“Mr. Vaudrey, you look mad. What did the sub say about us?”

“Good afternoon.” I growled, looking through Jackie as she clumped through my door. “Take a seat.”

The look on her face showed that my plan was working.

Once the bell rang, I had 24 students in their seats glancing nervously around; they knew something was up, and it wasn’t gonna be pretty.

Brrrrrrring. “Have a seat. Once again, you were terrible for the sub. Once again, you embarrassed me. Start on the warm-up.” The usual upbeat music was silent, the normally boisterous class was sullen and quiet, and my smile was replaced with an exhausted scowl (which was only about 10% legitimate and 90% facial drama).

I forced this look on my face all class period. It was not easy, despite how she makes it look.

Thankfully, my two Honors classes were delightful for the sub, working diligently in their groups to finish the art project. One of those students today actually asked this question, verbatim:

“Mr. Vaudrey, can I participate in answering the next problem?”

I know. He’s a cherub.

My fourth period, however, despite being pleasant and respectful for me, turned into a class-ful of the flesh-eating scarab beetles from the Mummy movies, devouring any substitute teacher who dares to cross the threshold of my holy classroom.

Not THAT kind of Beatles takeover.

Naturally, this reflects poorly on me. If a dog bites the neighbor, you blame the owner.

My fourth period bit the neighbor, shredded the neighbor’s best shoes, and peed on the carpet. It all happened while I was away from home, so I can’t discipline them; they won’t know what they did wrong. After reading the sub report, I wished I had a rolled-up newspaper.

In the past two or three bad sub reports, I had given them a stern lecture, but eventually relented and gone on with my plan for the day. I’m too nice, as some students put in their evaluation a few weeks ago.

Today, I knew that, if change were to occur, it had to start with me. I resolved that I could be the grumpy teacher, at least for a day.

After doing the warm-up, presentations, sharing about good things in our lives, and going over the homework, the students had been waiting for 25 lingering, somber minutes to know what the sub said about them. I let them have it, exactly as Mr. Lindsay wrote on my form:

“Notes about Period 4: Rowdy & loud class. There was really only one student in each group that doing all of the work while the others messed around. I had to spread the groups out to help keep them focused & not visiting with other groups, but most groups did not finish.

P.S. I kept the whole class after the bell rang.”

I sighed. “I was surprised by this last part; the sub wrote some names of students who were especially disruptive. Some of those names were students that I told him were trustworthy and helpful. That surprised me.” When I said surprised, I hope that my tone implied incensed.

See? Incensed.

After staring at the paper and making no eye contact, I slowly looked up at the class, as if my eyes were weary from the report they had just read. “Daniel, you were helpful and respectful when Kelsey got stuck on the warm-up a few minutes ago. Where was that Daniel yesterday?”

“Oh… uh…” Daniel grins, clearly uncomfortable.

I take a labored breath. “Clearly you guys don’t respect me like I respect you. I guess some things have to change. Today, we’re trying a different type of class, so we can practice being professional students. Is there anything that you want to say about the sub?”

I’ve been talking for a few minutes now, and their silence shows their remorse. A few hands raise, and I call on James. “He had a funny voice.”

I turn to face James fully. His smile evaporates as he realizes that nobody laughed at his joke. A few students hiss at him as I tilt my head in a confused frustration.

Oops, said James.

That’s what you have to say? After all the sub had to say about your behavior, that’s… you know, just forget it. Put your hands down, let’s move on.”

Some students’ eyes widen; this is not normal attitude for me. I dramatically drop the stack of papers onto the desk in front of me and ask Kira to pass them out. Earlier this week, James’ cute comment would have only garnered a dismissive wave from me, but today is not the day to be cute with Mr. Vaudrey.

The class remains silent as I instruct them to work quietly for 15 minutes alone on the review sheet. I hear Stef whisper, “Man, we usually play games to review.”

The rest of the day was spent in their seats, speaking only when asked, and working diligently. As the class neared the end of the day, I made a point to encourage little successes.

“Okay, eyes on me… Oh, that was good! You got focused right away! See, I knew you had it in you, now bring that out when the sub is here, too.”

The last four minutes of class, 86 minutes of drill-sargeantry had taken its toll on me, and I allowed them to start their homework in pairs, chatting quietly. As the bell rang, I held up the sub report and ripped it in half.

“Let’s have this be the last one of these, eh? Have a great day, I’ll see you tomorrow.”