Today’s post comes from Jim Tjepkema
I was told at the start of the school year by a person offering advice to substitute teachers that “it’s a good thing if the students don’t like you”. The person who said this was a school principal who thought the main role of a sub was to maintain strict order in the classroom. During my years as a sub teacher there were many times when I had my patience stretched thin. However, I was more or less able to avoid the heavy-handed approach suggested by the advice from that principal.
I thought I was prepared to do substitute teaching because I had been involved in helping with programs at a small private school. I was wrong. My first day of substitute teaching in a grade school was a disaster. A very mischievous boy took over the classroom and led the other kids in creating problems during most of the entire school day. From that experience I found out that I needed to learn a lot more about how to maintain order in a classroom.
One of the most important things I learned was that I should immediately confront trouble makers, like the one who gave me a bad time on my first day. Many teachers told me that if a kid will not behave I should send him or her to the principal’s office and I did follow this advice on some occasions. When you have more than one problem kid in a class it is not so easy to get things under control. One time I was asked to sub in a classroom filled with a small group of kids that were all troublemakers. I had to put up with them because I wasn’t ready to send all of them to the office. Another time I asked the principal to come to the classroom to get a very bored bunch of kids to calm down after they had given me a hard time on the previous day.
There were some other tricks I learned such as always sharpening pencils for grade school kids. If you let them do it, you will have a long line of kids waiting to sharpen pencils including some pencils that don’t need sharpening. I was willing to put up with a little bad behavior although I did tell my classes that they shouldn’t do anything that would prevent the students that wanted to study from studying. I remember the many very tedious days I spent sitting in classrooms when I was a student and had some sympathy for kids who were having trouble doing what is expected of them as students.
Once I made the mistake of asking for help from the principal who told me it would be good if the kids didn’t like me. She handled the situation by screaming at the students using a very loud angry voice. That is something I wouldn’t do, although it is a technique that can bring a classroom under control. To top off that bad situation, she also screamed at me. I did make the mistake a few times of being too hard on sensitive kids and I regret doing that. For the most part I was able to develop a good relationship with the students, even the difficult ones. I liked them and they liked me.
Do you have any advice for substitutes?