Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Communication and Teaching: Why be a Substitute Teacher?

When students first discover there is a sub in their classroom, one of two reactions occur: “Oh, no, a substitute,” or “Oh yeah, a substitute!” Yet both reactions usually point to the same student expectation – the class is going to be…different.

via Cliparts Zone

“Different” is going to depend on the sub

Dealing with one or two children can be difficult. Dealing with twenty to thirty of them may seem insurmountable. I’m sure you remember a substitute teacher that barely held the class together long enough to give a lesson – maybe wasn’t even able to complete the lesson at all! Students today aren’t that much different from our youth except for the added distractions of electronics and the internet that occupy today’s classroom. I am also pretty sure that you can remember a sub who made you forget, at least for a moment, that the subject you were learning was boring or that you missed your regular teacher. As a substitute teacher, the biggest lesson I learned was the more open and prepared you were for anything, the more success you had in the classroom.

So why be a sub?

Substitute teaching isn’t for everyone. Even pros who have been in the classroom for years and return to become substitutes can have a difficult time. The most important thing to understand is that you are walking into someone else’s classroom, complete with his or her own set of rules and expectations, teaching style, and rapport with the students. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have control of the classroom.

Substitute teaching is not the occupation for control freaks. Those types of substitutes are usually the ones who lose control the quickest. Which seems like a contradiction: you should have control of the room in order to perform your duty of teaching the assigned lesson to the students. This is where the ability to be open and prepared is far more valuable than trying to control the classroom. Because let’s face it – controlling a room full of kids is exactly like herding cats (it’s not just a saying). You must be willing to give up a little bit of control to engage as many students as possible, the goal being all students.

Be open to giving up control

Are you flexible with picking your battles when dealing with students? Or do you need to address every issue that pops up? If you are the latter, then you will find yourself engaged in more power struggles than engaged with a lesson. Being open to a crash course in stealth negotiation will keep the contentious students from taking over your teaching time.

Although you are a guest in another teacher’s room, these are – for the day – your students and what they need more than someone spouting off the day’s lesson is a positive role model whom they can feel comfortable with. They don’t need you harping on them to finish a worksheet. They need you to notice when they need help and provide much needed positive reinforcement when they accomplish something. It’s more important to get to know the students more than knowing the lesson. When you are willing to relinquish a little control, a class who feels you connect with them will be very forgiving.

Giving up control doesn’t mean every student has free reign of the classroom. You should have high expectations of your students because their teacher does. Let your students know that you are confident in their abilities to do the assigned work. But do not have high expectations of your ability to control every aspect of the classroom. You are not as familiar with each student’s capabilities as the teacher is. You may not know that one student is more of a kinetic learner and literally cannot sit still during lessons. You may have read in an IEP summary that a student needs extra time to answer questions, but you don’t know if that means ten seconds or ten minutes. Your job is not to micromanage, but to point out students’ successes while you perform the duty as guest teacher.

Are you sub material?

Your ability to be flexible will be your greatest asset in becoming a successful substitute teacher. With a little bit of help and a few tools under your belt, you won’t need to walk into a classroom blind. You will laugh, cry, be overcome with a frustration so great your head will want to explode, and be filled with pride that your heart will fill with joy. Can you handle the emotional chaos? If you can ride this roller coaster, then these kids need you. 

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