New Substitute Teacher Cheat Sheet

24 Apr

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After you have jumped through the necessary hoops to get certified as a substitute teachers (in my state that means a background check, college transcripts, fingerprinting and an all-too-brief orientation) you will be, according to the school board you are to be working with, prepared to fill in for a real teacher. Au contraire! If you are new to the teaching profession you are likely in for a shock. Unlike your own children, your students are likely to see your instructions as a rude interruption in their social calendars and will do all they can to resist you at every turn. Your pleas for compliance, your begging them to do this for their own good, will go completely unheeded and unappreciated. No matter how well meaning your intentions, you will be thrown a gauntlet you must accept.

In many ways, substitutes have it easy over the teachers they replace. They don’t have the endless meetings, the planning, the form filling, or the parent meetings. But in another way they are at a serious disadvantage. Every student knows that in a day, or at most a week, the sub will be gone and may never be seen or heard from again. For that reason they feel free to take advantage of the situation and do as they please. (Many of you will remember this from your own school days.) Maintaining classroom discipline can, therefore, become a monumental challenge. The only bright spot to this scenario is that if you can master classroom discipline as a sub, transitioning those skills to a full time position will be a breeze.

So what is a sub to do? Here are some simple strategies to help you get and maintain classroom discipline:

  • Know the discipline procedures for your school board: I hate giving out referrals but there are times when it is necessary. The other day I gave one to a young lady who had gone out of her way to earn it and sent her to the office with it. She was back ten minutes later as insolent as ever and nothing more was done. I suspected, and later confirmed, that she never made it to the office with the form; she trashed it. In discussing the incident with the guidance counselor I learned to important points: 1) never send the referral with the person who is being referred, and 2) send the referrals to the dean’s office not the front office. My mistake, I’ll know better nest time.
  • Get students on task as soon as possible: One of the teachers I worked for had an assignment on the board that she called a “bell ringer.” It was an assignment that could be completed in about five minutes that kept the students bust while I took role. I was amazed at how effective it was and made it a regular part of my routine. If the teacher doesn’t have a bell ringer, I bring one of my own. Truth is, one of the most important things you can do to maintain class discipline is to get students on task early and keep them there through the entire class.
  • Never lose your cool: I was standing outside a classroom the other day when I could hear a teacher down the hall yelling, “What is your name, young man?” again and again. The tone of his voice told me this teacher was exasperated and everyone in the hall knew it. I couldn’t see the teacher but a could see students that were not far from the scene. It was as if you could see them losing respect for this teacher. Never, never, never ever do this. You are the professional and if you can’t maintain discipline over yourself, you will never get it from your students. Promise yourself now that you will never raise your voice, and then keep that promise. Yes, there will be times when you need to get everyone’s attention and for those times I carry a secret weapon: a coach’s whistle. Kids come preprogrammed to respond to a whistle and a short blast nearly always does the trick.
  • Bring filler material: Most school boards require teachers to prepare lesson plans in advance, so you should have instructions when you arrive. However, the plans don’t always fit the time allotted. Look online and you will find hundreds, if not thousands, of sources of word searches, mazes, games, puzzles and more. Having a number of these handy, arranged by grade level and the amount of time required to complete them can go a long way toward making you look like a pro.
  • Whatever you do, don’t get discouraged: I was in a class the other day where the teacher had mounted a poster of a little boy holding a baseball bat and standing in a major league ball park. Beneath the photo were the words, “Remember, no matter how good someone is now, they were once a rookie, just like you.” Those words are as true for teachers and substitutes as they are for any other profession. It takes time to master your craft and until you do, there will be days that will test you to the core.

Posted by on April 24, 2013 in Teaching as a Profession


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2 responses to “New Substitute Teacher Cheat Sheet

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