JULIE AND THE SUBSTITUTE TEACHER • by Robert Runté

Ms. Marken, the substitute teacher, was doing a math demonstration. Julie had finished the entire math unit two days before, so that was boring. Instead, Julie had taken out her Kindle and was ignoring the sub in the spirit of live and let live.

Julie’s finger swiped across her Kindle in a slow, steady rhythm.  Each time, a single paragraph paused just long enough to be read before being pushed aside by the next.

“Why is the type so large?” Ms. Marken demanded.

Julie was startled to find Ms. Marken standing beside her.

“You wouldn’t have to scritch every second, if the font size were set properly.”

The whole class was watching, waiting to see what would happen.

“Please, Miss,” Brittany intervened from the adjacent desk. “She needs the print that big because her eyes are buggered.”

Julie could never decide if Brittany were an ally or merely a busybody. On the one hand, Ms. Marken’s unwanted attention was now focused entirely on explaining to Brittany that “buggered” was not an acceptable word at Alan Wilson Middle School. On the other hand, Julie was a little hurt Brittany had called attention to her disability. Embarrassed, she shoved her Kindle back into her desk.

“Please, Miss,” Brittany was saying, “I didn’t know ‘buggered’ was considered rude. Because I’m English and we say ‘buggered’ all the time.”

The class tittered as Brittany managed to work “buggered” into her apology.

“Stop saying that!” Ms. Marken said too loudly. Ms. Marken usually became too loud, sooner or later.

“Yes, Miss,” Brittany said meekly.

Ms. Marken turned back to Julie, but as the Kindle was now out of sight, could only say, “Take out your math.”

“I’m done my math.” Without looking, Julie yanked out her workbook, dropped it loudly on her desktop, and flipped it open to the completed last page of the unit. Then she waited for Ms. Marken’s disapproval of her bad printing, or her poor spelling, or whatever Ms. Marken was going to disapprove of today.

“Where did you get these answers?” Ms. Marken demanded.

There was a muted gasp from the class. Was Ms. Marken accusing Julie… of cheating?

“I did them,” Julie said.

“We haven’t even started this last section,” Ms. Marken said.

You haven’t started,” Julie corrected her. “I finished two days ago.”

Ms. Marken crossed her arms and tilted her head with an “I’ve-got-you-now” expression. “You can’t have done, because I haven’t handed out the manipulatives yet.”

“I don’t need manipulatives. I used algebra. Manipulatives are stupid.”

 There was a louder gasp from the class.

“You can’t have done these, if you haven’t gone through the manipulatives,” Ms. Marken insisted. “Did your sister do these for you?”

I did them,” Julie insisted. “My sister taught me algebra this summer and now I can do math without manipulatives.”

Ms. Marken reached down and flipped back four pages to the blank manipulatives section. “So, you’re not done.”

“I’m not doing manipulatives. Drawing squares is tedious and pointless. Stupid.

 “You can’t understand the concept without doing the manipulatives,” Ms. Marken insisted.

You can’t, maybe,” Julie said. “I use algebra.”

Brittany intervened again. “Mr. Barns says that it’s concrete sequential learners who need manipulatives. Julie’s more of an abstract thinker. He doesn’t make her do the manipulatives section.”

“Stop talking!”

Ms. Marken turned back to Julie. “Well, in my class, you do them. I think you’ll find you understand the concept much better once you’ve drawn them out.”

“She can’t draw the squares in a straight line,” Brittany said, “because her eyes are no bloody good. Manipulatives are useless when they don’t line up.”

“Do not use that language in my class!”

“What language?”

“‘Bloody’! Do not say ‘bloody’!”

Brittany huffed loudly. “Well, how am I supposed to know what random words you don’t like?”

“It’s hardly random!”

 “Is it because it’s a ‘B’ word, then? Like ‘buggered’?”

The class was snickering openly now.

“Go!” Ms. Marken roared, pointing at the door. “To the principal’s office, both of you!”

“What did I do?” Julie demanded.

“What you didn’t do!” Ms. Marken exclaimed, her finger jabbing the blank pages.

“Then, yes,” Julie said. “I’m going!” She grabbed up the workbook and stomped out the door. Brittany skipped after.

Incensed and near tears, Julie plunked herself down in the ‘waiting chairs’ outside the principal’s office.

A distracted Principal Dickson emerged, spotted Brittany taking her place beside Julie, and rolled her eyes. “Not Marken’s class again?”

Julie muttered “that bitch” under her breath.

“Careful!” Brittany said in a stage whisper. “That’s a ‘B’ word.”

Dickson stuck her head in the secretary’s door. “Phone central office, will you, and ask them not to send Marken again.” She told the girls, “Just go for lunch when the bell rings,” and rushed off on her errand.

“Dad says the principal’s office is like a bank account,” Brittany confided. “I figured Ms. Marken must be way overdrawn by now.”

Julie regarded Brittany with a new respect. “The next one could be worse, though.”

“Bring ’em on,” Brittany said. “But I doubt they could be worse than that old biddy.”

“Pretty sure ‘biddy’ is a ‘B’ word,” Julie said. She opened her phone and brought up her Kindle app.


Robert Runté is Senior Editor at EssentialEdits.ca and has edited over 30 traditionally published books. Before that, he was a professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Lethbridge where he taught courses in student evaluation and sociology. Modifying evaluation to meet individual student needs was one of his pet themes. He is also a parent of two daughters who are good at math, and a former substitute teacher.


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