Today's guest post is brought to you by Annie from western Pennsylvania. Annie is a certified Social Studies teacher who has been substituting while seeking a classroom to call her own. You can follow Annie on Tumblr and cheer her on as she continues her search!
I’ve been subbing for a few years now, and I really do love it. If I could work every day and get some benefits, I wouldn’t mind doing this for the rest of my career. It comes with many of the pleasures of working with kids without all the take-home work. However, like any job, it always helps to have a few tricks and tips up your sleeve.
- Get a binder. Or a notebook, or a planner or whatever. Somewhere to keep track of what teachers you subbed for, what rate you got paid, if there were any problems, etc. I have a three ring binder, a notebook, and a planner. I use my binder to keep things organized and utilize the notebook whenever I need to take notes for myself or the teacher, and the planner is obvious.
- Be available. This should go without saying, but flexible and willing teachers get more jobs. I’ve been called into work 30 minutes before school started, which is fine because I only live 15 minutes away. Some schools still rely on the secretary calling subs, and some use online programs like Aesop. My school does a combination of the two. My best advice is to invest in the Jobulator app for Aesop. The app will notify you as soon as a job pops up, giving you a jump on accepting the job before someone else does. The app costs $4.99 a month, but it’s worth it in my opinion.
- Get to the school a couple minutes before your start time. Aesop says you’re supposed to be there at 7:20 a.m. but you’ve never subbed for this particular teacher before. Try to get there at least 5 minutes early; even 10 would be nice. Sometimes teachers have morning duties they forgot to include on their Aesop job, but these things still need done. It’s also helpful if you aren’t sure where their room is, or if you’ll need to make copies, or whatever. Worst case is you get to sit in a quiet room and read over the plans for the day for some extra time.
- Learn the rules and stick to the basics. Do your best to get your hands on the school’s Code of Conduct handbook so you know the rules for the school, but don’t fight the kids over every little thing. I really advise sticking to a couple important questions regarding questionable behavior: Is it safe? Is it distracting/disruptive? Is it going to get me in trouble if admin walks in? If the behavior doesn’t hit any of these points, you can probably let it slide. This will help you avoid power struggles, and you’ll feel more confident in the event you need to go to admin about behavior issues.
- Avoid power struggles. This one is just so important that I had to go into detail. It isn't worth it to fight the kids about every little behavior. Kids will challenge you. They will try to make you angry. They will pick and pick. Sidestep your anger and frustration and just try to maintain a basic sense of order in the classroom. If nothing caught on a fire and no one bled that day, chalk it up as an O.K. day and move on.
- Leave notes for the teacher, but don’t go overboard. Obviously you want the teacher to know how things went. Be honest, but don’t get into too much detail unless it’s necessary. If you had a really misbehaved group of kids, mark down who and what and what you did or said and leave it at that. You can’t do too much follow up for minor issues. However, you will be doing yourself a favor if you keep documentation for later use. Also, make sure you leave a note about the good kids, they really deserve that recognition.
- Have a couple emergency lessons of your own up your sleeve. This is mostly for the younger grades, because at the high school level you can sometimes give them a study period. The younger kids need to be kept busy almost the entire time or someone starts crying because someone else looked at them funny (true story). I like playing spelling games or hangman with vocabulary words. Also, rhyming was a big hit with second grade one year. I just wrote a word on the board and everyone thought of as many rhymes for that word as they could. Whenever I was ready for the game to end I used words like “orange” and “silver” to stump them.
- Tell us where the faculty bathroom is, please. That is incredibly helpful information that will make our day so much better.
- Also, the location of the teacher’s lounge. I hate eating cold food, and a microwave would be nice sometimes.
- Don’t just leave busy work. I know, you can’t always know who will be subbing for you and if they are capable of actually teaching that day’s lesson, but the kids know when you leave busy work and they will blow it off and cause problems for your sub. If you have to leave busy work, at least make sure it applies to the class and will be graded. I subbed for a teacher who taught Algebra, Personal FInance, and Geometry. I am unqualified to teach any of those subjects, but he left the same exact assignment for each class and has never once graded these assignments. The kids know it, I know it, even the teacher knows it. I usually make a deal with the kids when this happens, “If you pretend to work, I’ll pretend you aren’t pretending.” Of course, that sort of deal only works with the well-behaved classes.
- Leave something. Busy work is better than no work. If you are able, write a quick and easy emergency plan and keep it accessible to subs.
- Tell the teacher next door when you’ll be out. They can keep an ear out for problems, and could provide a lot of help to a sub.
- Print pictures for your seating chart. It is incredibly helpful when we can put a name to the face of the students.
- Follow up on misbehavior. We don't leave notes for the fun of it. It takes a decent amount for me to leave a note about misbehavior, and I expect you to take it seriously when I do. Please don't let the kids think you don't care, because that only means next time I'm in they will be even worse. Tell them off, utilize your consequences, whatever, but do something. You may find yourself in desperate need of a sub one day and find that everyone refuses to cover for you because your kids are awful to subs.
- Remember, we get paid pennies. Teacher salaries are discouraging nationwide. It's even worse for subs. We get paid by the day and we usually don't get benefits. Out of the several schools I could work in, most pay less than 80 dollars per day. Even if your school pays more than that, it's still not significant, especially when you can only work 3 or 4 days a week. So, smile at the subs you see and be glad someone is willing to be there when you are sick. Plus, if you are nice to us, we are more likely to sub for you in a heartbeat.