Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Substitute Teaching So Far

I've been subbing for about five months now. So far, mostly in my old school, because that is who calls me almost on a daily basis. I bet I could sub there for the rest of the year with no problem, but I do want to explore a bit beyond the school, to try out other ages, other school cultures. 

As for survival tips, I'm still working on it. Here are some things I've noticed so far:
Future Middle Schooler
  • Having an "in" with other teachers, familiarity with the school, and knowledge of some of the kids goes a long, long way! Knowing the names of the administrators, adults in charge of discipline, and little details of the school is like knowing a secret handshake. One thing I do to impress them is pick up the phone and dial the "turn-around" room or the library. 
  • Learning names quickly is crucial. Luckily, I'm good at learning and then forgetting these names as needed.
  • There are tricks you must know that a regular teacher doesn't need, like standing near the door at the end of the last period, so that kids don't leave early because you will have a hard time identifying and calling them back in. 
  • Sadly, one of the more effective maneuvers is a bit harsh. If I set a clear expectation and it is immediately clear that they don't take it seriously, I will choose the most obvious culprit and consequence him or her fairly publicly. This shows others that you mean it. I have tried the private conversation warnings about the consequences, but in some classes, they are really just testing you to see if you're serious. So you have to be. Fortunately, if the class doesn't start out by testing (and many classes who either have very clear structure or strong engagement with their teacher won't do this), then often, more private conversations will be more effective. 
  • All of this being said, starting out positive and ignoring some attention getting attempts will go a long way. Recognizing the behavior you are asking for by thanking those who are doing it, using the school-created rewards like shrocks, is great, too. 
  • It has been said that as a sub, you will be defined by first 30 seconds/ ten words you say. Finding the balance between starting out loud and strict and starting out positive and kind is something that requires a great deal of flexibility. I have not mastered this. I have frequently found myself standing quietly in front of a class, giving a signal for quiet (or having asked loudly for quiet) and thought "how will they ever even know whether I can teach if they won't even quiet down long enough for me to begin?" And usually, I have spent the next 55 minutes trying various methods to get and keep their attention, mostly in vain. Luckily, not all of the classes are like this. 
  • Obviously, kids who will take advantage of you will try to do so no matter how awesome you know you are. You've got to have thick skin. I've been waiting to use the philosophy of "the way you choose treat people is who you are. What you do is a big part of who you are." Not sure how it will go because middle school is a bit immature for that idea, and some people DO want to be seen this way. 
  • Avoid power struggles as much as possible. This is the biggest one for me, because as a regular classroom teacher I took the time to call kids on their behavior and hold them accountable (for the most part). As a sub, sometimes you just have to put it off on the classroom teacher. In the best circumstances, the classroom teacher will follow up in the most appropriate way for that student, or let it go, but it's sort of an "out" for the sub because it means you're not ignoring the behavior, just putting the consequence on hold, and in a way that feels uncertain, which is good for troublemakers.
  • So much of this work is about boundaries. That is true for all of teaching, but as a sub, it's a little trickier, because there is less support for you. Mostly it's about being superduper clear with students about your boundaries, and showing them that you mean it. S
  • It's also about boundaries with adults. Yesterday I visited an elementary school to express my interest in volunteering for a day or so to get comfortable with the different pace and schedule of an elementary school. I was offering free support in exchange for peace of mind. This morning the principal called me, desperate for a sub. She didn't care about the fact that I wasn't as comfortable with the elementary school system and that it would be an adjustment. Of course, it's not a big deal, but I'm not desperate for the work, so I choose to do it in a way that makes me the most successful. From an administrator's perspective, a sub is a body in the room who can keep things from being too dangerous. They aren't concerned as much with whether you have a good day, are unsure of the expectations, or are treated terribly by a few students. In their eyes, that's just part of being a sub. And it is. But setting boundaries can lessen the days you come home feeling beaten to a pulp. 
  • It's good perspective to be on this side, because as a teacher, I have had similar thoughts on subs. I can remember, after a day I was gone and my students weren't kind to the sub, I felt bad for a while, and then I had to let it go and focus on the relationships at hand. Some kids just do poorly with an unfamiliar authority figure. Hopefully, at the end of all of this, I will have a clear idea of how to set my classes up for success with a sub, for everyone's sake. 
  • Any teachers or subs out there who want to give me some tips? I can definitely use them. I have to say, it sure is nice to really be done at the end of the day, and to just not work when I don't feel the need to--a nice reprieve from the exhausting work of full-time teaching.