Handling a Difficult Day for the Substitute Teacher (page 2)
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.
What if I Never Restore Order?
Usually, the classroom will settle down in time. Be cool under fire, moving from one proven subbing technique to another in an effort to find something that will work. If the classroom is chaotic, try to find the instigator, isolate her, and have a private conversation. If the child is incorrigible, write a referral or call the office for help.
If the day continues to be miserable, please remember that one difficult day is just that—one bad day. Tomorrow will be better. You may be assigned to your favorite third grade class. The children will be happy to see you, and they may ask you to read them the same story that you read to them the last time you were in for a visit. That special child who remembers your kindness from the last visit will make you a card with hearts and rainbows. You’ll smile and forget about the previous difficult day.
Difficult days happen whether you’re a doctor, lawyer, firefighter, or substitute teacher. They’re part of the job, and you can’t take them too seriously.
You will have bad days, and, most of the time, they will not be your fault. The culture of a classroom may not be ideal, one difficult student can be extremely disruptive, lesson plans may be below par, or name tags or seating charts may not be available. Your fault? I don’t think so!
When things begin to unravel in the classroom, follow these simple guidelines:
- Do a self-check to ensure that you’re doing the things that lead to classroom control.
- Focus on the classroom dynamic, trying to understand why things are going awry and what you might be able to do to correct the situation.
- Evaluate the subject matter. If it’s too complex or simply “not right” for this moment in time, get through it and move on to something that might change the classroom atmosphere in a positive way.
When all strikes are against you, survival is your goal. Do the best that you can, but don’t be too hard on yourself. Tomorrow will be better!
- Coats and Car Seats: A Lethal Combination?
- Kindergarten Sight Words List
- Signs Your Child Might Have Asperger's Syndrome
- Child Development Theories
- 10 Fun Activities for Children with Autism
- Social Cognitive Theory
- Why is Play Important? Social and Emotional Development, Physical Development, Creative Development
- GED Math Practice Test 1
- Problems With Standardized Testing
- The Homework Debate