That’s what a lot of substitute teachers call it. What is it? It’s the sum total of everything a substitute teacher thinks he/she might need to teach an unplanned lesson for the day. It manifests itself in various forms. I’ve seen the “Bag of Tricks” in the form of backpacks, canvas tote bags, duffle bags, briefcases, small suitcases and even a small rolling filing system.
My bag of tricks is more a survival backpack. It’s actually a “manly” diaper bag that my daughter let me have at her garage sale last year. This is my third after two previous bags wore out.
My bag contains a three ring binder, clipboard, pens, pencils, markers, notepad paper, day timer, calculator, condensed dictionary, some educational nature videos, basic first aid supplies, sunglasses, baseball cap and a whistle.
The binder contains blank report forms, maps of all the schools in the district, lists of completed and future assignments, and the current year substitute handbook and any other paperwork worth carrying around.
Except for the 2-3 nature videos I carry, I do not carry emergency substitute lesson plans, assignments, prize bribes, candy or fun busywork activities as some other subs do. If I did, I would have to drag a filing cabinet around to be that prepared. If I have to improvise an assignment, I try to make do with what I find in the classroom.
There is nothing of value in my bag. No phone, no iPad, or expensive electronics of any kind. No wallet, no keys or anything that would be of any value. At least that’s what I thought up until the day my bag went missing.
It was one of those “roving substitute” assignment days where I have 20-40 minute assignments in five or six different classes. After visiting the first four classes, I knocked on the door my next assignment. There was no one in the unlocked classroom. Since the classroom was unlocked and empty, the teacher and the kids must be at recess or getting books in the library.
I didn’t want to lug my bag all over campus looking for my lost class, so I set my backpack on the teachers chair in the back of the room and decided to first try the library located one building over.
The library was where I found the class. The teacher handed over the class and went to her meeting. My “assignment” for her was to finish library checkout and take the class back to the classroom for a math lesson on fractions. Upon the teacher’s return after the meeting and I went to get my backpack to leave.
My blue backpack wasn’t where I left it.
I then realized I hadn’t recalled seeing it since I returned from the library. I searched the entire room until the office called to tell me I was late for the next teacher conference. I told them I was missing a backpack.
Between my final two assignments, the principal asked for a description of my backpack and if it contained anything of value. A veteran in situations like this, he said he would have the janitor check the trash cans, roof areas of the school and ask the teachers to be on the lookout for it. Ten minutes before the final bell, there the office broadcast a “check your room for a missing blue backpack” announcement.
I left the office depressed and disappointed walking out to the parking lot sans backpack. I was wondering how much effort it was going to take to replace my “stuff of no value” when the school secretary called me back to the office. A teacher called to say that she found a black backpack in her room after all the kids had left. She was bringing it to the office to see if it was mine. It’s the wrong color but I waited until she arrived…with MY backpack!
She said she returned from her recess break and found the backpack in her desk chair. She thought one of the students left it there and moved it to the pile of student packs near the coat lockers. When the class let out, it was the only one left. I searched the bag and found nothing missing. It turns out that her unlocked classroom is next door to the one I substituted for today.
I realized then that I must have walked into the “wrong" classroom this afternoon, left my bag, went to the library and returned with the kids to the “right” classroom. I also realized that I didn’t know what color the backpack I’ve been carrying around for more than a year actually is. It’s the interior vinyl lining of my bag that’s “baby blue”.
I left that day feeling relived and a bit stupid at the same time. I also realized that I do care about my “worthless stuff” more than I thought I did.