If They Don’t Like You, It ‘s a Good Thing

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?

33 thoughts on “If They Don’t Like You, It ‘s a Good Thing”

  1. I usually did role call as a way of starting to get to know the students. I did have some trouble getting the kids names correct and had some funny moments that slightly resembled the role call in the video. I think that that the principal that yelled at me would liked the way the role call was done in that video. There was a kid taking role for me while I was trying to calm down the class when the principal came in to help me. She yelled at the kid taking role, telling him to sit down. I told her he had permission to be standing and was helping me. She said very loudly that she didn’t care if he had permission and he should get in his seat right now!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Okay, I watched all of them. Apparently the principal who yelled at me thought I was something like that sub who lost his job in the video. She recommended that I should not return as a sub. Apparently she didn’t know that many teachers and students told me I was good at filling in as a substitute.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. if the teacher didnt give you enough information to figure out how to get the class going in the normal direction then figure out a way to offer something of value rather than telling the students to sit and study. i never picked on the subs. i didnt like having an hour of non productive time. the days were long enough without the focus being gone


    1. I usually brought books with me to elementary schools to read to the kids if there was free time to fill Also, I did sometimes get suggestions from students on what to do if there was no plan that the teacher wanted me to follow and sometimes made use of those suggestions. If the teacher only wanted the students to sit and study, I told them that I wanted them to study, although I wouldn’t try to force them to study, and they could do other things as long as it wasn’t something that was not permitted or something that would prevent students who wanted to study from studying. I knew a sub who had a big bag full of things she carried with her to use as you suggested, tim, to give the kids some interesting things to do. Maybe I should have had a bag of things of that kind.


  3. Oh, Jim, do I ever relate to your post. I spent a fall in Seattle subbing in grade schools. Some fabulous experiences. Some horrifying ones. I was young, stupid and shy with only one year of actual teaching experience. I had one particularly bad experience in one of the inner city schools that I have often thought I should write down to exorcise it from my memories. No suggestions for you from me. As an older person subbing in the Barnum area, I did better, telling fairy tales and reading to them. But the teachers always left detailed lesson plans, as I recall.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    I am not grade school teacher material–I just don’t have enough desire to be in control, classroom style. I do enjoy training adults though. My only advice for educating kids–don’t do it. Don’t sub.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you think you wouldn’t be good at controlling a grade school classroom, I am sure you wouldn’t want to try to control middle school classes. I think some middle school kids shouldn’t be required to go to school and would be better off not attending school during their early adolescent years.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. What I remember of substitute teachers is feeling sorry for them. I was shocked at the way some of the more subversive boys tried to sabotage their efforts. I was born with an overly developed need to please authority, a little apple-polisher, if you please. It took four years of college to teach me that I should be skeptical of some authority figures.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Morning–
    Couple times / semester I teach the theater class about lighting.
    Course this is college age so it’s a different kind of disruption.

    They don’t treat me any different from the regular teacher. If they’re not interested in him, they’re not interested in me.
    I don’t think it matters what you’re trying to teach, you can only keep it interesting for a certain period and at some point the material gets dry and dull.
    At least some of them get my dumb jokes and it’s true about the interested students sitting in the “T”. Outside of that seating zone, they’re more likely to mentally drift off.

    There’s always a few that come in 15 minutes late. A few of them slink right down in the seat and pull out their phones– some even with headphones.
    A couple come on time, sign the attendance sheet, and disappear 15 minutes into class never to be seen again until the beginning of the next class.
    Every now and then I’ll hear the regular teacher yelling at them. Basically saying ‘If you don’t care, get out. Don’t disrupt the rest of the class’. That doesn’t happen often– not even once / year.

    Course, college age and athletics, some of them will be back at the end of the semester saying they *have* to pass this class to stay eligible. Well, it’s a little late now.
    I know its frustrating to the real teachers. I only hear parts of it.

    But on the other end, are the students working 2 jobs, going to school, maybe family too. And they still manage to get their 5 hours of shop time done. And they’re interested and helpful.
    They’re trying hard to get ahead of life. So many times we don’t know what’s going on with them outside of class.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Random memory for yesterday.
    In 1992 we had two men from Russia spend a week with us as part of a Farm Bureau Farmer exchange program.
    One of the things they really wanted to do was drive the car. I showed them the basics and rode in the passenger seat. They drove the 200 yards from barn to shed as fast as they could.Turn around and race back the other way. over and over. We couldn’t talk enough for me to figure out if they didn’t have their own cars or why this was so fascinating for them.
    (I drove them to the grocery store for non-alcoholic beer. That was a biggie- they really wanted that.)

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I don’t recall ever having a substitute teacher in grade school, but I do recall some in high school. Two in particular stand out.

    The first one was a relatively young and inexperienced teacher who had drawn the unhappy lot of having to sub in our singing class. Yes, you read that right, we had a weekly class of singing Danish folk songs; not anyone’s favorite class no matter who the teacher was. Anyway, this young fellow entered our classroom carrying a violin case. Without further ado, he directed the biggest guy in the class to retrieve our songbooks from the storage cabinet and distribute them to the class. While he was tuning his violin, he told us to open our song books to a certain page. He played, and we sang, he seemed to have memorized the page numbers of all the songs he wanted us to sing – the whole fifty minutes, one song after another, all without the usual groans or complaints about songs we didn’t want to sing. There’s just something about a guy carrying a violin case.

    The other sub who stands out in my mind was a retired college professor who from time to time subbed in our Danish class. He seemed like a pretty absentminded man, and we could generally rely on him to read “Androkles og Løven.” for us, regardless of how many times he had done it before. He also loved to recite poetry, and had a seemingly inexhaustible supply of Danish poems committed to memory. We’d just sit there, mesmerized by this old man and his love of the spoken word. Ah, memories!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. At the end of the day of my most miserable day subbing (or sobbing which I ended up doing), a teacher’s aide suggested it was time for a bottle of whiskey…or, (being the 60s) perhaps a bit of acid. (I t think LSD would have put me over the edge. Whiskey on the other hand…sounded like a great idea.)

    Liked by 3 people

  10. When my mother retired from her long teaching career, she told her school she would happily sub under the right conditions. No 6am calls to zip right on in, and she preferred doing long leaves of absence, so she could actually teach. She did that for years after retiring and enjoyed it.

    Having worked at the school for years, she knew exactly who would leave you with a decent lesson plan and who would not. She would not sub for teachers she knew had no written plan and poor classroom control.

    I enjoy teaching, I don’t do crowd control. The best classroom teachers I know start right off with strict discipline.

    S&h recently served a lunch time Detention for not being in his seat when the bell rang one too many times. You don’t get to read or do homework during Detention either.

    Works for me.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. The couple of months I substituted went ok, as I recall – this was in the elementary grades – I don’t envy anyone who has to go into middle school. Someone had told to do an activity to get to know them a bit (esp. if it was for more than one day). So I’d developed a questionnaire with questions about some of their favorite movie, book, TV show, etc. And this was when there would be a read-aloud chapter book – I made sure to do that right after lunch.

    I do remember one school with “open classrooms” – there were no walls between classes, which were separated by tall screens, and there was just a low hum throughout the building as classes did their thing in their own area. I would never have gotten used to that.

    I sort of dreaded the mornings I got a call to go in – a lot of anxiety about the unknown.


    1. I think I did about 8 years of subbing with a break of about two years in the middle of the 8 years. Over the years I got to know a few of the kids well having had them in class several times in each of several years. I subbed in all kinds of classrooms and all grades. At certain times of the year they were short on subs and would put me any place that a sub was needed.


  12. Jim, I think you summed up some good advice in your last sentence: “I liked them and they liked me.” While you can’t control if the students like you, they will certainly sense if you like them. It sounds like, for the most part, you liked your students and were rewarded with them liking you. Mutual respect! I’m sure a few techniques of good classroom control – NOT the way of the principal who screamed at them and you – help overall, but I like your underlying attitude.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.