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Classroom Management Help For The Substitute Teacher (page 2)

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Oct 14, 2011

How do I Respond to “That’s Not Fair”?

You will hear these words often, and as a sub, you must be careful not to fall into the trap of trying to be perfectly fair at all times to all students. Children may use these words to manipulate you, so be careful not to fall into the trap of defending yourself. You won’t win!

Children sometimes feel that you are not being fair when they feel slighted or hurt. They want to turn a perceived injustice into revenge. And you are the tool!

I always tried to explain to the class that we all try to be fair, but they must understand that life’s not fair. A good teacher tries to give each student what is best for that student, and what may be fair for one is not always the best for the next person. Sometimes we must do what is best for the whole group, and that may not feel fair to one or two individuals.

If the discussion about fairness continues, tell the students involved that you will discuss it and resolve the situation later, but now it is time to get back to work. Then you may take the children aside and resolve the problem privately.

A worthwhile discussion of fairness can be found in the book Positive Discipline, by J. Nelsen et al. The authors provide pragmatic solutions for handling situations in which students try to push your “fairness button.”

How Should I Manage Rewards and Consequences?

In the classroom, a carrot is almost always better than a stick. Rewards provide positive reinforcement for good performance and good behavior. But rewards have to be balanced with consequences if performance or behavior is less than satisfactory. Use them both, and your ability to manage the classroom will be greatly enhanced.

The system that most good teachers establish encompasses both tiered rewards for good performance and behavior and a warning system with consequences for performance or behavior that doesn’t meet school standards. Hopefully, there is a reward system in use in the classroom. Ask your special helper to explain it to you. 

Many classrooms use multilevel warnings (e.g., green light, yellow light, red light) with consequences (e.g., write student’s name in a special book, make a check next to name, miss recess, call the parent). If this approach is not effective for your needs that day, you will need a backup system.

There are many rewards systems that are effective. Here are a few that have worked for me. Try some of these and see which work best for you.

  • Recess as a reward. On the board, write the word R-E-C-E-S-S in big letters. Tell the class that you will give them a recess period at the end of the day. However, if you need to remind them to be quiet, instead of telling them, you’ll simply erase one letter of the word recess from the board. If the whole word is erased, recess is gone. However, even if just one letter is left, they are safe!
  • List of names. Tell the class that their teacher has asked you to leave the names of any students who misbehave. However, say that you prefer to give the teacher a list of excellent students. You can write these names on the board or keep a list on paper. Just make sure all can see the list. Those on the list will be given a reward at the end of the day, and the names will be included in your teacher note.
  • Contest. If the classroom is arranged in pods, rows, or sections, give each section a number. Each time a section is behaving well, put the number of the section on the board. Each time you want to compliment them, put a check next to that number. The section with the most checks will be rewarded (e.g., stickers, treats, extra time for a free choice activity).

When children are arranged in groups and the whole group wants a reward, they will self-police. If one student is noisy, he can ruin the chance of a reward for the whole group. Usually one or more members of the group will act as your surrogate to quiet the noisy child. This can work for whole-class rewards as well.

Because you are not the classroom teacher, your survival tools are limited. I’ve found that if you use rewards effectively, they can make a real difference. So try some of the suggestions, and be on the lookout for others in the classrooms you visit.

But remember, always be consistent. If you start the day using a reward system, continue to use it throughout the entire day. Be sure that if you threaten consequences, you must be able to follow through.

There is much more that can be said about reward systems. In fact, entire books have been written on the subject. If you have additional interest, I recommend Assertive Discipline by Lee Canter and The First Days of School by Harry and Rosemary Wong.

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