Most everyone has experienced having a substitute teacher, but what do they actually do and what makes a good one? One of the worst situations for both students and teachers happens when the sub doesn't know what is going on, but how do you combat that? While substitute teaching can seem like a glorified babysitting position, to do it well you need to be prepared and ask the right questions. As always, this blog is based on my real experiences in this position.
First, know what you are teaching. When you get a call, you will be asked if you are available on a certain date, if it is a full or half day, and, usually, you will be told the grade level and sometimes the subject that you are being requested for. As one colleague wisely pointed out, "If you are subbing for a gym teacher, dress like a gym teacher." Keep in mind, if you are working with younger students, you need to be sure to be able to crouch down to help with assignments, take on recess duty, or be prepared to complete a messy art project. Likewise, if you will be in a lab make sure to wear closed-toed shoes and long pants. Layers are also helpful to adjust to room temperatures which can fluctuate throughout a building.
Next, get all the information that you can. When you arrive at the office to check in for your assignment, you will usually get a name tag, directions to your room, and, possibly, keys. Check to see if there are any forms to fill out (like a sub log) and if it should be left for the teacher or brought to the office at the end of the day (I always make sure to leave a note for the teacher with specific details about absences and behavior for each class period.). This is a good time to ask about cellphone policy. Sometimes it is teacher specific, but it is good to have a general idea, because this is one of the first things students will try to get away with. Also find out if there is a substitute log in for the school computers. Another great thing to ask is if there are any special events in the building that day.
After checking in, head to your room. Hopefully, the regular teacher has left you specific notes about the day. Take this time to read through the day, locate your teaching resources, find out if you switch rooms throughout the day or have extra duties (before or after school, or at lunch), and get organized for the morning. Morning tasks generally include reporting attendance, taking a lunch count, and showing the announcements. Often, if you cannot do one of these things, there will be a note about where to send students or a student that can be put in charge of the task. If there are no classroom instructions, check with the office or neighboring teachers. In a worse case scenario, you will run a study hall all day. Write your name on the board and be prepared for constant monitoring. Finally, take a few moments to check out the posted emergency procedures. You never know if there will be a last minute tornado drill or evacuation.
Throughout the day, try to move through the room as much as possible. Students know they are less likely to get away with misbehaviors if you are not sitting like a lump in the corner. Also be consistent. If there are no specific instructions, be upfront with your students and let them know what you expect. Can they work with a partner? What is an acceptable noise level? What activities can they do if they are done with their assignment? If the classroom teacher has left a way to reward their students, tell them exactly what you expect to be able to reward them. Unless otherwise stated, I always limit people leaving the classroom for bathroom breaks or locker runs to one guy and one gal and I keep an eye on the clock to let the teacher know if they were gone for an extended period.
Normally, a substitute will have two breaks throughout the day. One is a plan period. This is a great time to run to the bathroom (You should not leave the room while you are supervising students.), check your phone for messages (You should not have your phone out while supervising students.), and relax (Bring a book.). The other is a lunch break. Depending on your school, you may be able to head to the cafeteria and pay cash for lunch. Some schools require you to have an account set up to purchase lunches and may not set one up for the casual sub. This is something you might inquire about with the office. I always found it easiest to simply bring something cold for lunch. Most schools will invite you to use the teachers lounge, but lunch periods are usually very short and taking time to find the lounge and participate in a microwaving cue will eat into your break.
Remember, safety is the most important thing. You want to get all your students through their day safely. Follow your teacher's instructions as closely as possible. If in doubt, call the office for backup. Good luck!
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Rayna Moore -
© 2021 by Rayna Moore