By the time you read this column, my children and I will only have two more weeks of school left before summer vacation begins.

We’re looking forward to our usual routine of spending our days hanging out by the neighborhood pool.

Glory won’t be so lonely during the day anymore, and maybe even Caramel (Tommy’s pet snake) will get some attention for a change.

I have earned a summer break along with the kids this year, and I’m not referring to the time spent nagging the boys to finish their homework and making hundreds of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

That’s the typical mom stuff that goes with getting three children through a school year. In addition to all that, I took on a new job that was so scary I couldn’t bring myself to write about it in Stars and Stripes ... until now.

Since last September, I have not only survived but also enjoyed being a substitute teacher at Tommy and Ronnie’s elementary school.

Those of you who read this column regularly (or know me on a personal basis) probably need to take a moment now to laugh as you picture the woman whose kids are the definition of "wild things" trying to get a classroom of other people’s children to behave.

It hasn’t been easy, but I’m getting there, one school day at a time.

Today, I tried something new and stood in a chair to see if the students would listen better for a tall Mrs. Zich.

It definitely got their attention — at least for a few minutes, while I gave them some necessary directions.

I have substituted in classrooms all over the elementary school. Currently, I am trying to fill the creative shoes of the art teacher, who is on maternity leave.

By the time I began last month, I already knew most of the students in the school and could find almost any type of brush, paint or papers in the art supply closet.

But a dark cloud of worry hung over my head every time I thought about keeping a classroom of sixth-graders on task for 80 minutes straight. An hour with the energetic, messy first graders was even more frightening for me to consider.

I was confident substituting for a day or two, but how would I do week after week?

My concerns drove me to seek professional help: I headed down to North Carolina to chat with one of my former teachers.

Mrs. Morris was one of those rare teachers who can be tough as nails and is still treasured by every one of her students.

I was scared to death of her as a fifth-grader, but looked forward to her class because she was so funny. And she was an incredible teacher.

If anyone could give me tips on how to keep those kids in line, Mrs. Morris could.

I caught up with her, and we had a long chat about old times and how to manage a classroom. But, as I suspected, she didn’t reveal any "secret recipe" to making kids behave.

I returned to Virginia determined to find my own way.

So far, what works best for me is to be as creative in my classroom control techniques as I am when teaching art lessons. If I have to stand on my head today instead of on a chair, I will do it.

I don’t have the artistic talent of the "real" art teacher, but I definitely have imagination.

Pam Zich has moved eight times in 17 years of marriage to her Marine Corps husband. E-mail her at or find the Zichs online at

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