The perception that substitute teachers are somehow lower on the totem pole than other teachers often exposes them to students’ less than desirable behavior, and makes substitute teaching a thorny craft to master. Yet, substitute teachers’ periods can create unique opportunities for student and teacher growth. Use the tips below to maximize your time, and that of your temporary students.
Be Yourself. Some experts will tell you to greet your pupils for the first time with a neutral grimace. Most people who work with, and really care about, children find this advice difficult to follow because children—even the unruly—command compassion. Furthermore, one of the quickest ways to alienate children is by being unrelateable. Not smiling, in situations when you normally would, will diminish your attractiveness. One of the advantages you have, is that your status as a substitute teacher makes you a novelty. Take advantage of your novelty status by facilitating interesting discussions that will help you and your students get to know each other, help your students practice public speaking and communication skills, and help your students reflect on currents events.
Further, children are the best detectors of authenticity. Disingenuousness is an invitation for students to challenge your authority. This is especially true for older children.
Require Students to Work for Privileges. Have students produce work before allowing them to go to the bathroom or leave the classroom for non-essential reasons. Require students to complete a portion of the work you assign before allowing them out of the room.
Know Your Audience and Be Prepared. You may not always have the luxury of knowing exactly what grades or classes for which you will be substituting. But, unprepared teachers are fodder for idle students. Take class sets of educational and interesting activities with you, since you do not know what type of resources the school you are going to will have. Your arsenal for older students can include Sudoku and subject-specific crossword puzzles and word searches, practice State exams, and prior year Regents exams. Younger students may benefit from coloring shapes, letters and numbers.
Differentiate by having activities for varying levels of intelligence and interests available. For instance, have low, middle and high level Sudoko and crossword puzzles—which help build critical thinking skills—available. Most newspaper articles are not written above the sixth grade level, so you are pretty safe clipping a few articles from a newspaper on the morning of your assignment. Choose articles from various sections of the newspaper.
Check your state’s Department of Education website and view the curriculum for the subjects and grades to which you are likely to be assigned. Create and photocopy activities that are aligned with your region’s curriculum. You might, for instance, find a United States Constitution-themed crossword puzzle, or an Ancient Civilization-themed wordsearch. These activities reinforce students’ vocabulary and are a nice diversion from the lectures and textbook reading to which students are normally exposed.
Be sure that the activities you facilitate are age appropriate. First graders should not be asked to complete a New York Times crossword puzzle, and middle school students should not be coloring pictures of pilgrims and pumpkins.
If you will be substituting for a while, invest in reusable supplies like activity workbooks that you can photocopy from, a portable class set of art and craft supplies, and have discussion topics, role-play assignments, and fishbowl topics ready.
Collect, Grade and Return Students’ Work.Even veteran teachers forget the importance of this rule. Most students’ believe that the work they do during a substitute teacher’s period does not matter. Students need to feel like their work is purposeful. Acknowledge students’ work by walking around the room commenting on it as they complete it, and by putting check marks on it.
If possible, make arrangements with the regularly-appointed teacher to return the work they completed during your coverage, and for students to receive extra credit—or some other type of credit—for the work completed during your period. This will build your credibility and is especially helpful for substitute teachers that will repeatedly be called back to the same school.