As a substitute teacher for area elementary schools, I am ready for almost anything. Most teachers leave well thought out lesson plans. However, like the rest of us, teachers also experience an occasional emergency. In such situations, there is little time to do anything but inform the offices of the need to get a substitute teacher.
Quickly, I learned that students at the elementary level hate change. It upsets their daily routine, which has been well established by their teacher. They are quick to point out any deviation from the way their teacher does things. This can be a blessing when notes are not there or quite complete. I take this opportunity to explain that although I will try to do things the same way; I may not always do so.
Well, along the way, I have discovered little things that help both the students as well as me have a productive day. Below are suggestions that have generated great response from students, parents and teachers.
Have a positive attitude. I admit this can be frightening; it's a simple fear of what am I getting myself into. As a substitute teacher, I have no clue as to what I am about to face each time that I accept an assignment. There should be a lesson plan, but sometimes not. The students should be respectful, but often not. What I do know is that my attitude sets the tone for the day. A big smile reassures the children and hopefully suggests that I am approachable and friendly. Yes, I can be stern if need be, however, this is not what I want the first impression of me to be.
Purchase colored index cards. Have each student put their name at the top of their card and tape it to a corner of the desk where it is visible and easy to reach.
Throughout the day, I write comments on the student's card. For example, I may write outstanding behavior, great helper, fantastic hallway behavior, or super job in handling conflict or completed all morning assignments. I also write down all behavioral issues, such as, excessive talking or playing, did not turn in math or social studies assignment, disruptive behavior, or running in hallway. If there are real issues, I offer more details in the notes that I leave for the children. The students not expect me to have these cards and strive to get good remarks written on their cards. Of course, they get upset when comments are not positive. I then explain this is what they earned and they are responsible for whether they receive positive or not so positive remarks.
Teachers have given me positive feedback on the index cards and other substitute teachers have started using index cards as well. The times that I do have to send students to the principal, I send the index cards with them. Usually when I have to write negative remarks on the index card, I make note of the time of the occurrence. This helps to establish a pattern of inappropriate behavior, which led to the student being sent from the class. When parents arrive to pick up their child, I show them the card. Good remarks put smiles on their faces. The negative remarks offer them the opportunity to work with their child to correct the behavior. Often the parent or the teacher offer rewards for good cards.
Plan on following the lesson plan of the teacher. The regular teacher knows exactly what she wants the students to work on. He or she took the time to leave this, so I utilize it as much as possible. Of course, there are times when I am unable to follow it down to every detail, but I come close. It is a good ideal to leave a note explaining what assignments if any were not completed. As a substitute teacher, there is nothing worse than having the regular teacher come back and wonder why nothing was accomplished. If this happens to often, the phone will not ring offering work assignments.
Select helpers. Children in the elementary grades love to help, let them. Many teachers have designated helpers; remember to ask if the class has any before making any assignments. Assigned helpers take their jobs very seriously and get upset if the substitute does not acknowledge this.
Rewards can motivate good behavior. Student's love to receive stars, stickers or smiley faces on their work. I keep a bag of suckers, brightly colored pencils, and other inexpensive tokens from the dollar store. If we time left at the end of the day, I quickly organize spelling bees, or impromptu math or social study quizzes based on the day's lesson or previous lessons. The students win prizes based on the activity. After major holidays, I find awesome items marked down to unbelievable prices to be used as prizes.
Know classroom rules and procedures. Most teachers post classroom rules and the student's are fully aware of them. More than not, the other students will point it out when a classmate breaks one of their rules. The index cards mentioned earlier are a big help in keeping the student's on their best behavior. Let's face it, often students will often give the substitute teacher a hard time. Sometimes, I find this true even of the normally good students. So, be prepared for a degree of this. I do not argue with children and make this clear the second a student challenges my authority to address their negative behavior. We review the rules and briefly discuss my expectations of them and what they can expect from me.
Dress for success. Teaching is a professional job and the substitute's attire should reflect this. Today, teachers dress more casual than they did when I was in elementary school. The casual looks are fine, but keep it in prospective, no blue jeans or sweat clothes ever. I have seen several substitute teachers in sweat or jogging outfits. Of course, if you are covering a physical education class this type of dress would be appropriate.
Leave a brief report. You do not have to write a book, but write enough so that the regular teacher will know what happen with the class in his or her absence. This is a great time to explain any changes you made to the lesson plan. Briefly explain the index cards and leave them with your report.
Make sure you leave things clean and neat. The regular teacher will greatly appreciate this. Teachers do not take too kindly to returning to a classroom that looks like a tornado swept through it.
Finally, remember to do things that will increase your comfort level such as: bring your lunch, arrive at least thirty minutes before class starts even if it is not required, bring a sweater and jacket in case your classroom is cold or you have to take your students outside.