Tricks of the Trade: Substitute Teaching

According to the Atlantic, substitute teaching may be one of America’s toughest jobs. However, despite the low pay, insufficient planning time, and difficult job conditions, in 2014, 623,000 Americans answered school districts’ early-morning calls to take on this daunting task. Education Week, a United States national newspaper covering K-12 education, and the National Council on Teacher Quality reported that over their K-12 experience, students spend just under a year being taught by someone other than their classroom teacher. So, what can you, as a professional substitute educator, do to improve your experience, improve student learning, and maximize your chances of being invited back?

Firstly, learn the rules. As you probably remember from your K-12 experience, schools have rules. And, all classroom teachers have classroom rules. Arrive early and learn them (read the class syllabus). Students crave consistency. Learning the teacher’s expectations and “focus areas” will help you emphasize the same things that the classroom teacher emphasizes. For example, “no hats”. Students will “test the sub” for no reason other than to see what they can get away with. Remember that you’re not there to be their friend. You are there to serve as their teacher. Enforcing a simple rule early will let the students know that you are informed, communicating with, and on the same page as the classroom teacher.

Secondly, use first names! Student (and adults) love to hear their own name. When you arrive in the classroom look over the daily attendance sheets. If there is a name that is difficult to pronounce, try to learn the proper pronunciation prior to class starting. As the old saying goes, “nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care”. Demonstrate that you care by learning and pronouncing student names correctly.

Thirdly, follow the lesson plans. The classroom teacher is expecting to return to class and move to the next lesson. You will enhance your reputation and will be requested more often when the teacher knows that the plans will be followed, and he will not have to “reteach” a lesson.

Finally, be flexible. Let’s face it, teachers don’t miss school with days of notice. They miss school because they woke up ill, an emergency occurred, or due to another unexpected event. As a professional substitute educator, you must be ready to improvise. Plan ahead and have a few tricks up your sleeve. Think of things you can do to assist the classroom teacher. For example, one of the most time consuming and unrewarding tasks classroom teachers are expected to perform is creating bulletin boards. However, this is an area in which students thrive and love to be involved! Use this to your advantage. When the daily substitute lesson plan is complete and there is still time left, hand out 2″ x 2″ sticky notes in multiple colors. Ask the students to write a positive saying or reminder notices. For example, “you can do this”, or “bring a pencil”. (I recommend that you allow ESL students to write in their native language as this adds a multicultural dimension to the board.) Recommend in your note to the teacher that a bulletin board be covered in black paper. In the center, write (or preferably die cut) the words, “TAKE WHAT YOU NEED”. Then, stick the inspirational and reminder notices around the words. You and the students will have created a colorful, interactive bulletin board and your thoughtfulness will have saved the classroom teacher hours of work. In a short time, students will be pulling the sticky notes off the board, handing them to each other, and using them to leave themselves reminders!

By learning the rules, using student names, following the lesson plans, and remaining flexible you will enhance the learning experience for students, increase the chances of being requested again, and survive one of the most difficult but rewarding jobs in America – substitute teaching! For more tips on becoming a professional substitute educator or to learn about SubFinder, our app designed for professional substitute educators, contact us.

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