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A Day with a Substitute Teacher

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DW is a veteran, a father, a husband, and a teacher. He's published 9 YA/NA novels thus far. The story you're reading might be next.

The Tedium


Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Steven Cuthbert, my teacher’s husband and Abby’s father, and the cutter he served on, returned to their home port of Wilmington, North Carolina on the second Wednesday in October of my fourth grade year. I wasn’t there to greet him. Mrs. Cuthbert and Abby were. October 14th was the first time Mrs. Cuthbert called in a substitute teacher. It was also the first time Abby was absent.

Without Mrs. Cuthbert and Abby, the school day was one long, boring, grind of worksheet after worksheet. We started with a grammar worksheet on common and proper nouns. There were twenty questions. Going slowly, it took me a little over a minute. Then, I had to sit there until the timer the substitute set to let her know to look up from her magazine signaled grammar was over and it was time to do spelling.

Our spelling assignment was a word search. Finding our twelve spelling words in the letter array took me about six minutes. I spent the rest of the time reserved for spelling finding words in the mix that weren’t on our list. I did not circle those.
We got a break after spelling, of a sort, because Wednesdays were our day to go to the library. For forty-five minutes every Wednesday, the class got to peruse the library shelves and read. Recess followed our library visit.



Wednesday recess could be tricky for Jim, Hermie, Karl, and me. Wednesday was also the day of our Cub Scout Bear Den meeting. Jim’s mom was our Den Mother. Recess was tricky because the four of us wore our Cub Scout uniforms to school on Wednesdays. None of us wanted to get them dirty by playing a game where we wound up on the ground.

This, of course, gave Chad Wanker a great opportunity to hassle us.
“What’s the matter Cubbies?” he taunted us when we were all out on the playground. “Are you afraid your mommies will get mad if you get a speck of dust on your pretty uniforms?”

My fellow Cub Scouts and I did our best to ignore him for the twenty minutes we were on the playground. Mrs. Cuthbert had spoken sternly to Chad about teasing us and the bully all but stopped until the day Mrs. Barnacky substituted for us.
Herman was feeling his oats that day. “At least we got mommas who care about us.”

Chad stood up straight. The shock on his face quickly changing to a look of fury.
“What did you say, Herman?”

“I didn’t mumble,” Herman retorted. “You heard me.”

Chad scratched his feet against the ground like a bull getting ready to charge. He growled something incoherent and ran straight at Herman.

To me, Chad seemed to move in slow motion. I thought Herman deserved whatever thrashing Chad was about to give him. In his uniform and good shoes, Herman might not be able to outrun Chad.

My decision needed to be a quick one. Did I attempt to stop Chad, move Herman, or let them collide and then try to break it up? I chose the third option. Herman did, after all, ask for it.

Chad tackled Herman, who started crying. I grabbed Chad by his belt with both hands, lifted him off Herman, and tossed him to the ground. Karl helped Herman get up and walked him over to Mrs. Barnacky. Jim stood by me just in case Chad wasn’t ready to call it quits.

I kept my eyes on Chad. He sat where I’d deposited him. I thought he was starting to have convulsions. No, Chad was crying.

I squatted in next to my nemesis and said, “You really showed Herman not to talk about your momma, Chad.”

Chad cut his eyes towards me and wiped his tears away with the back of his hand.
“Go away, Davids. You ain’t no friend of mine. You don’t know nothing.”

I looked up at Jim. He shook his head.

I stood up and said, “Have it your way, Chad. No one can say I didn’t try.”

The bell to end recess sounded. Jim and I made our way to the bathroom line.

Chad stayed where he was, his face in his hands, sobbing silently.