Thursday, December 6, 2012

Miami Memories: MHS the Substitute

The phone rang early this morning jarring my cozy dream state.  Staying in my warm bed and ignoring the loud ring came to mind, but instead I crawled out of bed, politely answered in a most upbeat tone, and listened as the voice pleaded, "Letty, we need a sub today.  Could you please take this job?"

"No, I'm sorry," I replied, "but my calendar is full."  After hanging up, my guilt gene kicked in for a few moments.

The morning was still dark outside and the house was chilly.  My husband was eating breakfast and the dog was faithfully begging and drooling by his side, waiting on a tasty morsel to drop.   Before I had a chance to settle into the still warm sheets of bed, my brain buzzed with a flashback to my first substitute teaching job at Nichols Elementary in Miami, Oklahoma.

A picture would have read circa December 1967,  showing a bright eyed nineteen year old college student dressing for her first teaching job.  I was home from LSU on semester break and had plunged into the adult world immediately by filling out forms to be a substitute teacher.   I don't remember much about that day other than the fear in my eyes when I meet those fourth graders, and the pounding in my heart when I saw the teacher's lesson plans.   With the schedule seemingly changing every 20 or 40 minutes, I never really caught up with that first day.  Recess was a great relief to me, and the end of the day bell convinced me that I had chosen the right path, teaching high school English or History would be a breeze compared to elementary.

Spring Break 1968 I remained dedicated to making money by substituting at Miami High School, where I knew my way around, having just graduated from that stately red brick building in 1965.  I proudly accepted the job to sub for Mr. Lingo in French class, especially since I had taken two years of French from him and had continued on in college with French classes.  The morning was glorious:  my little sister Jonya, a sophomore, came by the room to see me; I drank a coke and set it on the desk as I had seen Mrs. Enderland and Mrs. Thompson do when they substituted;  other teachers recognized me and asked if I needed  help.  "No thank you, but I'm doing just fine," I replied. I spent time in the library at noon with Mrs. Watson chatting about books we had both been reading. The Confessions of Nat Turner was my favorite read that year.

The calming spirit of Miami High.
Springtime weather warmed the classroom and the janitor helped me open some of the stuck windows, leading to my first encounter with rowdy boys.  Shortly after taking role in the last class of the day, I looked up to see a boy leaping out of the window and two more on his heels.  I rushed to the window to stop them, and then I broke into a short jab of laughter followed by embarrassed anger.  The remaining students and I watched as the boys ran between two houses and on across main street to "E. C's" Drive-Inn.  A deep breath was in order, but then what to do?   Calming myself and my students came first, and when at last they were on task for the moment, I quietly stepped out and walked down the hallway to the principal's office.  Mr. Kelton looked up smiling,  "It's nice to have you in the building today.  How has your day gone?"  Humbly, I explained that I had lost control with the group of boys and described what had happened.  With no sympathy and a sheepish grin on his face he responded rather sarcastically   "Now skipping out of class isn't anything new to you, is it Letty?"  If I could have disappeared in a puff of smoke at that moment I would have, but instead I smiled, dropped my head and said, "I never jumped out the window!"

I don't remember what the course of action might have been that day.  My guess is that Mr. Kelton calmly walked over to E.C's and invited the boys back into the building.  I survived.  I never finished that degree to be a high school teacher, but I did stay in education, and am most grateful to every child who entered my life.  Forty-five years have passed since that first phone call.  Today, and perhaps for years to follow,  rather than substitute I have chosen to write, to exercise, to read, to relax and let someone else take charge.


  1. letty, thanks so much for drawing this to my attention. I love the fact that someone remembers my mother with affection. thank you very much.

  2. Yes, a number of people have told me they thought a lot of mom as she was their sub. teacher. She was a good woman.