Miss Manners: Substitute teacher feels disrespected at work


Dear Miss Manners: I work as a substitute teacher for an excellent local school system. I enjoy the assignments, for the most part, and like knowing that I’m contributing to public education. Schools can’t function without substitutes.

It’s not my primary source of income by a long shot, so I can choose where and if I want to work. I’m reliable, I read and implement lesson plans carefully, and I stay flexible to respond to the schools’ needs. Contrary to stereotype, the kids are mostly manageable and often delightful.

My problem is that some adults seem to believe that “subs” are interchangeable widgets who can be treated with disregard.

Most teachers and administrators are helpful and pleasant, but a few are dismissive or flat-out ignore me. When I go to another teacher’s classroom, perhaps to pull out a student for assigned tutoring, I always greet the teacher first and ask if this is a good time to take the student. Yet some staff will come into my room and interact with the kids without saying anything at all to me. Or they’ll speak to my students with a version of, “I know you don’t have a real teacher today …”

Administrators can be even worse. I’ve had principals waltz into my classroom and engage at length with the kids while ignoring me completely. One told a class that she had never worked as a substitute, “since they’re just warm bodies.”

Children are highly observant and pick up on status cues quickly. If other adults treat the substitute like a piece of furniture, they will, too. And then the substitute has a miserable day and stops working at that school.

There’s a shortage of substitutes in my district — and nationwide. How about treating us as colleagues who are doing challenging jobs for low pay and helping to keep our schools running?

Those full-time teachers should know something about disrespect. Even the era when they were being given praise in lieu of decent salaries seems to be over — the praise part, that is.

It should not be difficult to engage teachers and staff in sympathetic conversations about respect, to which you can add, “And disrespect is even worse for us substitutes — sometimes we even get it from our own colleagues.”

But Miss Manners realizes that you will also have to act as the authority in your classrooms, saying, “Excuse me, but we’re having a class now” to anyone who interrupts.

Dear Miss Manners: I am a 75-year-old male, and the widow lady next door (we are just good friends) has invited me for Thanksgiving, along with her family, who I don’t really care too much for. I accepted, but now I have another invite, which I would rather accept by far. May I cancel the first and accept the second?

Are you prepared to risk also canceling that good friendship with the lady next door?

Dear Miss Manners: Should you ever ask guests to pay to come to dinner? Especially when the guests are the parents of the host?

Only if they billed the now-host for meals throughout his childhood.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on You can send questions to Miss Manners at her website, You can also follow her @RealMissManners.

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