Substitute teaching can be an attractive option for some professionals – flexibility, no heavy marking or planning, and a chance to investigate possible schools for a full-time position. There is obviously the downside – the lack of familiarity with the staff and the students, and the possibility of unruly and uncooperative students. With a few strategies up your sleeve, substitute teaching can be a rewarding short-term or long-term career.
All teachers know that it takes time to build up a relationship with your class of students, however this is a luxury that substitute teachers just don’t have. Often you won’t know what the students have been studying, nor have any upfront warning of the characters’ within the class.
Firstly, try and arrange work teaching your own specialist subject, although this isn’t always possible. Having some sense of authority will help win over the students, and this is always augmented by obvious knowledge of the subject. As a teacher of English, the thought of having to cover a high school Physics or Geometry lesson can leave me covered in a rash.
Secondly, although you can usually expect the absent teacher to have set work for the students to do, this can often be a very dry “do exercises 1- 10 on pages 144-166” type of task. Have a quick activity of your own to begin or end the lesson with – perhaps a general knowledge quiz or advanced word game or number game, depending on the subject, which can be given as a treat at the end of the lesson, on the condition that they work well. If you have a small prize as well, they’ll be eating out of your hand – a small price to pay for a class of eager students.
Thirdly, do make sure the work the teacher has set is actually done. There is nothing more frustrating than for a teacher to return from a professional development course or sick leave to find their class is behind. Yes, the students may find the work boring, but you can always jazz it up with speed test: “OK, you have 15 minutes to complete this exercise starting NOW!” Teenagers are very competitive.
It’s always worth knowing the procedures for dealing with continually disruptive students. Is there a senior teacher nearby who you can send the child to? What is the usual action taken for students who continually talk out of turn? Does the school have a policy on cell phones, mp3 players or gum? Make sure you know, and act appropriately. If the students know that you are aware of what they can and can’t do, it all adds to your authority and respect in the classroom. And don’t take a good book or your knitting; you are a professional in charge of a class. If surrounding teachers hear chaos, chances are you won’t be asked back.
If your substitute teaching assignment is ongoing, congratulations; you have a wonderful opportunity to get to know a great bunch of kids. If the assignment is just one day, take comfort in the fact that in a few hours, it will all be over!