A Successful Subbing Day

What will you find when you fill in for the classroom teacher?

Well, when it comes to substitute teaching and what to do with the kids…pretty much all or nothing or something in between. (Real helpful, huh?)

When they know sub teaching is in the cards, some classroom teachers will prepare detailed plans and leave a schedule for the day so you know when to take the kids to music or lunch. Others will leave nothing at all, possibly because they had to call in their absence at the last minute and didn’t have time to prepare (and, incidentally, may not have any written lesson plans ready for the day anyway).

Be ready to handle anything

substitute-teaching-bag-of-suppliesBefore you even accept your first substitute teaching job, prepare a “bag o’ tricks” for the grade levels for which you have signed up. These items should be academic but fun…no coloring pages for any grade higher than first! Do a little research – these ideas will get you started:

  • Books for read-alouds with follow-up question sheets (look on the internet to find these sheets for classic or popular books or make them yourself).
  • Worksheets that focus on appropriate grade-level math review (internet again)
  • Puzzles that focus on math games

Can you tell that I like math?!

But really, math is easier for substitute teachers to hit the mark on appropriate grade-level work than spelling, or writing or even reading selections. You just don’t know all the levels at which the kids are performing and it is hard to bring enough to cover them all.

Math comes in bite-sized chunks (problems) that can be adapted to any time slot. And you can bring a small range of problems and be ready for any ability level…and kids always need math review.

TIP: Just search for “2nd grade math worksheets” (for example) and you’ll find a wealth of resources.

The three items above are a good start and can be life savers. Add to your “bag” as you get more experience or see classroom material that would work for other grades or jobs. (Don’t take teacher-created material without permission!)

You’ll be gathering resources of this type constantly as you pursue any number of different teaching careers, so it’s good to get started now.

Curriculum Priorities

The point is that your first priority is to teach what the kids would have been getting if their regular teacher was present: Grade-level content that moves them toward approved learning objectives. And if the teacher has left a lesson plan of any sort, you MUST follow it or you will not be called back.

But if it all falls apart, you must teach them something of value. This should not be a “day off” for the kids. And remember: engaged children = easier classroom management.

Know your kids: Students with behavior triggers

As I outline on the starting your sub day page:

There may 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.

All kids have a tendency to become unsettled with change, but this especially applies to your students on the Autism spectrum. Find out in advance if you have children with these special needs so you can be prepared to watch for signs of increasing agitation.

It is also a good idea to ask about known triggers and proven techniques for handling any behaviors that arise.

These kids take extra teacher love; be ready in advance to give them what they need, rather than being surprised by unexpected reactions to your presence.

They called! Now what?!

“Teacher Interviews 101″

The resume gets their attention, but the interview gets the job.

Read and listen as I walk you through it step-by-step.

Starting the Day – and Teaching Careers – Right

view-video-on-pageThe 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.

TIP: Take some time to look over the whole day’s schedule – sort of like reading the entire recipe before you start mixing ingredients, you want to know where you are supposed to end up before you get started.

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.

Managing “Sub-Behavior”

substitute-teaching-misbehaving-boyThis 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.

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).

TIP: If in doubt about the plan, ask the entire class; some may lie but some will tell the truth, or at least their facial expressions will reveal that you can’t take the assertions of the loudest kids at face value.

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?!

“Teacher Interviews 101″

The resume gets their attention, but the interview gets the job.

Read and listen as I walk you through it step-by-step.

Long-Term Subbing

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.