The Substitute

by Angela Kempe

They looked so innocent as they filed into the music room, eyes staring widely at their substitute. Miss Doolittle stood nervously at the front of the classroom.

“My name is Miss Doolittle,” she said, pointing to the board. “Mr. Frederick is out today and I’m very excited to be your substitute!”

Miss Doolittle didn’t know exactly how many students she had. In fact, she wasn’t exactly sure what grade she was teaching either. The sub that brought them in had only said they were two combined classes and to go hard on them. If they were out of line, then tell them they’d have no field trip. Miss Doolittle tried to remember, but she was too busy going over the lesson plan in her head. The music teacher hadn’t left much. Only a printout with general class times, grade levels, and teaching topics. Arrows were handwritten to signify a change in schedule, which had so far not gone as planned. And USE YOUTUBE, was written in red along the right margin.

But Miss Doolittle hadn’t figured out how to get the speaker system or the TV to work and no one had come to help her yet. That was okay, she had taught private piano for twenty-five years and was filled with musical knowledge to share with her class. She had taught thousands of times. How hard could public school teaching be?

One big kid broke from the lineup in the risers. He started shifting uncomfortably in his pants. Then his dance became a karate kick.

“All of Mr. Frederick’s rules still apply,” she warned.

Then there was another rumble of voices and five students sat down on the risers and began drawing in their notebooks.

“Everyone quiet! Stand up! No drawing!”

Miss Doolittle searched her memory for one of the common teaching techniques. She clapped an elementary rhythm.

A few students knew to repeat it, but the others just ignored her.

She clapped again…

That seemed to work momentarily, but the same boy who had been wiggling was jumping off the risers now.

“Stop that! Stay in place!”

He glanced back at her and grinned, his fat cheeks protruding like soft nectarines.

“If you’re not good, you will lose your field trip!”

She caught some of the kids attention. That was enough for her.

“Everyone take a deep breath and raise your arms to the sky.”

“Now sing, Mommy made me mash my M&Ms!”

The kids laughed.

“That’s stupid!” one girl yelled from the front row.

It was the first time Miss Doolittle had tried it. It had worked for her Kindergarteners. Wrong age… she thought. As she fumbled for another warmup, the boy had found a few other kids and began running around the classroom with them, all the while, the noise level escalating. Miss Doolittle began to feel the hot sweat of defeat.

“Sing Ha-ha-ha!” she resumed, singing a simple scale and conducting the class to repeat it.

But the class entered in two different places and were completely out of tune.

“Hold on! You don’t do warmups?”

“Why don’t we watch TV like the other subs?” another voice announced from the crowd.

Miss Doolittle was a stubborn woman and a traditional one. She would teach them music today.


“You have music? That should be fun!” the teacher laughed during morning planning period.

Miss Doolittle remembered her encounter with one of the fifth grade teachers at the school.

“Yes,” she said, enthusiastically. “It will be fun!”

She hadn’t understood the strange look in his eyes that morning. The rumble of sound had become an ear-piercing roar. Kids were running in every direction. Some were coming up to Miss Doolittle in an attempt to give her advice about her class. Some were jumping from the risers in absolute defiance. Miss Doolittle stood in the middle of the room shouting, but her voice had gone hoarse from yelling over them.

A young boy came up to her in the confusion and tugged at her shirt.

Miss Doolittle looked down at his worried expression. His eyes were glassy, his brow furled.

“It’s too loud!” he cried.

“Yes,” she said. “It is too loud. Go back to your place and be a good boy.”

She imagined herself standing in a war zone. They had won… She knew it.


Author: angelakempe

A songwriter, musician, and writer

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