5 Lessons Learned as a Substitute Teacher

June marks my fifth month as a substitute teacher. Since the end of the school year is fast approaches, I’ve been subbing a lot more frequently, and sometimes as often as every day each week.

As a student, I felt like substitute teachers always were disrespected and ridiculed. I was very hesitant to apply for the job because I didn’t feel like I could control a classroom.

However, substituting fit perfectly into my schedule. My original job started at 3:30 in the afternoon on weekdays, and I also worked on Sundays. Since I work at a non-profit, I wasn’t necessarily getting paid a lot. I had all morning and essentially all day to take another day. Substituting meant I could take jobs as they fit into my schedule, and I would only have to work from around 8:00am to 2:30pm.

I applied and was hired almost immediately as the district was short on subs. It was weird for the first few weeks working in the same school I grew up in, but in the past few months I’ve learned a lot about both the kids and myself.

5 Lessons Learned as a Substitute Teacher

1. Kids don’t treat substitutes as terribly as I remember

[This could say more about myself, than the kids… Does this mean my classmates were terrible to subs or that kids don’t treat me as terribly?]

Most of the time, I get a lot of chattiness in classes. Kids are excited their teacher isn’t at school and they think that means they can talk to each other during class. But not once as a kid been obnoxiously rude or mean to me. I can deal with kids who chit chat when their supposed to be working; I just consistently remind them it’s not social hour.

Usually when I walk into the classroom, kids are really excited to see me. Especially if I’m a new sub for their class. The kids are very curious to know every single detail about you. The kindergarteners I sub for usually are disappointed their teacher isn’t there that day, but every other class is psyched.

2. Substitutes can make class fun

When I sub for a difficult class, I try to turn everything into a game. We walk down the hallway silently like ninjas, we try and beat records for cleaning up, we take a five minute break to play a quick game if their distracted. I like to think of myself as strict, but I’m not sure if the kids see me that way. I constantly remind them to keep their voices down, to finish their work, to be nice to their classmates. But constant reminding and being on top of their behavior does’t mean I have to be mean. If I feel like the kids aren’t listening to me, I try and use a new tactic to get them to follow their class rules.

3. There’s a sense of camaraderie among teachers

The lesson plans teachers leave are so friendly! Usually a neighboring teacher or a special area teacher will stop by the classroom or pull me aside in the hallway and offer help if I need it. I always ask questions and let them know how the day is going, and a few times I’ve sent a reliable kid across the hall to ask a teacher a question. I love how eager they are to help out substitutes and it makes me feel more confident about doing my job.

4. It’s not necessarily a reflection on me if a class behaves badly

When I leave notes to the teacher, I am very specific. I let him or her know what students didn’t listen to me. If the entire class was disrespectful, it probably meant I wasn’t strict enough and that was probably my fault. But if only a handful of kids are disrespectful, it says more about them and their behavior than my management skills. This took me a while to understand, and to be honest I still feel terrible after a particularly hard day. I never want to be the sub to leave a bad report, and I’m always afraid the teacher will be disappointed in me.

5. Seeing new faces everyday is more special than anticipated

I thought it would be difficult to jump from class to class everyday and try to remember kids’ names. But even if I don’t remember their names, they remember me. Months after I started subbing, I can barely walk down the hallway with at least a dozen kids waving to me. I love being able to meet new kids and continue to establish relationships with a variety of kids and ages within the school. Now that it’s the end of the year, I have an unusual investment to see who ends up with which teacher.

I really wasn’t expecting to enjoying being a substitute as much as I did. I figured it would be something to hold me over for a few months before camp starts, but I just told my boss I would be returning in the fall and I am so excited to see all the familiar faces.

 

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