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Dealing with a Substitute Teacher: Don't Panic! (page 2)

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Updated on Feb 25, 2010

Listen…but Reframe. No matter how cheery we may be, of course, a crucial part of our parenting, says Reeves, is to “acknowledge a child’s anxiety” and allow kids to express it without judgment. “Mr. O’Neill is a great teacher,” you might say matter of factly, “and you’re really worried about what will happen while he’s gone.” But then, says Reeves, “parents should reframe the new transition as an opportunity, and have the child identify positive outcomes.” Mark Terry, M.Ed., Principal of Eubanks Intermediate School in Southlake, Texas, also recommends inviting your child to help take a lead in welcoming. “As your child, he says, ‘how can you help this teacher succeed?’” Try taking out pen and paper and brainstorming a list together.

Keep Home Routines. Since teachers and principals generally meet with subs ahead of time, most school routines will stay the same. Kids, however, don’t really know that yet! So especially in the beginning, you can provide enormous comfort—and often address those stress symptoms like acting out—by maintaining familiar home routines. “We know,” says Davis, that “routines decrease the acclimation period.”

Explain Special Needs. If your child has special needs and accomodations, the teacher will most likely have explained them to the sub, but don’t forget that parents can be crucial partners. Don’t hesitate to tell the new teacher what’s up, but refrain from handing over dense files. Instead, ask for a brief meeting, and offer a short list of helpful, practical tips. The new teacher will most likely be very grateful!

Share Concerns Adult to Adult. While everyone hopes that all children will adjust quickly, everyone knows that hiccups can happen. All our experts agree: do reach out to your teacher and principal to resolve your concerns. But, adds Terry, “please do tell us the things you really like as well as anything to address,” since schools will work as hard to build on positives as to resolve negatives. And do beware “sharing negative comments with your child,” says Barbara Chester, a 28-year veteran principal and current president-elect of the National Association of Elementary School Principals. Instead, she urges, “ask the hard questions, but be sure to do it adult to adult.”

Celebrate! Parents, we won’t deny it: a long-term substitute can seem daunting to kids. But here’s the benefit: when schools and parents work together well, the experience can also be as rewarding as any life curriculum unit in the elementary years. “Ultimately,” explains Chester, “it’s about talking to your kids and modeling for them how you accept change. In their lifetimes, they’re going to experience a lot of transitions. Sure, change can be scary, but you don’t have to be stuck in that place. Change is normal, and change is okay.”

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