I've been thinking of writing this post since the end of the school year last summer.
And....advice for teachers to make our job easier and your class happier while you're gone.
I was so excited to start Substitute teaching at my daughter's school, until the first day when I realized how unprepared I really was. I was given a set of keys, to a door I didn't even know how to unlock. I was given a squirrely 5th grade class the day before spring break with a set of lesson plans I didn't know how to read and teacher's manuals that I had never seen before and didn't know how to decipher. Of course you were supposed to be in charge and appear you know what you are doing when the whole day I just felt like I was trying to keep my head above water.
After my first day I started searching for maybe some resources or on-line advice for substitute teachers. Nothing really current or relevant to what I found was a struggle...pretty much you are on your own. The only training you get from the district is a safety briefing and a lesson on how not to get blood borne pathogens.
Since then I've realized there is a learning curve. Just know you are always jumping into a situation blind, trying to figure it as you go while appearing to be in control ;) So since I am starting again tomorrow I am going to share some of my own observations and helpful hints for myself...and anyone else that might be like me after my first day...looking for some guidance.
Realize this come from my own experiences and my own perspective, I'm sure other people have different opinions.
Advice for elementary school substitute teachers
- Be patient with yourself and the students, realize you are all learning together. You will learn from experience what works and what doesn't. What works with one class or one age group won't work with another one, and that's OK.
- Wear comfortable shoes! You will probably be on your feet all day. Don't bring a book, you won't get to it even during a break because you will probably be going over the lesson plans for when they get back to the room.
- Don't expect practical training, there isn't any unless you are subbing long term and then you might be able to observe the class before hand.
- Even if you feel flustered appear like you know what you're doing. Stay calm and try not to be too uptight.
- Come early enough to review the sub-plans. If you don't understand them or something is unclear ask a fellow teacher in the same grade. They have been helpful and will be generally teaching the same thing and are familiar with the materials.
- Know the phone numbers of the office if needed.
- I found there are times it's appropriate to ask the students what they normally do if something is unclear in the sub plans. There are times I try to keep the routine normal and there are times I have to say "We are going to do it this way today" The younger the grade the more they want to keep to their normal routine.
- Not all teachers use the same resources from the teacher's edition. If possible check for what resources a particular classroom uses and where they are. I have had plenty of times the teacher hasn't thought to include the location of the reading books, or other things they use on a daily basis.
- Realize it will be louder than normal and they will try to do things they aren't supposed to do. Count on it and don't take it personal.
- Every class has different rules for a. sharpening pencils, b. leaving class for bathroom or drink breaks and c. whether or not they are allowed to use the sink in the classroom...go figure!
- I have found that with most assignments or worksheets too much time is allotted. Bring a bag of tricks for the down time...ie age appropriate stories, class games.. in case you are left with a lot of down time.
- I have found with busy work there will be the few that get done quickly and are bored and a few that will struggle to stay on task. Sometimes I bring something extra for those early finishers.
- Students stay on task best before lunch. After lunch...good luck.
- Sometimes you feel like you are herding cats.
- Classroom management seems to work best with table points or some other way to show them how they are doing at following tasks. Use whatever system the teacher has in place...if you try to use your own it doesn't work as well.
- If you are going to do a game or attention activity, don't allow for more than 15 minutes (they get bored). It works best right before a recess, lunch or the end of the day.
- Look critically at any books you are bringing to share in the classroom. I've learned the hard way not to bring picture books where anyone in it is wearing underwear. (Hee hee.. I ended up coloring a shirt on my copy of Pinkalicious.)
- You will feel weird eating lunch in the staff room. Even though you might have teachers you have known for years and you have been a room mom to and worked with them one on one it will still be weird for you and for them. This is not a job where you will make friends and I try to let them have their space.
- You are going to have bad days. It's OK that some days you feel like you are just getting through the day. The bigger the class, or younger the class the more I feel like I need a nap at the end of the day!
- If there are issues in the classroom between students, separate them. If one student is having problems invite them to sit at a table on their own.
- Realize that every class has a difficult child or two. If it's not already in the lesson plan, you will probably figure out who it is by the end of the day. I try to be as patient as I can but if the child becomes too much of a disruption or is affecting fellow students safety don't be shy to send them to another classroom or to the office. I learned the hard way that feeling like "I can handle them without help" can lead to trouble.
- Yard duty? If someone complains that someone else hit them, or is bothering them hear both sides of the story, there is always a cause! If appropriate ask if they both want to get written up or resolve it themselves...most often they will resolve it themselves. If either student feels an issue isn't resolved sent them to the office to resolve it. You might not make close friends in the staff room but there are lots of students that will love to talk to you at recess. Students that don't really fit in, aren't sporty and maybe are having a rough day will be glad you are willing to pay attention to them.
- I've had students tell me "You should be a real teacher!" While as flattering as that is I've realized that a substitute teacher the administration sees me as someone to keep the students safe and the classroom managed. If there is actually work done, that is a plus. Nobody cares that I might or might not have an ability to teach.
- You're reward is probably not going to be the paycheck (it's not regular enough to count on it). My reward is the when students know my name and are excited to see me and hope that I'll be their sub. My reward is the ones that say "I wish you could be a real teacher" and times when I feel like I'm actually teaching them instead of overseeing worksheet completion. It's a job I can do that doesn't take away from my family...which is all too rare...and maybe at the end of it I'll still have a desire to teach once my kids are old enough for me to do it full time.
Advice for elementary school teachers prepping for a sub
- Please make sure lesson plans are clear and complete. Please make sure correct page numbers are referenced and the location of supplies are included. There is nothing worse to start a lesson on the wrong subject because I am on the wrong page or I don't have the correct Teacher's edition...it's happened more than once.
- Seating charts are so helpful!!! I've only had 2 or 3 teachers do this for me but it's so much nicer when they do. I don't know the students names and it takes time for me to make my own chart...and the upper grade students try to give me the wrong name, which makes it take even longer!
- Please tell me if there are any children that need special attention or consideration. I don't need to know details but it's nice to have a heads up. Also include how you handle problem behavior with this particular child. It's nice to know what works.
- PE is a good thing, it helps all of us. Some teachers want to skip PE because they feel it's easier. If the students usually have PE, they'll expect it in the lesson plans. Exercise is good. 1/2 hour is plenty of time after that they get tired and wander :)
- Whenever possible provide answer keys please! The last thing I want to do is provide answers that are wrong. I don't remember the specifics of all subjects being taught at all grades at all times. While managing the class I do not have time to look back through what you have been learning that week to create an answer key. I know the math might be easy but trying to work through 65 math problems at the same time as managing the class while they work through them so I have the right answers to have them correct their papers is very difficult.
- Giving a full day of only written work, tests and worksheets equals a hard to manage class. They can only handle so much desk work in a day. Some students blow through the worksheets and are bored the rest of the time and cause problems and others struggle to stay on task after the first one. Some whole class activity during the day is helpful.
- Please do not allow and hour and 1/2 to complete a basic math worksheet. It really only takes about 1/2 hour and it's a classroom management nightmare.
- It's nice to be acknowledged in the staff room. You don't have to include us in your conversations or weekend plans but just saying hi is helpful.
- You might think at times that your students are more excited to have a sub than you. A sub represents a break in routine but they are always fiercely loyal and love their teacher!
Anyway thats all I got for now. I realize I still have more to learn...but I'm also starting a list of what I would and wouldn't do if I ever taught full time. It's nice learning from different teachers what works well or maybe not so well in the classroom for the future. We'll see after a couple of years of this if I'm still as excited to teach elementary school :)
Oh in other news this week. Our mutual night had a Black Light volleyball game for the youth.
Lots of kids came....they practiced a bit of volleyball before they turned out the lights.
Everyone was supposed to wear white to glow in the dark. Jacob decided he wanted to wear boxers over pants so they would glow....he actually came out in white butt huggers but we nixed that idea and told him to put on something that at least looked like shorts.
Here's my picture with the lights off....can't see much but they had fun!
This week I helped in the library at the elementary school processing books that were bought from the book fair, I helped sell Smencils, did 100 mile club stuff and helped at the honor roll ice cream social at King High school. Jeff and I went to back to school night, mutual and I went to a girls night out for 100 mile club and a birthday lunch with Mary Ann.
Also this week Ashley woke up with a horrible ear infection. I spent the day trying to keep her happy. She cried almost all day and luckily we got her medicine going and now her ears seemed to be feeling better.
One day I was having a discouraging thought day....I came back in the evening to find a praying mantis on my kitchen window.
I haven't seen one in years, and definitely not at our house.
I laughed and saw it as a sign that I could be better at my prayers. :)
This weekend Ashley got to go with Jeff and I on our date night....a trip to Cheesecake factory, then a game night at Holley and Kevin Williamsons.
Taylor was out with friends and Jacob just wanted to stay at home playing video games. Jacob says "Its my day to relax" (Then come to find out on Sunday he was putting off hours of homework)
So Ashley got some yummy food.
And of course she insisted that we try their new cheesecake flavor....I think it was almost the price of my dinner!