Saturday, March 23, 2013

I'd like to order a 5ft 1in Sub, please.

Many people, when hearing that I'm currently working as a substitute teacher, generally have something like the following response:

Oh, you're substituting? Shame! Don't worry, I'm sure you will find a real job soon.

I usually find this quite frustrating, as the person speaking generally isn't a teacher themselves. Substitute teaching has an incredible stigma, from both well-meaning adults and students alike. If grown-ups think that substitute teaching is just temporary work, then that attitude carries down to the students. The real teacher isn't here today, so I can do what I want. Many of my little charges, usually innocently, often ask me if I am a 'real' teacher. Some, who are used to living in a town with a PGCE course, even ask if I'm 'just' a student teacher, or how long I've been teaching.While I did fall into substitute teaching while looking for a full-time teaching post, that doesn't mean that I take this job any less seriously than a class teacher does. Substituting requires a whole different bag of tricks than regular teaching, as every day you are teaching a different set of students, with different needs and expectations. Rather than just 'babysitters', as far too many people see substitute teachers, I feel that I'm thriving when the class teacher leaves content for me to cover with the class. While watching them watch a movie is fine, I always prefer a chance to be teaching them something new.

Here are some strategies that have worked for me, so far, as a substitute teacher.

Teacher Squeaks' Unofficial Guide to Substituting:

Learn the names of the students. What's worked best for me is grabbing a sheet of paper and sketching the layout of the class, writing down where the students sit. It helps if the class has labelled the desk of each child, as many have done. Students will sometimes switch desks, not even maliciously (I want to sit next to my friend!), and I have found some success in explaining myself to the class - if I don't know their names, then I'll be calling them "hey, you" all day, and that's rude. I get instant respect for knowing a student's name, even if I'm just referring to my sketched room plan, and only occasional giggles for getting the 'wrong' name or pronunciation.  As a first-language English speaker, often I come across Xhosa names which I struggle with. My strategy for that is to just ask the student to say their name to me, and write it down. I will then attempt to say it correctly, and they often are kind enough to correct me - or even offer a nickname for me to use. Using these ideas, I usually learn about 25% - 50% students' names for the day, and can refer to the rest of them using the room plan.

My sketches are usually just boxes (desks) with names in them (students).

Use a behaviour plan and explain it to the students. For the older ones, I just explain my expectations for how they are going to act. For the younger ones, I take the time to explain that things will be different today, since I'm not their class teacher, and they are going to have to sometimes explain to me how things work - but I still get to be in charge and how it is 'my' class for the day. A successful strategy is putting the letters B-R-E-A-K on the board and removing a letter if they get too rowdy or disobedient. In the class that I had to use it in, I removed 2 minutes of break-time for every letter I removed. When I removed the first letter, it shocked them so badly that they didn't give me any more trouble. Keeping a class in 2 extra minutes during break is surprisingly easy, but to a 10 year old those 2 minutes feel like hours!  The important thing about any classroom management plan is consistency, and that is even more important for a substitute. Students often feel that, because you're a substitute,  you will let them misbehave. It's much easier to start of strict at the start of the day and then ease off them by home-time, rather than fighting with them all day over noise levels.

Pack for any eventuality. On my first few sub jobs, I even packed an extra pair of shoes- and was glad I did! I keep a squeaky-toy as an attention signal for the younger grades with me, even if I'm teaching the older ones. I pack a tennis ball, stickers, a whistle, plasters (band-aids), snacks, loads of stationary, and all sorts of other oddities. As a sub, you don't have always have the benefit of an entire class full of resources to use, and even if the resources are there you might not know where they are kept! This post on Sub Hub is amazing for picking up tips for how to pack like a sub. In fact, just read everything on Sub Hub, it's a great blog for substitute teachers.

You never know what you're going to need... (From Sub Hub)

Document everything. This will be on a case-by-case basis, but I generally prefer to use some sort of daily report sheet and leave it for the class teacher. Here are some great examples, I created my own one and try to bring a few copies to every sub job. I don't write down every single problem, but if a student is acting way off-base then I will record it, along with how I dealt with the problem (such as referring the student to administration). You may be lucky enough to arrive in a class with their own version of a substitute report, in that case you should probably stick to their format. I always try to have a positive comment about the class and the content that we covered: if it was my class, it would be a comfort that some learning actually happened while I was away.

Bring something to occupy the students. Often, you will be called in at the last minute, sometimes even on the morning that you are expected at the school. If the class teacher was unable to have a lesson plan ready for you, you will have to fill that time in some other way. I bring an age-appropriate reading book (Alanna: The First Adventure was wildly popular with the Grade 5  class) and the ideas for some games that can be adapted for reviewing content. Minds in Bloom has loads of great games, questions and critical thinking activities that can work well. Get well-versed in your brain breaks, all students appreciate them and there are many which can still fit the bill of 'educational' (slap counting is a fun example). The Sub Hub has emergency lesson plans for many grade levels which would be great to throw in your bag in case of emergency. The last thing you want is the other teachers looking in on your classroom and seeing them "doing nothing".

I hope these suggestions help some other fledgling substitute teachers. Subbing isn't always an easy job and it can feel unrewarding sometimes, but remember that all the experience you gain will help you later if you are looking for a full-time post. I enjoy substituting very much, particularly the chance to visit other teacher's classrooms and see how they do things. The majority of students have been pleased that their substitute teacher actually expects them to work, lets them have little breaks and praises those who follow expectations.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Busy Time

Since returning to Grahamstown, things have been very busy for me. The substitute job I mentioned last post went off without a hitch, and has lead to further jobs in the last few months: Grade 5 (1 day and then 2 further days, Grade 7 (3 days), and Grade 3 (1 day). These substitute teaching jobs, though they are only for a day or two at a time, have really given me some confidence that I am, in fact, qualified to do this. Sometimes I feel that I'm actually quite good! When I'm in the classroom teaching, it's a great feeling. Though I've been working nearly exclusively at one school, this week I had a substitute job at another school for the first time- business is picking up!

Since substitute teaching doesn't keep me busy on a regular basis, I have also been volunteering twice a week at Queenspark School, a local private school that I had my teaching practice at last year. I had a meeting with their Head of Foundation Phase, where we decided that I would be most useful to them working with Language Enrichment and also helping out with Creative Writing. Doing this has given me lots of time with students one-on-one, in small groups and also the unique experience of working with one or a few students while the class teacher continues the lesson to the whole class. I've also been helping a local optometrist with the eye screenings they have been doing at the schools. Honestly, it's been great fun, and already being familiar with many of the schools makes the process go smoothly.

Though I haven't given up on finding a full-time post, I appreciate the time I have to build up my CV with these varied jobs. Currently I have my eyes on a part-time position that has recently opened up, but time will tell if I manage to grab it. A two PGCE friends are teaching at the school I have been spending the most time at, and a third has just joined as a part-time isiXhosa teacher. Another former classmates is working at Sandlot School, it was a delight to see her in action when I came by to do the eye-screenings there recently. Seeing these talented ladies get positions is encouraging, and gives me something to motivate me to keep on searching.