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Substitute Teaching and Classroom Management, I Suppose....

Updated on January 8, 2014
wingedcentaur profile image

The first step is to know what you do not know. The second step is to ask the right questions. I reserve the right to lean on my ignorance.


Good Day Farmer Brown!

Thank you for the question: "As a substitute teacher, what is your favorite way of winning over your class?" I'm a substitute teacher, specializing in elementary school, which, for me, means pre-k through fourth grade. I prefer dealing with the younger children with all their exuberance! The youngsters are a disciplinary challenge, but in a different way. There is no air of defiance in their inability to sit still.

I find that this is the age (pre-k - fourth grade) where student enthusiasm for learning is at its most innocently intense. The curiosity and creativity is at its highest level... before the cynicism and apathy sets in.... Sorry, I'm being maudlin.

Anyway, I do enjoy being a substitute. I like the variety, going to different schools, doing different things. I can fill in for a teacher proper. I can fill in for what's called, in my area, a paraprofessional or paraeducator ("para" for short), which is another word for teacher's aide. I can fill in for the school librarian. I can fill in for the art teacher. I can fill in for the gym teacher. And I have done all of those things.

I enjoy having a broad awareness of the staff and student body at various schools. I find it gratifying to be able to walk into one of the schools on my "beat" in the morning, and have a bunch of children say "Hi, Mr. Thomas!" (that's my name, William Thomas). I find it gratifying to be known by so many (all of whose names I had never had a chance to master), and apparently, be well thought by them.

They remember me from times long ago, when I filled in for their regular teachers, and they retained fond memories of the experience. I flatter myself in saying that 98% of the time this is so, I and my young charges part ways at the end of the day, both believing the experience had been a very positive one. There's the other two percent, but nothing's 100% in life, is it? By the way, just as a sidenote, let me say that I do not usually write hubs in which the words "I" and "me" appear so often, or at all.

At any rate, Farmer Brown, your question is about what kinds of things I do (presumably by way of seeking advice on such an upcoming endeavor this fall?) to win over a class, as a substitute who's literally here today, gone and somewhere else tomorrow.

Now, my "advice," if it can be called that, will only be applicable to elementary school children (which, for me, means pre-k - fourth grade). Possibly, what I about to say might be stretched to be workable for fifth grade Language Arts and Social Studies, but not fifth and sixth grade science and definitely not fifth and sixth grade Math. By the way, in my area, fifth and sixth grade is also, technically, considered elementary school.

What I'm about to say, in my opinion, is not going to be useful for what we call middle school, seventh and eighth grade; and its REALLY not going to be useful for high school, for us, ninth through twelfth grade.

Now, I wonder if the situation is similar in most American districts, but in my area, a substitute placed in elementary school (pre-k throught 4th grade, and fifth and sixth grade Social Studies and Language Arts) has to be able to teach. The teacher leaves a lesson plan with assignments the students are to complete and homework to be given out, but the substitute has to provide instruction. You can't just sit there and say "do this and do that." The sub has to guide the students through the work just as the regular teacher would, if she were there.

In fifth and sixth grade math and science, and then every grade after that, a substitute doesn't really need to know how to teach. That's because, at that level, you just walk in and hand out the worksheets their teacher left for them, make sure they're working on them, or at least pretending to, and make sure they're quiet.

But I like to be busy when I'm at work. I don't want to do a "Homer Simpson," where I exert myself precisely to the extent of deciding between the glazed or jelly donuts.

One day I had a miserable time of it. I filled in for a sixth grade math teacher. The only thing he left for me to "do" was hand out a couple of worksheets to each of the periods that came in. Tha's it! He left nothing else for me to do, no instruction to give. I, of course, offered to provide any help I could on a one-on-one basis for any who wanted it, but mostly I sat around and twiddled my thumbs.

The class predictably got rowdy, but I wasn't comfortable disciplining them. I never felt like I had a justifiable claim on their obedience since I wasn't doing anything for them, I wasn't there to teach them anything. This is why I like to keep to the lower grades where I have to work!

Is he going to answer the question now?

Having said that, having established those parameters let me say that "winning over the class," as you say, Farmer Brown, is quite right. As a substitute you're going into a specific class, perhaps for the first and last time for a very long time. Therefore one has a very short window of opportunity in a mere six and a half hour day, to establish rapport, win their trust, and accomplish all that their absent regular teacher needs you to accomplish with them.

What do I do?

First of all, I like kids. I like to think this fact comes across when I first meet the class, before I've done anything or said a word. I smile at them. I want to reassure them that I am pleased to be with them today, everything's going to be alright, they're in good hands with me, I know what I'm doing.

I'm always intrigued with the décor of the classroom. Seeing how a second grade classroom is decorated brings back memories, some of them pleasant. I'm always checking out the literature on the bookshelves, you know, to see what they're reading. I know that what I'm saying doesn't sound like much "on paper," but each person ultimately has to develop his or her own approach. Basically, I just show that I'm interested in them.

I admit, my routine is part artifice, but the sentiment isn't. There's a couple of corny one-liners I usually do. I'll stand up in front of the class and say, "So, what grade is this?" I already know perfectly well, of course. The student will all shout out, "Second!!!" Then I'll say, "Oh, you're getting up there. You'll be ready to retire soon."

I know.... corny. But if there is at least one other adult in the room, I may get a half chuckle out of her.

There's another thing I do. Its not exactly a one-liner. Its more of a skit, I suppose. For me, it will be hopeless to try to master all of the names of more than twenty students in one day. So, I go the other way! I will deliberately refer to the students by different names. I may refer to one student by five different names in five minutes! That's actually not an exaggeration, and I'll keep that up all day. I will either keep to convntional names or make up goofy but non-insulting names. I know that doesn't sound like much on paper, but the kids seem to have fun with it.

An important thing to remember is that twenty-five third graders are not going to behave as angelically for you, the substitute, as they will for their regular teacher (who, herself, is going to occasionally have disciplinary problems with them) -- no matter what you do or how you yell at them. You have to understand this very clearly and be at peace with it.

If not, you're going to waste a lot of time and give yourself an ulcer!

Ta-Ta! Thank you for reading.

Let's go out with this....


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    • wingedcentaur profile imageAUTHOR

      William Thomas 

      7 years ago from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things!

      You are more than welcome, Farmer Brown. And you have exactly the right attitude: "... hoping to help, have fun, and teach a little something along the way."

      Precisely! You should do well. Good Luck to you.

      Take it easy.

    • Farmer Brown profile image

      Farmer Brown 

      7 years ago

      Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and experience in this subject. I'm on the sub-list for the county, and it is amazing to me how sometimes I have fantastic chemistry with a class - and other times, not so much. Your words are encouraging to those of us who step into a classroom for just a moment - hoping to help, have fun, and teach a little something along the way.

    • wingedcentaur profile imageAUTHOR

      William Thomas 

      7 years ago from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things!

      Thanks, Anna. I have never been strong in math myself. That is yet another reason I prefer to work in the lower grades, pre-k through 4th grade, where the math is at such a rudimentary level that I can easily cope with it.

      It might not have been so bad -- this 6th grade math class -- if the teacher had only left a lesson plan!

      Anyway, I'm glad you enjoyed the hub.

      Thanks again.

      Take it easy.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Interesting!I remember having substitutes and thinking back I now understand the teachers who just handed out what the regular teacher left and the others. I do recall though having a math substitute that I wished knew math,this person did not have a clue and said so, and told us who needed help we had to wait until our teacher returned. Funny how things from the past come back so clearly. I was never strong in math and I needed someone in the classroom who could help. How far do districts go to try to math substitute skills to a particular subject? When I became a teachers aid about 20 years ago, I sometimes had to monitor the class until the substitute showed up. I heard a couple teachers whom had their own database of substitutes they would contact directly regarding availability and then go thru the school/district channel to complete the process. Good Hub. I am also happy to learn something else new and interesting about one of my favorite hubbers. Voted this up, useful and interesting


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