Cartersville resident Susan May has been a substitute teacher for 17 years. She’s seen it all and understands the mysterious world of public education better than most of us.
What made her decide to take on a job that would send even some of the most hardened businessmen running for the hills?
“Well pretty much I can pick my own hours and days of the week I’d like to work. But mostly I got into it because when my kids were in school, I was able to keep the same hours as them,” said May. “And then once you start making money, you, of course, want to keep it up.”
She has worked with all age groups from special education preschoolers to 12th graders suffering from “senioritis.”
“I kept special-ed preschoolers at Mission Road Elementary for a number of years. At one time I was on eight Bartow County School’s substitute call lists at once. That got kind of crazy and I had to narrow it down to schools closer to my home,” said May. “I’ve mostly been at Cass High for the past 12 years, but I started out all over the county, and I was at Woodland High back when they were in their temporary location during construction.”
As one might imagine, May has witnessed some pretty outrageous stuff over the years.
“Well, there was one year at Cass High that we constantly had fire drills. It felt like every day, but I didn’t really have a problem with it. Until the day it rained during the fire drill and I didn’t have my umbrella. That was awful,” said May. “But that’s nothing compared to some of the stuff.
“For sure the most outrageous thing ever was when one day a teacher came across the hallway to the class I was keeping with a problem. She told me that she had a foreign exchange student from Vietnam whose exchange family wasn’t working out and would I take the student in?” said May.
“The next thing I knew, I was introducing a Vietnamese exchange student to my husband and she ended up living with us for the next six months,” said May. “It was very fun and turned to be a wonderful experience. She’s come back to the states to see us since, and I still get a Christmas card from her every year.”
Having worked in so many schools in the county for so long, May has been able to watch quite a few kids grow up, which is an interesting experience that leads to all sorts of “ah-ha” kinds of moments.
One year, May had her son’s entire Cass High basketball team to her home for a spaghetti dinner. Another year she taught an entire gym class to do the wave in the football stadium. She’s single-handedly supervised a cafeteria filled with 250 test-taking high school students, inadvertently caught kids skipping school at the grocery store, and played a consistent and positive role in the lives of many children from their kindergarten years through high school.
“When I’m subbing kids at Cass High, sometimes I’ll recognize them from elementary school. It usually takes them a few minutes to place where they know me from. But then I’ll see the realization dawn and know they’ve recognized me,” said May. “I joke and call myself the substitute that wouldn’t die!”
May knows she’s made a positive impact in the lives of many students. There have been times when she attended sporting events simply because a child made it clear it would mean a lot to him for her to be there.
But being there for the students hasn’t always been an easy feat.
“I’ve had days when I went in to sub and there would have been a kid suddenly killed and I had no idea until I got to the classroom,” said May. “It’s really hard to have a class full of kids who are upset. Mostly the classes are really subdued on those days and you pretty much let the kids talk to one another, never raise your voice and have understanding that emotions are raw.”
Luckily, the good times outweigh the bad. Susan has an abundance of happy memories as a substitute.
“I’ve learned school is a dichotomy of what society is as a whole,” said May. “It’s like they say in that movie Never Been Kissed. In life, there’s always going to be the pretty girl, the jocks, the smarties and those that seem to spend a lot of time in the corner. School isn’t just about the school work. School teaches our kids how to deal with the social aspects of real life.”
As for Cartersville schools, May thinks we’ve got a good thing going.
“Cartersville schools want their students to do well and succeed," she said. "They really put forth the effort to provide the very best for our children.”
I guess if anyone would know, it’s her.