September 29th: Substitute teachers
Summer Sub
, by Jackie Davis Martin

When the principal called, Terri agreed to substitute for Mary Jane Arnold’s summer school class for one week. Tenth grade English, in repeat. She could do A Raisin in the Sun, have the kids take parts, read some Langston Hughes. The summer class combined kids—the failures, let’s face it–from both high schools, East and West, and would have a mixture of whites and blacks, so the play, she thought, might provoke some lively discussions, too.

On Monday, as Terri entered Room 233, she interrupted McDonald’s breakfasts, and had to step over the yellow food wrappers to break up a dice game in the classroom’s center and a card game off to one side. She indicated for them to put away the make-up strewn over several desktops on her way to retrieve three students standing on the windowsill tugging at the cords of the blinds. Finally, she picked up and slammed a cluster of random books against the desk for attention.

“What the fuck?” someone said.

“Where’s Mary Jane?” someone else said. Mary Jane.

“Who the hell are you?”

Terri circled the room, trying to corral them. “Don’t touch me!” they’d say, if she reached for an arm to guide a student away from a group, or into a seat. “You better not touch me, man.”

“Lawsuit, lawsuit,” somebody said.

She read roll, getting names wrong. “Richard Jones,” she said.

“Ree-Card,” he corrected her. The others sniggered and mimicked: Richard, Richard as though it was the weirdest sound they’d ever heard. “Rachel McCann,” Terri pronounced. “Ra-Kell!” a voice corrected. The girl was huge in her skinny tee shirt and barely glanced up from her mirror and lipstick. “I’ll remember,” Terri said, making a note.

“You do that, bitch,” Ra-Kell said, blotting her lips together and checking the effect.

“She’s the bitch,” someone dared to say of the lipstick queen, who forced forward her desk and stood, hands on hips.

“Who say that?”

Terri got them quelled, got them to open their books, more or less. She turned to draw on the board. “Let’s put together the stage setting.” But when she’d turned back—what was it—five seconds?—half the class were on their feet again, moving about the room, carrying on as they had before. Two boys were laughing hysterically over photos, their books pushed aside. “Do you want me to take them?” she threatened.

“Yeah, like you can. They private property,” one of them said.

Terri grabbed the pictures. They were photos of a party—of kids drinking or sprawled on sofas. The boy leaped over the desk, knocking it over and grabbed the pictures back. “You crazy, you know that?” he said. “I’m outta here.”

And he walked out.

“Who was that?” she said “What is his name?”


She picked up the wall phone, anticipating correctly that as she moved to the front of the room, the kids would reassemble themselves wherever they wanted, and they did.

“That don’t work,” someone volunteered helpfully as Terri dialed over and over. She looked into the hallway—nothing, no one.   Another hour to go.

A fat boy unwrapped a ham sandwich and reluctantly put it away when he saw her make a mark on her chart—although she wasn’t at all sure who was who. Another boy traversed the room to the wastebasket where he spit. “It’s not the floor, right?” he said, basking in his good judgment.

They called out the times, gathering their things. “You got fifteen more minutes.” “Ten.” They left five minutes before the bell.

Terry found the summer school principal, a feckless guy she’d worked with years before, chatting with a secretary. “The phone doesn’t work in Room 233.  No one’s around. There are thirty-five students almost walking on the desk tops.”

He said something about control.

“With what consequences? A student left the room.”

“That’s not allowed—we’re responsible—“

“Right,” Terri said. “Tomorrow I’ll walk downstairs and let you know.”

“You can’t do that. You can’t leave the classroom,” he said. He really had an odd face, narrow and wincing, as though with constipation. Maybe that was it.

Terri filled out her time card and asked a clerk: “Who takes a class when there is no substitute?”

“Why that would be the principal.”

She smiled, feeling great, feeling a sickness that could come on as early as tomorrow.


Jackie Davis Martin divides her life (so far) into thirds:  childhood in Pennsylvania, parenthood in New Jersey, maturation, of sorts, in California. Her vocation of teaching literature has consistently blurred into the avocation of reading and writing. Jackie presently teaches at City College of San Francisco, a city where she and her husband pursue – almost relentlessly – the plethora of arts and scenery that the Bay Area affords.

Davis Martin’s recent stories appeared in Flash, Flashquake, Enhance, Counterexample Poetics, Fractured West and Bluestem, On the Premises, and upcoming in, New Millennium Writings. Her stories are included in several recent anthologies: Modern Shorts (ed. Michelle Richmond), Love on the Road (ed. Sam Tranum) and Life is A Rollercoaster (ed. A.J.Huffman). A memoir, Surviving Susan, was published in 2012.

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    Recent Comments:
  • mjohne: I think I went to this school! ha ha
  • katherina Rosen: I don’t know why substitute teachers inspire such contempt, but they do! I remember back in...
  • Matt Hlinak: Thanks, PixieGreen and Leisha. I’m glad you got a laugh out of the story! Matt
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