Handling a Difficult Day for the Substitute Teacher
Is it Always My Fault When Order Breaks Down?
No, it isn’t always your fault, and although difficult days are stressful, you should try not to let them become too discouraging. In a school and a classroom, things happen that are out of your control. Here are some examples.
- The regular classroom teacher may be having trouble establishing control in the classroom. A chaotic culture already exists, and then you walk in the door. If the classroom teacher has not established good classroom routines and behavior standards, it is nearly impossible for you to change those standards in one day.
- The classroom teacher did not prepare for her absence—no lesson plans, no class list, hidden teaching materials, no seating chart. How can you be effective if you don’t even know the names of the students?
- One or more students may be having outside issues that affect their in-school behaviors. Perhaps a child just had a horrendous argument with a parent. That child sees you as another authority figure and decides to act out against you. Of course, you have no way of knowing the reason for the behavior.
Sometimes, you just have to accept that even with your best effort, the day is going to be difficult. On such an occasion, try to focus on the students who are behaving. Reward them with your attention, give them your praise, and have them help you with classroom chores.
Is There any Way to Recover After a Bad Start?
Yes, and it’s definitely worth a try! First, do a self-check. Are you following the guidelines I’ve suggested?
- Does your body language project self-assurance?
- Are you using a calm, but authoritative voice?
- Are you maintaining good eye contact with students?
- Are you projecting a caring demeanor and a good sense of humor?
- Are you acting with consistency and following through?
If your self-check is positive, focus on the class itself. Perhaps you have not lost the whole group. Is there one particular student who is causing the disruption? If so, isolate that child and have a firm talk with him. If you see no change, write a referral or send him to the office. These actions show other children that you are serious and will not tolerate poor behavior.
If the plans or material that you were given are too difficult or too unstructured, you can still save the day. Finish up quickly, or put that work aside, and try an activity from your bag of tricks. You’re familiar with the materials in your bag and can present them with assurance. It will be a welcome change and may get the class back on track.
What Should I do if I Am Asked to Show a Video that Doesn’t Engage the Students?
In order to avoid writing a detailed lesson plan, some classroom teachers may ask you to show a video to the class. They may even convince themselves that showing a video will make your life easy as well. But if the video is wrong for the age group, has been shown before, or is unacceptably dry and uninteresting, the class will lose interest. This situation occurs all too frequently and can result in classroom management problems.
I was asked to sub for a music teacher, and part of her “plan” asked me to show a video of the movie Mary Poppins, which worked fairly well for the younger children. But when I started the video for fourth and fifth graders, they moaned and groaned and started laughing. It was immediately apparent that Mary Poppins would have to go! I turned off the video, and thinking fast, I asked the students to make up a TV commercial— with music—for their favorite breakfast cereal. When they finished, each cereal commercial was presented to the class. A few students said they did not want to do that, so I handed them a word search with musical terms. All were busy, the students were engaged, and the class remained relatively calm and quiet.
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