How to Earn Respect as a Substitute Teacher
You've gotten your first 5:00 am wake up call from the Substitute Teacher Coordinator in your school district. You've showered, eaten a good breakfast and are on your way to your first sub job, nervously wondering what the day has in store for you. If you are lucky and are a retired teacher or a new teacher looking for a job, then this article probably isn't for you because you already know how to earn respect from students. But, if you are like me and you don't have a teaching degree and are substitute teaching to earn some extra money, then you'll want to keep reading.
Substitute teaching is a thankless job, but has its merits. Substitute Teachers have the flexibility to decline jobs when they don't feel like going in. They also have the opportunity to work almost full-time since there is always a demand for them. If you are in a particular school all the time, the staff and children get to know you and that makes for a more comfortable situation. The pay is not horrible and for stay-at-home mothers like me, you can usually get your children on the bus in the morning and off the bus in the afternoon.
As a Substitute Teacher, you have to learn to deal with all sorts of situations. You'll encounter helpful children and you'll meet students that will make you want to head out the door before the first bell has even rung. Although rare, you may work with staff that really has no patience for you and is not willing to help you out.
The bottom line is that students of any age are not always easy to deal with. One of the best ways to get through your day as a Substitute Teacher is to be able to gain their respect. I have been substitute teaching for 3 years now and I have found that there are many ways to earn respect. Hopefully these methods will help you too.
Unless you get the call 5 minutes before classes are scheduled to start, try to arrive at least 15 minutes early. This extra time gives you a moment to greet the office staff, get to know the teachers in the rooms around you, find your classroom and go through any materials that the teacher may have left for you. It also gives you time to go over seating charts and schedules so you have an idea of what the day ahead is going to be like.
Learn the names of the students in your classroom
This might seem difficult when there are 25 students in the class, but learning their names goes a long way in earning their respect. No one wants to be referred to as "you, in the blue shirt..". It is easier in elementary school when the children are with the teacher throughout most of the day. In middle school and high school a seating chart can usually be found in the substitute teacher handbook in the classroom.
Come Prepared for any Situation
You may not always know what surprises the day will hold so always bring a tote bag or satchel with some extra materials. You never want to be fumbling around in the desk for a pen or a paperclip. It is distracting and gives the impression that you do not know what you are doing.
It also helps to bring along some fun worksheets for various ages in case the teacher was not able to leave a lesson plan for you. Quite often a substitute will be moved from one class to another if a need arises. Always throw a change of clothes into your car in case you are moved over to teach Physical Education. You don't want to play volleyball with a class dressed in nice slacks and top.
Be Firm and Fair
From the start, let the classroom know what kind of behavior is expected from them and what the consequences will be if the behavior is not acceptable. Some substitute teachers have a laminated behavior and consequences sheet that they present to the class. Remember that the students know that you will probably only be in class for one day so the rules should not be so detailed and strict that they cannot or will not follow them.
It's also a good idea to let the students know what their schedule for the day is or, in the case of upper grades, what the schedule for the hour will be. Adhere to that schedule. If the lesson plans you received are not complete or don't use up all of the allotted time, let the students quietly read a book or, if they are younger, play a game.
Be flexible, but be consistent and follow up on anything you've said you will do.
Suggested Reading for the Substitute Teacher
Jeans and an old t-shirt are not appropriate. You will garner more respect if you come in dressed professionally and also age and class appropriate. A dress or dress pants and blouse or shirt is a good bet. Also, wear comfortable shoes since you may be walking throughout the day. If you are scheduled to teach P.E., then wear a sporty outfit and tennis shoes so that you'll be able to join in.
Don't walk into a classroom like a Drill Sergeant or with an obvious "I couldn't care less" attitude. The students will automatically pick up on this and any respect that you may have hoped to gain will never come your way.
Let them know you enjoy being there with them. Sometimes that is a lot easier said than done, but it will pay off in the long run.
At the end of the day...
You are going to have good days and you are going to have bad days as a Substitute Teacher. There will be times when you really bond with a class and there will be times when you just want to scream and tear your hair out. With some training, common sense and these suggestions, you will be on your way to earning respect as a Substitute Teacher.
© 2012 Claudia Mitchell