Thursday, January 31, 2013

Dear Substitute Teaching 101


Dear Substitute Teaching 101,

You were never a course on my official transcripts.  Having become a teacher first, you'd think that I'd know how to be a substitute teacher.  Well, it turns out that substitute teaching--although similar to a regular teaching position--has its own special quirks.

In my few months of substitute teaching, I've been in classrooms all over our district in several different grade levels and positions.  Although I prefer primary grades, I am gearing myself to step into the classrooms of older children.  I must say that I have had very positive experiences thus far; there have been no disasters or mishaps to scar deter me from this freshman period of the re-entrance into my professional life.  But I have seen some commonalities about this job in the children that I teach.  Here is my list of #TopTen Field Notes from a Substitute. 

10.  A substitute has no leverage.  Being in charge for those few hours or a day hardly makes a sub have any real sort of authority.  Sure, most kids will listen to your requests and oblige to your commands, but if a child does not want to listen, there is very little that can be done since there will be no follow-up the next day.  One could leave a note for the teacher, but one is fully aware that oftentimes it could reflect unfavorably upon oneself as "a weak sub."  #DoAsISayOrElse?

9.  A substitute will be asked--no fewer times than the number of children in the classroom--the question, "may I get a drink of water?" as if the world's supply of potable water will cease the very next day.  Furthermore, imagine this as the most volatile chain reaction that chemists have ever seen: think nuclear fissions brought about by one unassuming initiating neutron.  Or, alternatively, think #WhackAMole

8.  Subsequently, if those children did in fact drink all that precious water they claimed they needed, the next obvious question to attack the sub like a swarm of bees--literally and figuratively--would surely be: "may I use the washroom?"  #YouWentFiveMinutesAgo

7.  There exists a staff member in the school more popular than Santa Claus himself: the nurse.  "May I go see the nurse?" is such a popular phrase for subs that you'd think the nurse's job is to pass out candy to children who go visit her during school hours.  #NoYouDon'tNeedABandaidForThatMicroscopicCut

6.  Some children excel in slow motion and big smiles.  When a substitute teacher is given a schedule by which to follow for the day, one minds that schedule.  Except when one child holds the class back because he takes forever and a day to change into gym shoes.  And when you're just about to "chop-chop" the kid, he gives you the biggest smile to forcefully make you swallow whatever was coming out of your mouth right back down where it came from.  #WorkItSmiley

5.  A substitute will be able to spot The Angel of the class within 30 minutes of being in the classroom (if the teacher has not already written the child's name in the sub plans).  The Angel will be the sub's Right Hand Man for the entirety of the day.  These children are Life Savers; they know everything and anything there is to know about the school day and do all the right things.  #MyBFFForTheDay

4.  By the same token, for every Angel, there exists a demon challenging child that knows just exactly how to push your buttons.  This is the child that will throw everything from inside her desk onto the floor and claim she is cleaning it out--just before a test.  Or the one who takes twenty minutes to copy down one sentence from the board because that speck on the floor reminds him of the food particle stuck between his dog's teeth.  Or the child who has ignored everything you've said in the last ten minutes because the hidden-from-your-view book he's not supposed to be reading is far more exciting than the instructions you are giving for the assignment.  #DoYouWannaGoSeeTheNurse?

3. Then there's always the "But our teachers says..."  To which I want to reply, "Well, I've got a working brain inside my head that sits upon a strong pair of shoulders from which good judgement originates."  But instead, I work my own ginormous Smiley and simply say #IAmYourTeacherToday.

2.  And don't forget I come with tricks up my sleeves prepared.  My quid pro quo skills match any antics thrown my way, and I, too, can charm my way around the class with a twinkle in my eye.  At least until the end of the day.  #DaylightComeAndMeWannaGoHome

1.  Children do remember.  These short term interactions with children are not nearly as emotionally rewarding as a regular teacher's gains.  But even then, when I pass by a class of kids whom I taught over a month ago for one day, and the children say hello to me as if they've seen me every day since that one day, it's a return that keeps the flame lit and burning.  #TheyLikeMeTheyReallyReallyLikeMe

So, Dear Substitute Teaching 101, these are the notes that I took, not for your course, but in-the-field and on-the-job.  I'm thankful that I haven't lost any children to the washroom, made anyone become dehydrated from extreme thirst, or caused any child's significant blood lost from being denied of bandage access.  It always helps to have an extra radar on for eccentric children who may have special needs in certain areas.  And, usually, an extra dose of Patience and wearing a Big Smile usually make a day easier and more worthwhile.  Substitute teaching is certainly anything but ordinary or mundane.

Sincerely,
Me

17 comments:

  1. Hahaha, you have such a good attitude about substitute teaching. I will never forget when we first moved to Boston and I was in one of the first few weeks of middle school. We had a substitute teacher calling out role and got to my name. She stumbled. And then a boy from the back of the room yelled at me, "Awww, c'mon Bertha, tell her your real name!" For whatever reason, it utterly confused the sub and she wasn't quite sure whether my name was Bertha or not. =)

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    1. Oh, poor Nilsa! It's ok. Teachers never knew how to pronounce Yung Hua, my official name growing up. I'd always be like "here" because I knew I came after the same kid. Hehe.

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    2. Hi, Nilsa, that's EXACTLY the sort of thing I mean when it is hard to be a sub. It can be hard to tell who's fibbing at first, but I guess one can eventually figure it out. But I always do make a point to learn how to pronounce a name and apologize when I say it incorrectly! :)

      I guess have to have a good attitude about it, or else I'd never continue take jobs, right? Thanks for visiting!

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  2. You are brave and patient and all. My in-laws have been teachers for a long long time and have all sorts of horror and inspiring stories too.

    I guess you are getting prepared thoroughly for your eventual return to full-time teaching. All the best, Sandra. :-)

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    1. Imelda, this is definitely a wonderful stepping stone to that eventual return. I'm actually thinking that this is really great until the kids are older and I'm fully ready to return. This still allows me to be a mom and take care of extracurricular activities, and so doable since my DH has flexible work location depending on his projects. I'm just a little scared because everything has gone so well that I'm kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop... :) Thanks for reading!

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  3. Not being able to have authority or follow-up must be so frustrating. Remember the Miss Nelson books? Saw it in the library and totally reminded me of my childhood. LOL on being able to spot the angel, but I doubt it takes 10 min ;). And of course someone is going to say "but teacher says", hahaha. Oh the joys you must experience repeatedly! Oh my gosh! And how nice that children remember you even though you only met them for a day. Isn't that just wonderful! It's amazing how J remembers his daycare teachers from when he was 16 mos old because who knew what he knew then? He didn't speak!

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    1. Yes, even young children have great memory; it's just hard to tell since they cannot communicate verbally. I've read that youngsters at 2-3 can remember events well within the past 18 months!

      The authority issue is only frustrating when a child "gets out of hand," but that usually indicates a more serious behavior issue or special needs requirement. The good thing is when the day's over, it's out of my hands, so I try to make good of it while it's still in my hands. :) Thanks, Lisa!

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  4. This is such a great post, Sandra! I was a substitute teacher in the Life I Had Before This One,and After my Stint in the World of Editorial Newspaper Reporting and doing freelance work for a greeting card company. I also worked in Special Education full time for a few years, Before I Had to go on Medical Leave for my High Risk Pregnancy with my Darling Daughter...I am a jack of all trades, master of none you see...
    Alas...*sigh* I never went back. I did love subbing,and the money is great for the work, and I in a sense enjoyed not being TOTALLY responsible and COMPLETELY to blame for the future of America's youth. You know, these parents sometimes like to blame this teacher or that teacher and subbing for different grade levels in different schools kept things exciting, to say the least. Special Ed was very difficult for me, for two reasons: One: I want to save EVERYONE. Two: I had a very, very hard time leaving my own child at home crying and banging on the front door( I had a sitter come to my home when my firstborn was very young) and heading out to such emotionally exhausting work.

    Thanks for sharing this, I am so happy for you, you seem to really be enjoying your venture back into the Real World!!
    XOXO

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    1. Kim! Wow, you really are a jack of all trades! I had no idea you were a substitute in a prior lifetime!? :) (I had once been in the world of science laboratories where I *made* transgenic and chimeric mice! So vastly different from what I know and do now. Thought I'd mention it since we're sharing...)

      Gosh, I totally agree with everything you said: subbing all over keeps things exciting, and I'm learning quite a lot passively by doing just that. There's SO MUCH I don't know about a class/school for that one day, so I'm always afraid that something might go wrong, but teachers and staff have been very supportive. I can see how SpEd would be so, so difficult. All SpEd teachers are saints in my book. It must be so emotionally draining day in and day out.

      Really, it has been so nice to be out of the home, interacting with other children and adults, and actually doing something that contributes somewhat to somewhere. The only downside is I have MUCH less time to think about blogging and actually writing. Something has to give, and I can't exactly cut out the mothering and the home-making... :)

      You know I always appreciate your comments, Kim. Thanks for the chit-chat! xoxo

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    2. Totally off the point of the post but chimeric mice? That is so freaking cool.

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    3. Definitely cool, Cindy! They are made from injecting stem cells into blastocysts (3-4 day old fertilized eggs), and the newly incorporated genetic material show up in parts of their bodies, so you can see, for example, different colored patches of fur! But yes, that was like a lifetime ago. I'm sort of squeamish about mice now, and I didn't even bat an eye to them before. :)

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  5. Teaching is a difficult job, but I think substitute teachers have it rough. I do like your attitude, though. I think of some of the poor substitute teachers from my junior high days and I just cringe. Some of those kids were just horrible. And the subs that came in "tough" like drill sergeants...well, many of them were broken by the time the day was up. I also remember the few who walked away unscathed, mainly due to their ability to not come in bossy, but still hold their own.

    I'm sure you do make an impact on the kids (even if they don't come right out and tell you :))

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    1. Janna, I think I am of the "push over" variety of subs. I say that only because I find it so hard to say no to kid when they give me a huge grin. But, of course, there are limits and I'm well aware of classroom rules and such. I also have memories of junior high subs that were nearly in tears by the time the day ended, and the kids were so mean to them. My philosophy is not to treat fire with more fire (comparable to your example of drill sergeants), but find solutions that children can understand and accept.

      I actually do look forward to the chance to teaching classes I have taught before. I think that will be very interesting for both the kids and myself! Thank you for reading, as always!

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  6. Sounds like you and m friends could swap stories. I don't know how substitute teachers do it. My kids usually complain when they have had one for the day... there are a few they really like but most of them they'd much rather just leave.

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    1. Hi, Susi! I'm sorry to hear that--I know some subs are either old school or new to teaching. I absolutely cherish this new job because I can do something I really love and still be able to have flexibility for my own family. And it helps SO MUCH to get positive feedback from the students, so I'm sticking with this! Thanks so much for reading!

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  7. Ahhh... I see you've taught both my children. I have both a #4 and a #5. Though my #4 really wants to be a #5 and can be some days.... Do teachers really leave the names of kids with info on them? I'm intrigued!

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    1. Haha, Michelle, children can be both #4s and #5s depending on location and time of day--my own kiddos prove that theory to be true! As for names of kids--I've had teachers verbally tell me the names of children to ask if I had any questions. No one has written any names in sub plans (a little exaggeration on my part up there). If I see the teachers in person, they usually volunteer a few more details about the kids in their classes--even when I don't ask--which I do find helpful.

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