<drop_initial>When I retired after a combined 39-year career of Army, law enforcement and emergency management service, I thought substitute teaching would be a low-stress way to stay active.
I saw posters and newspaper articles asking for help with the growing teacher shortage, which was especially true in my local school district.
Even better, I wouldn’t have to return to school for a teaching credential; our state has something called an emergency substitute teaching certificate, which only requires a bachelor’s degree and sponsorship by a district.
The process took only a few months, and one evening in January, I got my first call from the sub coordinator, Maria. “Dave, welcome on board! Are you available to teach a kindergarten class tomorrow and the next day?”
I was eager to get started, so of course I accepted the assignment. How tough could it be?
The day started out well. I got to the school before anyone else arrived and waited outside until the principal showed up. “Welcome, Dave, and congratulations on joining the team!” he said after I mentioned this was my first day as a sub.
The rest of the staff was likewise very friendly and helpful, which added to my confidence. After all, I had faced armed robbers, enemy artillery fire and unhappy bureaucrats who didn’t like my requests for travel expense reimbursement. A bunch of five-year-old kiddies would be a piece of cake.
My “No worries, mate!” attitude evaporated about three minutes after the kids swarmed into the classroom. When I read the regular teacher’s notes, I noted the words “discipline” and “problem” appeared frequently.
That’s when the first clouds of doubt gathered. By mid-morning, about the time I lost almost all control of those 25 mini-anarchists, the clouds developed into a thunderstorm.
All my techniques learned over a lifelong career of public service – techniques that had once defused domestic disputes, calmed angry motorists and resulted in several successful negotiations with my wife – had zero effect on those little humans.
The noise level eventually brought the vice principal to my classroom/battlefield to restore order, which she did calmly and effortlessly. While I was grateful for the backup, I was also chagrined at my failure. I wasn’t sure I had the courage to return the following day.
Fortunately, I’m married to a brilliant woman. Upon returning home and confessing what a debacle my first day had been, she smiled, went to our old DVD collection and pulled out a copy of “Kindergarten Cop.”
“Time for some tactical training, Babe!”
I hadn’t seen that film in years, but Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance revitalized my confidence immediately.
Next morning, I showed up equipped with my retirement badge, traffic whistle and Mountie campaign hat. (No ferret or handgun, though. Rules are rules!)
Following Arnold’s approach, I had the kiddies lined up in formation and marched them around the classroom. I led them in light calisthenics.
After my students were a bit tired out, we all took a seat on the Storytime Rug, where I read to them in characters’ voices.
That’s when the vice principal poked her head into my classroom, smiled and gave me a thumbs up. And I knew I would survive as a substitute teacher.
Dave Hall of Steilacoom is a former soldier, retired cop, and full-time golf enthusiast. He’s one of five News Tribune reader columnists in 2019. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org