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Taking the substitute teacher course offered by the Hawaii Department of Education was one of the smartest moves I have ever made. It took more than a month before I started getting calls to work, but now I’m turning down assignments. It’s great to wake up and decide between hanging out with my husband, writing an article that’s due or going for a bike ride instead of heading to class. But most of the time I agree to substitute. Bills to pay and triathlons to train for. It all costs money!

Substitute teaching is not always smooth sailing. I mostly substitute at schools where my daughters attend so sometimes kids who are familiar with me think they can act up. There are few perfect days of perfect classes with all perfect children (there was one), and it is true that trouble makers comprise less than five percent of the whole room. What I love is when students come up to me to say hello, to reassure me, and to commiserate because of one or two high-maintenance classmates. Teachers are happy to pay attention to students, but positive behavior trumps punk every time.

Times have changed. Kids have smart phones, tablets and laptops. Today I introduced students to the My Fitness Pal app so they could get it on their phones to track their nutritional intake for a week. I told them that the free app also has a website that retains everything they input from their phones so they could easily copy repeat items and then print the log when ready. Those who wanted to were welcome to write in food journals instead. I also showed them http://hawaiifoods.hawaii.edu/ to find local food items such as chicken long rice, Spam musubi, beef teriyaki and pork lau lau.

Most of the students downloaded the app and got busy. A few played cross-platform video games with each other on their phones. Like that’s cute.

When it comes to substituting at high school my main goal is to keep students in the room. They can choose to do the work or not. If they misbehave I write it down. Pushing a friend in the teacher’s beat-up old leather wheeled chair at top speed across the classroom merits a mention.

More and more classes I encounter now have sofas in them. Students hurl themselves at the sofas or at each other on the sofas and have a blast. Maybe they do that at home, but I doubt it. Apparently, the teacher says it’s OK.

I know this because the students tell me. It usually goes like this: One giant boy does a full body slam onto the sofa. A second and third giant boy throws himself onto the first boy, ala tag-team-caged-fighting-squads. Then they look at me and say, “We’re allowed. The teacher says it’s OK.”

Of course I believe them. Wouldn’t you?