and then eagerly devoured books during silent reading.

Throughout the day, other teachers checked in on me frequently to see if they could provide any help. One teacher spent 30 minutes with me during computer time, in case there were any issues with students’ devices.

A+ for Meand the Kids

I felt supported and appreciated, and when two students solved the morning “Multiplication Mystery” a few minutes before the bell rang at 3:25 p.m., I felt proud – of the students and myself. We had done it.

Editor’s Note

FCPS and other school districts nationwide are experiencing a substitute teacher shortage. When there aren't enough subs to cover for teachers who are out of their buildings, other teachers or school staff have to cover classes, which can disrupt student learning.

If you are interested in substitute teaching, you can set parameters for the days you are available, the grade levels you would like to teach, or the schools you want to assist. When applying, please have your resume and college transcripts handy, as well as two letters of recommendation dated within the past 12 months. A criminal background check will also be part of the process.

Check out our Substitute Teaching Opportunities webpage for details on how you can sub and save the day! 


Substitute Teaching for FCPS