Starting the Day – and Teaching Careers – Right
The morning of your substitute teaching day, arrive a little early and stop by the office to check in. This is your opportunity to ask about the building discipline plan or any special events that are on the schedule, such as an assembly.
Then off to the classroom to see what plans have been laid out for you.
If you see teachers in neighboring classrooms and they appear to be free, introduce yourself. Remember, these teachers will be assessing you all day long. Every teacher in your vicinity will notice whether your room is a noisy disaster all day or an island of calm and mentally add or cross you off their list of preferred substitute teachers.
Have you figured out yet that this is a job interview?
My first full-time continuing contract in a very competitive district came from spending time on the roster of substitute teachers. Over the course of a year of subbing, I established myself as a teacher who could control a classroom.
When a teacher with an unruly class had to leave for a medical emergency, the school went through seven subs in five days, all of whom declined to return. The principal called downtown for a sub teacher with a good track record in other schools and I was pulled off another job to show up with no lesson plans, no preparation…and no idea what I was getting myself into.
This turned into a long-term substitute teaching job for the remainder of the year. Two years later, this same principal was at a different building and when I interviewed for an open position, I was a known quantity.
In the small teacher community that exists in any district, reputation is everything.
Somehow find out the process for picking up the kids from the outside of the building at the start of the day. If in doubt, head out to the playground before 9:00 and do what the others do.
After the kids are seated, employ all of those methods you learned during student teaching to get their attention and introduce yourself. Keep it short, but kids do want to know your name and a little about you. Time spent building a little bit of a relationship now will serve you well later.
This is a good point to discuss “sub behavior.” Simply put, “when the cat’s away, the mice will play,” and there can be some very naughty little mice indeed. But even nice mice will often take the chance to test the limits of a sub teacher when no student teacher relationships exist.
There may also be kids who treasure the stability and routine of the classroom because it is not what they experience at home; when that routine is disturbed, the disturber (you) bears the brunt of their uncharacteristic behavior.
Be very aware of students who have special needs, such as your kids on the Autism spectrum.
Suffice it to say that you need to establish what kind of teacher you are and do it quickly or the day can slide off track in short order.
- Be confident
- Be organized
- Use the techniques outlined in the classroom management section.
Working the Plan
If the plan for the day is not clear in a particular area (either academic or schedule), you will have to ask the class what they are working on or how they normally handle art class (for example).
Here’s where all of those college classes come into play: if there are no clear instructions for the math block, and the kids all confirm they have been working on fractions, then you should be able to teach them something about fractions even with no advance preparation. And there are plenty of web resources you can go to for ideas.
You can always start by asking students what they already know and make a list on the board. Kids love to show their smarts!
They called! Now what?!
The resume gets their attention, but the interview gets the job.
Read and listen as I walk you through it step-by-step.
A long-term substitute teaching job is a little different. If you will be spending a few weeks with the kids, then you should take more time up front establishing the relationship.
Remember: To some degree, they may be mourning the loss of the student/teacher relationship. Even if the students didn’t particularly like the teacher you are replacing, they were at least attached to the routine.
If the kids have been through several substitute teachers recently, or their teacher experienced some kind of trauma (extended illness, for example) that impacted them, they will need to talk. And you will need to listen…whether you feel this should be part of subbing or not.
My first long-term substitute teaching job (referenced in the box above) began with me asking the question:
So what’s been going on?
The kids opened up and we talked all morning. It was the first step in rebuilding a classroom community led by an adult who demonstrated that she cared for them first as humans.
Long-term substitute teachers will also have to spend more time with the administration and fellow grade-level teachers to make sure the curriculum is on track within two to three days.
Betsy’s Video Tips: Gaining the Students’ Respect
Make it happen…for the kids and for your job prospects
The two go hand-in-hand; if the kids have a successful day, you’ll get called back. And sub teachers who get called back also get called for job interviews…sooner rather than later.