What will you find when you fill in for the classroom teacher?
Well, when it comes to being a substitute teacher 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).
Video: gaining students' respect as a sub
Be ready to handle anything
Before you even accept your first substitute teacher 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.
- Worksheets that focus on appropriate grade-level math review.
- Puzzles that focus on math, or math games
The 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 is the priority
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.
Starting your substitute teacher day 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.
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 relationship exists.
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.
Helping students with behavior triggers
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.
To find out in advance, you'll need to email the classroom teacher if circumstances allow. If they don't, then you can ask about known behavior challenges in the office in the morning, or ask other grade-level teachers.
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.
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 specific behaviors section.
Video: Should a subs save discipline for the regular teacher?
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!
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 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 within two to three days to make sure the curriculum is on track.
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 a substitute teacher who gets called back also gets called for job interviews sooner rather than later. Read my advice on turning sub jobs into real jobs here.