“The most important thing about being a substitute teacher is loving those kids as if they were your students and making sure you are as dedicated as their teacher would have been that day.”
Being a teacher on call is challenging. However, there are many advantages of being a sub such as gaining experience, working with different students or learning classroom routines, ways of organizing a classroom and, most importantly, how to manage a class. What I have learned as a sub is to always strive to be the BEST. You do not have to be a perfectionist, but yes, you want to be the best at what you do.
Surely, no one should expect you to grade and deliver lesson plans like a pro. But if you want to become the sub all teachers want back in their classroom, you have to show them you are valuable. As you have to earn kids’ trust, you have to earn teachers’ trust, as well. But how could you become a highly appreciated substitute teacher in demand? The answer is simple. Be responsible, have a strong work ethic and be a dedicated teacher.
Whether you have already had a contract or you are just starting off as a teacher on call, subbing and having your own class are not necessarily the same things. Thus, I compiled some tips that could help you.
Have a strong work ethic and do not overshare.
You are a professional, therefore, you should act appropriately. Just before Christmas break, a couple of my Grade 10 students asked me if teachers earned really that much because the replacement teacher during the previous class had bragged about how much money she made as a sub. Seriously? There are some things you should not discuss with your students no matter how nice and cool you want to appear.
Moreover, make sure you follow the teacher’s plan thoroughly. Take your time to check what you need to do with the kids, look for answers, and ask for help if you are not familiar with certain concepts or if you have to teach something that is not your subject-matter.
Some real simple strategies to make sure you do not forget anything are highlighting important information if there is a sub plan and putting a check mark when you finished a task. Checking off everything you completed not only helps you be organized throughout the day, but it gives valuable feedback to the teacher on the things you managed to get done with the kids.
Familiarize yourself with the routine and classroom management system
Obviously, when you are a substitute teacher, you have about three to five minutes to let students know if you mean business or if they can literally make your day a living hell. It is important to check if there is a behaviour management system put in place, so you know what consequences you could give to students.
Before introducing yourself, always let students calm down while you are looking at them. Do not talk, do not frown, do not show any emotion or frustration. Do not start yelling to be heard. That will only make things worse. Learners know they have to behave, their teacher certainly prepared them to be nice to you and have an exemplary behaviour. Now, it is your turn to reinforce that rule.
Based on my experience, one of the successful ways of showing learners that you are in charge is telling them that they still need to work hard even though their teacher is not there because you will leave comments at the end of the day, so you hope all students will be angels to make their teacher proud. This strategy really well in primary grades.
Furthermore, I recommend setting two rules in the classroom if you do not see any on the wall: (1) raise your hand to have permission to speak and (2) be focused on task. If these rules are not respected, you will apply the consequences. However, always give a second chance to students to make up for the bad behaviour. This motivates learners to show you they are good kids. Yet, be also ready to be fair and leave a note in students’ agenda if their conduct has not improved much.
Finally, to control the noise level, here is a very simple strategy. Write 0, 1, 2, 3 on the board, and explain students what the numbers mean (Zero means no talking, one means whispering, two means moderate noise level and definitely no yelling, three means outside voice). Depending on the activity, you could just circle the allowed noise level and, if learners do not respect it, you can give out consequences.
Do not fall for students’ tricks to manipulate you.
No matter how nice you want to be, the very moment you step in the classroom, you have to show students that you cannot be manipulated and things will get done your way. Well, kids are cute and nice, but they have their little tricks to test you, so never let your guard down. For instance, “My tummy hurts.”, “Can I go to the washroom?”, “Can I sit there?”, “Can I work with a partner?” or “Can we do this in teams?” are just a few well-known sentences children might come up with when there is a sub in the classroom. This is not any different in high school either: asking for permission to go to the washroom, listen to music or to work in small teams are the most common requests when there is a replacement teacher.
My advice is to learn how to say NO or use your judgment to allow certain things. Of course, in primary school, deciding whether you should let a student go to the washroom or not is a difficult decision. If you let one go, at least five other kids will also ask for permission to go, as well. One tip that could work to decide if students really need to go to restroom is to tell them that they should ask you about it in ten minutes. Most of the time, kids will forget about it; in other cases, they will be back within minutes telling you that it is really urgent. Nonetheless, in high school, it is a big “NO-NO” for bathroom breaks, listening to music or working in small teams, unless indicated otherwise.
Leave detailed comments and do not sugarcoat things.
Most of the time, you will spend a wonderful day with the students; other times, it will be difficult to handle some groups or particular kids. It is alright to admit that you had some difficulties with certain students. It is also alright to let the teacher know that you did not manage to complete certain tasks. Do not sugarcoat things, it is as simple as that. The teacher will give proper consequences to students if the work is not done or their behaviour was inappropriate, but state the facts as they are.
It is important to record things because you are the teacher’s eyes while she/he is not there. Educators appreciate it tremendously if you leave detailed comments about how your day went with the kids and if there were any conflicts or issues.
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Keep your calm whatever happens.
Another important thing you should never raise your voice to talk over a noisy group or yell to get students’ attention in the classroom. Being kind, firm and using a calm voice in the classroom will have more positive effects on kids than you think. You will see that learners will get attached to you during the day. When the day is over, the silent kid you thought had been off task will hand you a nice drawing she/he did only for you. Another student will come to hug you and students will smile at you when saying good-bye. I believe these heartwarming moments are simply priceless.
Overall, the most important thing about filling in for a teacher is loving those kids as if they were your students and making sure you are as dedicated as their teacher would have been that day. Indeed, you are not paid for arriving a bit earlier than necessary to get well-prepared for the day, you are not paid to stay ten minutes longer to make sure everything is in order, and leave more comments than a simple sentence saying that “You had a wonderful day with the kids.”; however, putting some extra effort into striving to be the best will pay off on the long run.
Remember teachers will always appreciate a professional, kind and reliable substitute teacher who does an amazing job.
Good luck and all the best!
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