How to Survive Substitute Teaching
Substitute teaching is a tough job. Many people substitute teach to add to their income and while it is a great source of money, you need to be prepared.
During my time as a teacher, I have seen many guest teachers come into our building thinking that this is going to be just like babysitting or like the business world. Unfortunately, they end up having the shock of their lives. Working in a school setting is nothing like babysitting or working for a company. Children are not employees and they often will challenge your authority as a substitute teacher. I have even seen guest teachers leave halfway through the day in tears. So how can you make your experience as a substitute both positive and rewarding and even want to come back?
Preparation is the key.
If you have never set foot in a classroom since your days of attending school, you would be surprised at how much has changed. No longer do children sit at their desks all day silent while the teacher disseminates information to them. Here are some tips to prepare for your substitute teaching experience.
- Make a visit to the school ahead of time. Ask if you can spend a little bit of time in a school or classroom where you plan to guest teach. This way you are already familiar with the climate of the building and some general procedures of the school.
- Prepare your secret weapon! When I substitute taught after I finished my teaching degree, I brought with me a bag. Inside of my bag I had many activities that the kids would enjoy doing when they finished their work. These things included coloring books and crayons, quiz games, bingo games, books to read to the class, and prizes for great behavior. The prizes were little things like dollar store toys or candy.
Management of the Class
Although you are not a babysitter while substitute teaching, the safety of your students are primary. If you do not have control of your class as a substitute, there is a greater chance than someone will get hurt. So how do you keep all 30 (sometimes more) students doing what they are supposed to do?
- Your goodie bag! Show some of your treats or prizes and make a deal. Let them know that if the class can get through the math lesson, then you will take a break and play a game. Or that if no one has to be put on a "list for poor behavior" then you can pick a prize at the end of the day.
- Don't yell. Even if you feel like the students have gotten the best of you and you are losing control, don't yell. Take a deep breath and count to ten. So often guest teachers feel like they are losing control of the situation and resort to yelling at the class. I promise you that this will not help. Try your best to stay calm. If you yell, the students will just talk louder over you. Practice ahead of time what your signal for students will be. Will it be counting to five, hand in the air if you can hear me, etc. If you have thought about this before this happens, then it will not be as overwhelming when you are in the midst of things.
- Get a helper.There is always one or two students that are the ring leaders. Enlist them to your cause. Don't go for the obvious "good kid." That challenging child is the one that is going to make or break your time in that classroom. Give that child a job like "showing you around" or passing out papers or anything that you can think of. This will make that child feel important and he or she will cue the others to lay off of you.
- Have a backup plan. Although I am always prepared for a guest teacher to walk into my room (complete with lesson plans, procedures, seating chart, etc.) not all classroom teachers are as thorough. So how will you get through this teaching assignment if you have no sub plans left for you? Or if you don't know the students names? Having a plan in place ahead of time to address these unexpected situations will help your day to go more smoothly.
As you embark on substitute teaching remember that children are still people. If you treat them with respect they will in turn treat you with respect. If you make your leadership in the classroom about power and authority, it will backfire on you and they will make your day much more difficult than it needs to be. If you anticipate what your day may be like and prepare ahead of time, you will have a great experience. Most of all, relax and enjoy yourself. Remember, you will make some mistakes along the way, especially in the beginning. That's ok but just like the students, learn from them and do better next time!