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Your First Day As a Substitute Teacher

After jumping through the hoops necessary to become a substitute teacher, some school boards put new subs through some sort of orientation and training. (Many offer no training at all.) However, those that do have training tend to prove to be woefully inadequate to prepare you for the job ahead. There is a very good chance that after the first day of subbing you will wish you had been better prepared. With that in mind, let’s look at your number one priority as a sub and what you can do to prepare for it.

We all remember what it was like when we had a substitute teacher in school; it was a license to play. The teacher would leave an assignment but we would do everything in out power to keep from doing any of the work. It was a license to play and we did all we could to take advantage of the situation. The bad news is, nothing has changed. Students still see substitutes as an opportunity to play, goof off and create as much mischief as possible. Therefore, the first thing you are likely to learn is that if you can’t manage your class noting will be learned.

In these days of high stakes testing, schools cannot afford to let a day slip by. Studies at Utah State have shown that during the years from kindergarten to high school graduation the average student is under the tutelage of a substitute for the equivalent of a year. That’s too much time for schools to let slip by. True, many teacher will do the minimum by giving you a movie to show the kids, but if you are able to prove that you can actually teach you will find you are in great demand in classrooms all over your county.

For these reasons, your first and most important duty is to learn how to manage your classroom and that typically means doing a little research before you get started. The first thing you need to know is what your school’s policy is dealing with disruptive kids in your classroom. Usually there is a graduated plan of some sort that starts with a verbal reprimand, then moving the student to another desk, then, if the behavior continues, sending them to a neighboring teachers classroom, and finally, referring them to the dean or behavioral resource teacher.

Long practice has taught me that it is wise to begin this process as early as possible, and not put them off as a last resort. Behavioral problems escalate quickly and are best handled by nipping them in the bud. If, by your actions, students get the impression that you are permissive and unlikely to take action and you will quickly have a problem too big to manage alone. Conversely, if your start out too strict, you can always loosen up as time goes on.

Remember, it is not your job to make friends with these students. Your job is to teach for a day and you can’t do that if you have behavior problems in the class. One of the things I have found interesting when I have an especially disruptive student, is that after I send them out of the room I will often hear someone say “Thank You” in a barely audible voice. Your students are expecting you to be in control and will respect you more if you handle these problems quickly and effectively.

One quick caveat to go with these instructions: never, never, ever discipline in anger. You should never allow yourself to get to the point where your anger builds, but rather you should exercise discipline long before your emotions are engaged. Trust me on this one; I have seen teachers and subs alike furiously yelling at students for their misbehaviors and there is simply no excuse for that. You will lose all the respect you have worked hard to earn from your students. What’s more, in overreacting you will often find that instead of just one or two troublemakers, you now have twenty who feel like you are out of control and do not deserve to be head of their class.

Teachers who can discipline coolly, with a minimum of drama, maintain learning environments that are both pleasant and professional. You will also find that in multi-day assignments, students you discipline one day will show no resentment the next, provided you handle things in a quiet and professional manner. There are no emotional wounds that need to be healed, only the faint recollection of a corrective behavior and the sense that it would be unwise on their part to misbehave again.