I look pretty young, but I'm just back-dated
March 15, 2006 11:34 AM   Subscribe

So next week I start my new job as a substitute teacher. Advice, anyone?

The only teaching I've done is one-on-one tutoring. I've never stood in front of a class before (as a teacher). I'll probably be teaching all grade levels (1-12). I'm not shy and very comfortable in front of an audience, but there are two things I am most concerned about:
1.) Discipline. How do I establish authority? What are the best ways to deal with trouble-makers at all grade levels? When do I give someone a stern talking-to and when do I send someone to the principal?
2.) If the teacher leaves no lesson plan. I've been d/ling free lesson plans from some websites, but I still can't fathom how the heck I'm going to keep a bunch of second graders occupied for 5 or 6 hours.
posted by Kronoss to Education (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I subbed k-12 for about a year.
1) Discipline was never a problem for elementary grades, nor for high school, but could be hell for middle school. Make sure you have the phone number of a vice-principal and use your cel to call them when you have any problems. Make the students know there are consequences to overt disobedience, but let the little things go. And there will be LOTS of little things, but be cool about it.
2) Elementary kids are very rule-oriented so they will tell you what they are supposed to be doing. If you have time to kill, they LOVE to be read to. Draw a map of the US/World on the board and ask if they know where they/their parents were born and plot the info on the map.
High school students are fine with study hall periods since they mostly have lots of homework anyway.
Middle school students are the ones that need something to do, and they don't want "extra" work. If there is no lesson plan, do your best to pretend there is one but say they are to continue where the teacher left off. Getting them to read things out loud helps.
posted by johngumbo at 11:55 AM on March 15, 2006

95% of all disciplinary problems can be averted by proximity. Seriously. If a kid starts fucking up... go over and physically stand beside him/her and the problem just goes away. It's a magic bullet.

Group of kids fucking up? Corral them into a little pen together... where you can stand right by them.

This works like you wouldn't believe.
posted by cadastral at 12:03 PM on March 15, 2006

(My wife was a 5th grade teacher, and I substituted in grades 2 -12 on and off for a year).

If there isn't a lesson plan left for you, the other teachers should be able to point you in the right direction with handouts, pages to read, etc. Most classes in the same grade level stay on the same track through the year.

Also, I'd talk to some of the other teachers and/or principal about what warrants a trip to the office. Don't let a student disrupt the entire class, but you do realize that "substitute = free/easy day" for most students.

I agree with being cool about little things, but you should avoid being the cool teacher that lets everything slide. The regular teacher is the one who has to pick up the mess from that, and trust me, the teachers will talk about the substitutes.

Have someone show you where the copy machine is, as you will most likely have to make copies in last minute situations. Find out the schedule for lunch, recess, bells, and most importantly any of your duties during these times out of the classroom (such as Lunch Room monitor for that day).

Good luck, and have fun with it.
posted by shinynewnick at 12:04 PM on March 15, 2006

Also, get there early if possible. It will allow you to go over the lesson plans and talk to other teachers.

In my experience, the good substitutes eventually get the "advance" assignments, where you know at least a couple of days ahead when and where you'll be. Teachers will request certain substitutes when possible, and that is a great situation.

The calls at 5:30 in the morning to show up for that day's class make it a little tough, but you can make it work.
posted by shinynewnick at 12:08 PM on March 15, 2006

1 word: Movies!

Good luck.
posted by patr1ck at 12:36 PM on March 15, 2006

Get in good with the people who assign the substitutes for the day, and get them to assign you to be substitute gym teacher whenever possible. You get to wear sweats to work and when all else fails there is always dodgeball to fall back on.

And discipline is never easier: "You! 10 laps!"

perhaps not the best advice if you actually are working towards a career in teaching in a classroom, but worked great for me!
posted by mikepop at 12:55 PM on March 15, 2006

Get in good with the special ed teachers in the system, so they'll request you when they need a sub. Special ed is the easiest, most fun subbing to do, because the teacher-student ratio is so much higher and there are always other adults around. Some days I would get to just work with one cute little kid all day, helping him focus on his activities.

I found with middle school kids, just my natural "strong voice" reaction to screwing around was enough of a contrast from my usual demeanor that it would get their attention and they'd see I meant business. I think maybe that works because more often than not they're just testing boundaries with the new person. By the end of the day I'd be their favorite sub. I'm no expert, but I'd imagine the time to send to the principal would be when you no longer feel in control of the situation.

Again, not an expert by any means.
posted by lampoil at 12:56 PM on March 15, 2006

I second proximity as a classroom management technique. Also simply be interesting -- teach to a variety of learning styles to keep all your students engaged, and they won't want to act out.
posted by jrb223 at 12:57 PM on March 15, 2006

Wow, mikepop, I swear that was unintentional. lol
posted by lampoil at 12:58 PM on March 15, 2006

Best answer: I spent all of last winter subbing, also having no previous teaching experience. I was lucky to have my roommate, a professional teacher, working in the same school. You may get better advice from other professionals as well, but here's a greenhorn's point of view.

First of all, when a teacher takes a day off, they basically assume that nothing will get done, even if they leave a lesson plan. If you manage to complete a lesson plan, they'll be impressed and possibly request you next time. Also if you leave a note detailing what got done and who was bad, that's another thing that many subs don't do and that teachers love.

One of the toughest things to watch out for is that you don't know any of the student's names or where they sit. They will definitely use this factor to annoy you and each other. Getting a bad kid to tell you their name can be really hard, and often no one will want to rat them out.

Students will bald-faced lie to you about what is allowed. They will say that when there's nothing to do that they are allowed to go to the library, or use the computer, etc. etc. And chances are that there won't be anyone around for you to check with quickly. You may be tempted to let them do something like that so that they will respect you, but really that just surrenders control of the class and any other kid who wants to do anything will now ask you, and if you turn him/her down, it's "not fair." If you can, before your first day find out as much as possible about how things work at the school, try to meet the librarian and gym teacher, and seek advice from other teachers on problem students.

Another point: you were right about having dead spots in the schedule-- if you don't have anything to fill it, you'll be miserable. Falling back on games is a great idea, preferably something that involves the whole class. Try to have your own games ready, because if you go along with whatever game they say they want to play, you'll be less familiar with it and have a harder time leading the game. Don't feel bad if they shoot down your game idea-- just be sure you have others on backup. There are tons of good ones.

As for discipline: I was dismayed to find that many schools let you assign lunch time detention with the understanding that the kids will come in to your classroom for lunch-- this means that you'll wind up spending some of your precious break time having to supervise the worst offenders, and frankly, I'd rather take a walk or something. Writing a kid's name on the board is a difficult strategy because kids will either lie about their name or try to erase it when your back is turned. Usually though the kids will settle down once you make good on some threats and assign detentions.

In some of my worst classes I just start sending the kids to the office if they have proven that they won't mind. The office gets crowded and the admin don't want all those kids there, but it will send a message to the kids that you mean business and it will send a message to the office that you are having troubles and they will send a more intimidating adult to step in and check on you.

For me, when a class was completely irretrievable (and this was with middle-school-aged kids) I would simply enforce completely silent individual reading. If they didn't have a book, they could write. Any talkers or jokers would face immediate wrath. Days like this really depressed me because I felt like I had failed to do anybody any good whatsoever, and that the next time I subbed for them they'd hate me even more. Over time, it got better.

You may find that kids ask a lot of personal questions about you. This is partly because they are curious and partly because they are trying to waste time and disrupt the plan. Don't tell them anything that you don't want to wind up being asked about over and over.

Hope some of this is helpful. It can be a really great job and teachers worship a trusty sub. Good luck!!
posted by hermitosis at 1:03 PM on March 15, 2006

I should have mentioned that most of my experience was with 6-7-8 grades, and I was teaching almost exclusively in the poorest, saddest, most dangerous neighborhoods. I must have been going through a martyr phase.
posted by hermitosis at 1:08 PM on March 15, 2006

Stock up on aspirin; you will probably have a headache by the end of the day.

For older kids: Tell the kids early in the morning that at the end of the day, they'll have to write a letter to their teacher telling him/her about how they behaved that day.
posted by Soliloquy at 1:24 PM on March 15, 2006

From my own personal experience:

-I second arriving early, and assessing what has been provided for you and what is expected.

-Personally, I loved lunch detention. When I subbed at a school, I usually had no friendships with any of the regular teachers, so I would be eating alone (usually in the room) anyway. The kids, however, live and die by their lunchtimes with their friends, so they're more likely to fall in line. All the usual other stuff about classroom management applies too.

-Bring a book, especially when there are planning periods when you don't need to actually plan.
posted by jeditanuki at 2:11 PM on March 15, 2006

Remember, students are not your friends. They are barely people. Show no fear. Don't blink. Be a hard ass. You can always lighten up, but once things go to hell you are screwed. You can't ever get the class back to normal. Forget the movies and TV shows where a sub connects with the kids. They are fiction. Kids will do anything to snow you (everything hermitosis said above)

Got a cell phone with a camera? Photograph anyone that you think is giving you a false name. news will get around school fast and no one will mess with you.

Be prepared for no lesson plan, but if there is one FOLLOW IT and don't improvise. Try to get through when the teacher left you.

Good luck. People who think teaching is an easy summer-off scam ought to have to try it.
posted by cccorlew at 3:11 PM on March 15, 2006

Elementary music teacher days are fun & easy, shop & home ec can be Very Hard.

I found lots of demand for Special Ed. Also, check out the alternative schools. If you can handle it, you'll have interesting days and be much appreciated.
posted by john m at 3:16 PM on March 15, 2006

I subbed for three years before I found a full-time teaching job.

Classroom Management:
1. Wear a tie.
2. Don't sit down during instruction.
3. Be a jerk if you have to. The kids don't have to love you.
4. Follow the lesson plan, nothing a teacher hates more than an unfollowed lesson plan.
5. Stay off the computer.
6. Don't take yourslef too seriously.

Your sanity:
1. Once in a while, take a tie-free day. but realize that the kids will act up.
2. Every now and then, say, "Mr. So-and-so. Worksheet. Read to yourself afterwords. Questions? I'll be over here if you need me."
3. Nobody likes a jerk. Especially you.
4. Follow the lesson plan, nothing a teacher hates more than an unfollowed lesson plan.
5. Use the computer to get jobs for the following days. If your district doesn't doesn't have web access to sub jobs, get the heck out of that district. They do not care about you, and your subbing experience will be hell.
6. Don't take yourslef too seriously.

I found that in a single day situation, talking to the kids as if they are real people is the number one best way to establish a quick rapport that will carry over into discipline. Many times, just telling a kid that if they don't want to be in the room, that they are welcome to sit in the hall, is enough to get them to shut up.

Sarcasm works great in high school and jr. high. What kid wants to be made fun of by their peers? Use that. Tell them they're being immature, acting like [insert four grades lower]ers.

If you don't find a sub plan in the morning, immediately call the secretary you talked to when you came in the building. She will get you something from that teacher. Also, don't hesitate to ask the nearby teachers what's going on.

Don't forget, you're staff. On those rare Fridays that there's free food in the lounge, it's yours too.

Have fun. These are teenagers and kids you're dealing with, and those are fun kinds of people.
posted by The Mauve Frog at 3:22 PM on March 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

-Make sure you're paying attention to what's going on. In most cases you can't just sit back and do something else, even if the teacher left little for the kids to do (or they simply aren't doing it). I only say this because I've made that mistake before.
-Learn to let some things go. For instance, kids not doing their work. If they're being a problem behavior wise, send them out, but if they're just being lazy it's not your problem.
-Word Finds. Probably not for high schoolers, but my middle school students go fricking nuts for word finds. I don't get it, personally, but it's total busy work that they enjoy. You can make them super easily here. (Seriously, I have a co-worker who swears by these when she has to cover for teachers when there's no sub...)
-Don't trust the kids on issues like discipline matters, but if you're going through a lesson and they say something like "Ms. so and so does this..." it's generally true. Many classes have some sort of routine set up, and you can figure out who the good kids are and ask them what's up.
posted by jetskiaccidents at 3:47 PM on March 15, 2006

The worst classes are the ones without either a clear lesson plan or movies to watch. If you're not given a good lesson plan, and you can't watch movies, be prepared for trouble (i.e. have a fallback plan, like a game or other exercise).

Watch out for the middle school girls (if you're male and relatively young). I'm 33 and my brother is 28, and we both substitue occasionally at the local American International School. Middle shool girls tend to see themselves as "young women" surrounded by immature "dorky" boys. You're the only man in the room, so expect some of them to try to get your attention and manipulate you. This isn't a problem in elementary grades, where girls are still girls, and it's not usually a problem in high school, where the girls are usually vying for the attention of the boys, who are now more mature.

Classes with a clear lesson plan are the most fun. I enjoy teaching and seeing the lights come on in the students' heads.
posted by syzygy at 4:03 PM on March 15, 2006

I'm a HS teacher and ex-sub. I agree with much of the above and would add:

- Stand outside the door and greet the students like you have every right to be there and you're planning to get the show on the road. Use authoritative posture. (For women, we call it "the bitch stance." Legs apart, direct gaze, and grunting as is necessary.)

- Definitely find out what the disciplinary procedures are. When I was a sub, I didn't want to ask too much about this because I didn't want people to think I couldn't handle myself. Dumb! But sending someone to the office/dean/whatever in a school where they're so slack they'll just send the kid right back is going to make the problem worse, so know your powers.

- Tattle. Leave as much detail as you can for the regular teacher about what went well, what didn't, etc. You're reinforcing the long range of the teacher's authority if they know what went down, and that's appreciated.

- Bring your own movies just in case. VHS and DVD, G-rated unless you know you can go higher. A friend of mine always swore by Clash of the Titans, and it's now so old that it will probably be new to the kids.

- The sooner the kids get to work, the better. Journal prompts to get them going as soon as the bell rings can buy you time. If the prompts are really crazy/funny, the kids might even enjoy them.

- A riddle or trivia or funday info ("Today is National Pork Rind Day") on the board may intrigue them enough to listen to what you have to say next. (You're not just a flunkie - you're potentially *interesting*!)

- If the kids have energy to burn, story chains can be fun. Everyone takes out a piece of paper and starts a story. They have 30 seconds (or whatever) to write. They pass their paper back/over/etc. Everyone continues the story they receive for 30 seconds. Pass papers. And so on. It's pretty easy to adapt to different subjects and grade levels, especially if you can involve vocab/terminology, and kids get wrapped up in it.

- Don't be afraid to ask other teachers for something for the kids to do. Don't be afraid to ask other teachers for *any*thing. Sure, many teachers are notorious for not sharing with their colleagues, but many of us will do anything from give you ideas to send you an aide armed with worksheets to give you our class to watch while we get yours going with on-topic activities that you can then take over.

- In addition to proximity, there's the holy trio of "(Name), what are you doing?" (pause for reply) "What do you need to be doing?" (pause for reply) "Okay, I'll check back in ten minutes and see how you're doing with it"

- Bless the teachers who have seating charts and leave a copy for you, for then you will appear very wise and very scary when you casually namedrop.

- You may like to call roll to learn names (or you may *have* to call roll if attendance is taken on hard copy), but be aware that you'll be sacrificing immediate on-task behaviour with this distracting process. (One of the few areas where Harry Wong and I agree.) At my school, we have subs pass around a sign-in sheet or blank seating chart for name and student number, which cuts down on the sub-day identity swapping somewhat.

- Do you have an area of expertise? For middle and high school, and maybe younger grades, you can prepare a full-on lecture for plan-less days, perhaps complete with props, transforming you from mere sub to superstar guest speaker. I did everything from proper care of hamsters to buying and identifying Roman coins. Hey, at least they were learning *something*...
posted by Liffey at 5:02 PM on March 15, 2006

Best answer: (current K-8 sub, usually requested by 5th and 8th grade teachers)

1. Check out Fred Jones' Tools for Teaching. The body language section is really useful if you've never been in front of a class before.

2. Names

Memorizing their names will really help with discipline. I'm terrible with names, so I create a seating chart that I can carry around with me all day. I also use the chart to keep track of homework and assignments so that at the end of the day I can leave a list for the teacher of which students were working and which students were having problems. Also, I can use it to take notes on behavior. Most students who see you frowning and writing something next to their name will start behaving.

The seating chart is even more important in middle/high school where the students switch classes and you have a new group every 50 minutes. I start the assignment and then as they work I pass around a blank seating chart and have them fill in their own names. I remind them that they get credit for attending class and if they don't fill in their name correctly, they get marked absent.

I've only had a couple of kids this year who wanted to give me fake names. A 5th grade class:

Angel: I'm Daddy Yankee.

Me: Really? Sit down, Angel.

Angel: How'd she know my name? That's not fair. Do you know her name?

Me: It's Jasmine.

Knowing their names 10 minutes after meeting them was confusing for them. The minute Angel started speaking I looked at the chart so that I would be able to use his name when I answered him. When I realized he was just trying to make trouble, I looked at the chart for the names of the people around him in case they decided to join in his fun.
Also, middle/high school english is an easy class because you can just assign an essay if the teacher didn't leave any plans. "How-to" essays are simple to explain and they have usually done them before.
posted by betweenthebars at 5:03 PM on March 15, 2006

I've been working as a supply teacher with mainly 4-7 year olds (in the U.K.) for the last few months. Although I'm not too sure of the Grade structure in the U.S. I have found that praising on task, or good behaviour has more of an effect than punishing bad behaviour with this age group. For example if you say "Well done for sitting up beautifully Steven!!" usually the children around Steven, also sit up beautifully.

This also means that you are usually giving out complements rather than negativity, which seems to foster a nicer environment.
posted by djstig at 5:39 PM on March 15, 2006

(I've taught for 10 years, but just started subbing a couple of weeks ago when my current gig became part-time)

cccorlew writes: Got a cell phone with a camera? Photograph anyone that you think is giving you a false name.

The rest of his post is gold, but there might be serious legal issues with this piece of advice (as much as I love the idea), depending on the school district. My district does not allow any cameras used by students on school grounds, citing privacy issues. That may very well hold true for teachers as well where you are... all it'll take is for you to photograph one little malcontent with a lawyer for a parent, and that guy will give the principal so much shit that he or she will find it easier to just not call you to sub again.
posted by the_bone at 5:59 PM on March 15, 2006

No matter what happens... Leave a note for the teacher with a list of who was absent.

I can't tell you the number of times that a sub does not leave me a note on how the classes were acting. It doesn't matter if they wrote that all the classes were super. I just want to know that someone was actually watching my class. Some subs do not bother to take attendance. Please leave a list of who was absent.

In my district, we are required to have a sub folder. If you are lucky enough to sub for a teacher with a sub folder. Please read it. It should have all you need to know in it.
posted by nimsey lou at 7:53 PM on March 15, 2006

One of the best classroom management techniques I ever learned was the liberal use of the phrase, "I'm sorry, but the answer is no." It's best used when you've already denied a student's request once and they start to argue. You NEVER want to argue with a kid; it will wreck your authority and credibility with that whole class. Just be firm. As someone noted upthread, they don't have to like you.
posted by the_bone at 11:31 AM on March 16, 2006

If the teacher does leave a lesson plan, follow it. There's one sub at my school that all the teachers hate because he ignores the lesson plans, even when its not just busy work.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 6:08 PM on March 19, 2006

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