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A Surprisingly Effective Tool for Substitutes

My wife is a very accomplished teacher with a doctorate in health sciences and the equivalent in education, so when she made a suggestion at the beginning of my substitute teaching career, I took note. Her suggestion was that I put together a brief PowerPoint presentation about my life, particularly those things in my life that my students might find interesting and unusual. She has taught overseas on several occasions and knows the powerful effect such a presentation can have. Rather than just looking like a substitute who is there to collect a paycheck, you create a three-dimensional character for yourself that your students can identify with.

Still, I didn’t know how such a presentation would be accepted here in the classrooms where I worked. I put the presentation together wondering if it would ever be used. When I was finished I promised myself that I would use it if, and when, the opportunity ever presented itself. The day finally did come along several weeks later. I was teaching at a middle school and the way the schedule was written, there was plenty of time for the presentation and the tools to show it were easily accessible.

I quickly went through the slides showing where I have lived (three different continents), some of my interests (I have a very broad range of interests) and some of the things that make my family unique (my oldest son is deaf, my middle son had just got married and my daughter was a cheerleader at a nearby high school.) The whole thing took me less than five minutes to show and yet, at the end of it, and to my great astonishment, I got applause.

Buoyed by the support of that class I showed it to the next and the next and the next. As a matter of fact, I got applause in every class where I showed it. I began to show it at other schools and while I didn’t always get applause, everyone who saw it seemed to appreciate it. Some weeks later I was subbing in a high school and after the class a student came up to tell me that the day before their substitute had been a professional baseball player, but, he wanted me to know; I was cooler than that guy!

How can my rather mundane life possibly compare to that of a professional athlete? On most levels it can’t, but that is not what is important here. What this student was responding to was the fact that he was able to see me as a real person with many of the same challenges he and his peer’s face.

I will admit, this is not the presentation I would use to try to get a job. It is simply a fairly straightforward look at who I am as a person. Since those first days I have had the chance to show it to every age group from kindergarten to high school seniors and all have appreciated it. One of the bonuses of showing it is that it quickly earned me the reputation for being one of the cool teachers. That doesn’t mean I have compromised my standards; I suspect the rigor I try to apply in the classroom is tougher than most other subs, and yet I have this reputation that allows me to be tough and still be considered ‘cool.’

I now recommend this to all the subs I meet. Just a few pictures, an illustration or two, and if you can, work in a few jokes, especially if they are at your own expense. I end mine with a review of bathroom and emergency procedures so that showing it has some real value. (Hard for the staff to complain when you are including emergency protocols.) Just be sure to keep it under five minutes; under three if you can. That way no one can complain you are wasting valuable class time. Aside from that, give it a go. See if your results aren’t at least as good as mine. And if you find something that works better, please let me know so I can try it too.