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"Damn! What's Your Problem?" Defiant Kid vs. Substitute Teacher

Rochelle worked for 20 years in elementary schools as a sub teacher, eventually presenting teacher training workshops in Orange County, CA.

Tha calm of an empty classroom.

Tha calm of an empty classroom.

A "Bad" Bay Can Turn Into a Good Experience

In a particularly challenging fifth grade class with six or seven chronic discipline problems, I had fought the good fight most of the morning.

With great effort I had managed to keep a semblance of order by dividing and conquering, using incentives and reminding the class that my evaluation of overall class behavior was not favorable.

Nothing was working wonderfully well, though we managed a faint aura of normal classroom operation for sometimes ten to fifteen minutes at a stretch -- before another distraction or interruption.

I had already known what I was in for when I accepted this one day substitute assignment. I personally knew the teacher, who was excellent and a veteran of many wonderful classes.

She had been struggling with this group from day one. I certainly did not expect to do better than she could, but my theory was that I could survive anything for one day. Because of the reputation this class had, no one would expect more. If I survived it would be considered a success.

Two perpetrators had already been banished from the room and sent to work independently in first grade classes that morning.

When we resumed the contest after lunch, it was time for students to take turns giving oral reports in front of the class. Everyone was supposed to be listening, politely.

This Was Supposed to Be The Easy Part

As one student began giving a report, another student (I'll call him "Duane") began reading his textbook in a loud voice, feigning a concentrated study mode.

Though Duane should not have been reading at all, I went to him quietly and requested the minimum from him: that he not read aloud while somebody was giving a report.

"DAMN! WHAT'S YOUR PROBLEM," he shot at me with an indignant look. There were a few stifled titters of laughter breaking through a general stunned silence as the class waited for me to react.

Now I must explain that I have a very long fuse. I typically under-react to things that agitate normal people, I am almost always very deliberate and calm, even after living through a fairly stressful morning.

But I will have to confess that, at the moment of his rude remark, I recognized an unfamiliar feeling of anger rising up inside. Thankfully, I kept my primal rage contained as I took out a referral form and informed him with a steady voice that "I was not the one" with the problem.

I gave Duane the choice of taking his work to the next room, or having someone come in to remove him. He went.

A discipline notice, informing the principal and family of his disrespectful, insubordinate and inappropriate behavior was issued, quoting his exact words. I did what I was supposed to do and considered my day a "success" under the circumstances.

Later in the week, I had a chance to talk (and sympathize) with the regular teacher of this "monster" class. Naturally, the subject of Duane came up.

The way it used to be.

The way it used to be.

"I've been having a lot of trouble with him," she said thoughtfully,"especially since his father was in a knife fight and is now unconscious and in intensive care."

"Oh --," was all I could manage to say. The realization of what a trauma this must be to the family, hit me like a brick. Maybe I was too hard on him.

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"I know," she said as if she read my thoughts and expression. "They don't know if he will survive brain-damaged or even survive at all. But even that doesn't excuse Duane's behavior. You did the right thing."

As I thought the situation over, I knew she was right. The anguish this eleven year-old boy was going through may have been the reason for his behavior, but it was not an excuse for it.

Teachers all know that inappropriate school behavior is rooted in other problems a child may be facing. Realizing this fact helps us recognize that something which seems like a personal attack, probably has other causes.

On the other hand, we cannot ignore serious misbehaviors. If Duane continues to challenge others with an abusive attitude, he may someday find himself in a situation like his dad's.

Perhaps that is his subconscious aim, but it is not up to us to play analyst. The best we can do -- especially if we have only casual or occasional contact with students, is to follow through with appropriate consequences, making sure that teachers and administrators are aware of exactly what is happening.

Excusing such incidents or ignoring wrong behavior will not help the child. Knowing that there are reasons, will help keep us from overreacting and taking such attacks personally.

Substitutes all look forward to the fun and easy days, but in retrospect I will have to say that I would not trade this experience for a "good" day because I learned so much. It helped me discover that I can be pushed to the edge of anger.

It also reinforced the truth that I already knew-- there are reasons for bad behavior, and it helped me to resolve to not let reasons become excuses.

Classroom Experience.

  • Don't let little problems get out of hand.
    "Don't talk ! Stop interrupting! ""Don't bother other students. " "Keep your hands to yourself." "Stop making that noise." "Don't waste time!" I have heard numerous parents and even teachers issue...


Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on February 15, 2020:

My nephew's wife just retired from that kind of counselling job. They live in Houston, too. I'm wondering... no, that would be too much of a coincidence.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 15, 2020:

You are right in that bad behavior in the classroom often stems from something in the home or neighborhood environment. We have an amazing neighbor who spent much of her teaching career counseling troubled kids and their parents. It takes a special person to want to do that.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 25, 2017:

I'm happy to report I made it through my entire teaching career without having to substitute...I did not, however, make it through without dealing with a defiant child. :)

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on June 12, 2015:

You are right, EdTeacher. The key is remaining calm and not taking things personally. The reasons behind their actions can be complex and may have nothing to do with school.

Heidi Reina from USA on June 11, 2015:

I began my teaching career with a 2-year stint as an elementary sub. I had many days like the one you describe above, and my share of defiant children. As a short-term sub, I rarely learned the backgrounds of these troubled kids. When I became a full-time teacher, I learned much more about them, and what I learned was usually disturbing. They required many "talk it out" sessions about what signals they could give me when they felt overwhelmed in the classroom - and how I could help, usually by providing them quiet time and space, as well as help from the school counselor.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on February 24, 2013:

Thanks for reading, Anna Evanswood.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on February 24, 2013:

There are many kinds of teachers and subs-- as well as students. I think subbing is a good way to prepare for full time teaching, maybe even more helpful than student teaching because you get to see a variety of situations. Thanks for commenting, torrilynn.

Anna from Malaysia on February 24, 2013:

Great writing, thanks for sharing your story:)

torrilynn on February 24, 2013:

hi rochelle,

such a good depiction of what happens between a sub and a kid that doesn't want to follow the rules. i remember being in high school and we had a sub he didn't care about what we did he was really not a good teacher. however, not all situations are like mine and there are subs out there who want to be a teacher and loves the practice that they get from being a sub but may get discouraged due to a defiant kid. very informational and nice tips. voted up.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on May 29, 2012:

I appreciate the "awesome" comment, wynnestudios, but at the time I could find no humor in the situation. I don't think I ever heard what happened to the boy, but he didn't really get off to a good start in life. I hope someone loved him enough to turn him in a good direction.

wynnestudios from Phoenix, AZ on May 29, 2012:

LMAO... Awesome!

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on May 29, 2012:

Thank you, ErinElise. The truth is-- I had a good story to tell.

Erin from Near Sacramento, California on May 29, 2012:


This was a very good hub. You are a great writer.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on August 08, 2009:

Thank you, and thank you again, Solomon.

Solomon517 on May 05, 2009:

You were realy patient. Thanks for the lesson.

Solomon517 on May 05, 2009:

You were realy patient. Thanks for the lesson.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on February 23, 2009:

Hmmm... true, though I don't remember seeing it.

LondonGirl from London on February 23, 2009:

I remember a T-shirt logo and bag logo that was popular at school in the mid-1990s - "The World Doesn't Owe you a Living - it was here first"

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on February 22, 2009:

I knew better than to overreact-- but I do believe I was clenching my teeth. Everyone has a backstory. Realizing that fact, makes it a little easier.

Susan Reid from Where Left is Right, CA on February 22, 2009:

I don't know how I would have handled this situation. I more than likely would have snapped back, "What's YOUR problem?" Needless to say, I am not a teacher, substitute or otherwise.

I give you a lot of credit for your cool reaction. I'm sad to hear about the boy's father and do hope he is able to overcome his trauma. That's tough for a kid to deal with.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on February 22, 2009:

I had a similar experience. My Sophomore English Teacher told me I could write. He later became my University journalism prof. I found him again a couple of years ago through the internet and thanked him. He's in his nineties.

Tom Cornett from Ohio on February 22, 2009:

I had some wonderful teachers! My freshman English teacher inspired me to write. It made me a better person because she gave me the nudge to do so. Thirty years later, I found her and thanked her. She is still teaching. There is a story about her in my hubs.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on February 22, 2009:

Thank you muchly, Cristoph. (See how good my vocabulary is?)

Sometimes dealing with these attitudes is a real balancing act, the trick is to not be bowled over.

Christoph Reilly from St. Louis on February 22, 2009:

Hi Rochelle. Thanks for the enlightening story and, really, a lesson in life. A good friend of mine in NY, substitute taught in the NYC school system. He told quite a few stories, which to the ear of a greenhorn from the midwest, seemed shocking. Now though, you see this behavior in kids everywhere. It seems to me that little has been written about how we, as adults, cope with this new attitude in kids. This constant angst and the unshakable idea that the world owes them. What about us? It's as if it's our duty to accommodate them, and not the other way around, as it was when I was a kid.

Anyway, thank you for the thought-provoking article. It was very good.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on February 22, 2009:

I'll bet your had some. Or is all of that imagination self-generated?

Tom Cornett from Ohio on February 22, 2009:

Good teachers are Gold!

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on February 22, 2009:

As a teacher-- especially as a substitute teacher-- I fully understood that it is the goal of some youngsters to evoke an angry, out-of-control reaction. I usually keep my cool, but this one almost got me.

As I said, I'm glad for the experience that taught me more about myself, and about how to maintain the professional veneer, even when it fights against a 'natural' reaction.

Thanks for your comment.

Tom rubenoff from United States on February 22, 2009:

Oh, I have to say it. When I was in school, I would have got a lot more than a slip of paper if I said those words to a teacher. Your response was perfect and professional. The last thing a kid in Duane's circumstances needs, as his whole reality tilts beneath his feet, is to reach out and find that the rules bend, too. On some level he may even draw comfort that at least this remains predictable.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on February 22, 2009:

Sheila from The Other Bangor on February 22, 2009:

Oh, thanks. You're a pippin.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on February 22, 2009:

Teresa-- I think that was Jeri Wei.. if so , I am pleased to be compared to her.

earnestshub from Melbourne Australia on February 22, 2009:

My youngest child is studying to become a teacher.

I am very proud of his choice and why he made it. Lovely hub.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on February 22, 2009:

For me, it wasn't so difficult. I was limited with what I could do. In this case, I think I did OK. I'm sure it was a difficult situation for this child -- yet ,I am encouraged that the regular teacher and the school were aware of his situation. I am sure that resources were provided to help him and his family.

Sheila from The Other Bangor on February 22, 2009:

I was thinking of John Milton, Paradise Lost. There was an apple in that. At least, it might have been a pear (does he ever say directly what kind of fruit? It could have been a citrus grove, for all we know). Dang, girl: did you write a hub on all the types of apples we don't get to eat anymore because they've been weeded out of the food chain in the food chains?

LondonGirl from London on February 22, 2009:

sounds like a difficult situation.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on February 22, 2009:

No, London-- I worked in a lot of schools... especially in "special" classes. It was impossible to track them all, especially in my position as a sub teacher, I did not have access to private information. My job was to do my best at the moment, and that's the best I ever could do.

Hope he survived without deep scars, but who knows?

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on February 22, 2009:

Oh good-- I'll have to look up Milton,

Also this (Damn!...) and the Gnomes one are two of my own personal favorites.. along with Purposely Purseless..... and oh never mind... .

LondonGirl from London on February 22, 2009:

Do you know what's happened with this boy since you wrote the hub?

Sheila from The Other Bangor on February 22, 2009:

Oh, yes, I guess I'm confusing you with Milton (you two have such similar styles). I'm off to read the one about the garden gnomes now, to see if it has apples in it.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on February 22, 2009:

Apples?? -- Can't recall, Give me another clue. I think someone wrote on apples -- maybe it was the garden of Eden thing (which I didn't write)??

Sheila from The Other Bangor on February 22, 2009:

Hey, Rochelle -- was looking for your hub on apples, and found myself reading this one instead. Glad I dropped by, your hubs are always well worth reading. Now. Where are the apples?

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on November 15, 2008:

Thank you for the comment. Yes. it was a moment that gave me some insight.

Peter from Australia on November 15, 2008:

Rochelle , I'm catching up on your older Hubs and I must say this was a beauty.

I have a great belief that you have stated very concisely why some of our younger generation are out of control.


there are reasons for bad behavior, and it helped me to resolve to not let reasons become excuses.


Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on November 02, 2008:

Thanks John-- haven't had anyone read this one for awhile, but it was memorable.

I'm sure the district officials were aware of it at the time-- and it was really an exception in this particular school. I'm sure others areas might be overwhelmed by this kind of student.

John Juneau from Sierra Nevadas on November 02, 2008:

I am substituting regularly now, and have done some substituting in previous years while working with my own students part time. Whether as a substitute or in a regular position, the sad thing is that a student like this needs help in ways that the classroom teacher cannot supply, but in most schools (all that I have been in) the district has no plan or resources for dealing with them. Their time in the classroom is rarely beneficial to them; meanwhile they are taking away learning opportunities from others. There is nothing better you could have done. I have been frustrated with this kind of situation many times.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on September 16, 2008:

Donnalee: I have met lot of good ones. Full-time teaching takes a lot of patience and work.

Juliet: It can bee discoraging, sometimes, but worth hanging in there.

Juliet Christie Murray from Sandy Bay Jamaica on August 07, 2008:

I do understand you very well dear 37 years of at least one day a week like that

trish1048 on May 07, 2008:

Hi Rochelle,

Powerful hub, beautifully written. A lesson for all of us to learn, thank you :)

ditto, welcome to hubpages,


Sherri from Southeastern Pennsylvania on May 06, 2008:

One moment in time, one gift to this boy. I so admire what you did, and how you did it. You didn't know the circumstances. Yet, you treated him as you would treat any other child. He needed that. Right then.

Welcome to HP.

Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on May 04, 2008:

Thank you.

Subbing was a great experience for me, yes sometimes it was hard, but always interesting.

I remember one 'difficult class' where at the end of the day a student told me that it was the best they had ever been for a sub. My gut feeling was to say "You're kidding!" , but actually it did make me feel a little better about the day.

In The Doghouse from California on May 03, 2008:


It takes a special person to be a substitute teacher, especially at those grade levels. Accountability, IMHO is something that should always be taught. Thankfully you have the experience to understand the importance of keeping your temper at bay. It sounds like it truly was a very grand learning experience for all who were involved. Welcome to Hubpages.

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