First Time Teaching at a School Help for The Substitute Teacher (page 3)
Your first day in any new environment can be confusing. That’s why in the business world many companies provide orientation sessions and assign a coworker to guide any new person through the day. Unfortunately, in education, although you may attend a sub orientation, you’ll rarely, if ever, have a mentor or coworker to help you. You arrive for your first day at a school, and you’re expected to know your way around the building, to be familiar with local rules and regulations, and to magically adapt to the idiosyncrasies of faculty and staff—a tall order to be sure!
There are, however, some concrete things you can do to avoid problems that will arise because of your unfamiliarity with a new environment. In this article, I’ll discuss some of the ways that you can make your first day easier.
Is There Anything I Can do Before My First Assignment at the School?
Most schools have websites that contain useful information about the school and its people. If you have time, be sure to visit the website. You can familiarize yourself with the school layout, get driving directions if you need them, learn the names of administrators and staff, and get a general feel for the school itself. None of this will make you an expert, but it will help you to acclimate yourself more quickly when you do arrive.
What Should I do When I Walk Through the Front Door?
Try to arrive early and introduce yourself to the contact person in the office. A cheerful demeanor is very important. You’re an outsider; it’s up to you to establish rapport.
The people in the front office can be your best allies or your worst nightmare. You may need them for assistance throughout the day, so it’s important to get them on your side. To do this, make an effort to learn each of their names, and then use their names throughout the day. Smile a lot, defer to their suggestions whenever possible, be apologetic if you ask for assistance, and never, ever project a master-servant attitude. If you plan to sub at a number of different schools, write down the names of office staff at each school and review the list before your day begins.
What Should I Say When I Walk into the Office?
You walk into a busy administration office at the beginning of the day. Teachers are walking in and out, parents with special requests are standing at the counter, the assistant principal is visible in his or her glass enclosed office, and the staffers are looking harried and not completely awake.
“Hi,” you say with a smile, trying to make eye contact with the closest office staff person. “I’m Ms. X and I’ll be subbing for Mr. Z today.”
The staffer looks up and frowns. “Just a sec, and I’ll be right with you.”
You notice that the nameplate on her desk identifies her as Melinda Harold, and you repeat her name silently to yourself.
“You’re a sub?” says Melinda with little emotion.
Again you smile. “Yes. I’ll be subbing for Mr. Z. It’s my first time in the school, so . . . if you have a map of the rooms?”
“I have one here someplace,” responds Melinda. “Here it is.”
“You know,” you say, “I had some education classes at State U with a Jennifer Harold. She’s not a relation, is she?”
Melinda brightens. “Oh my, yes, she’s my niece. She’s graduating this year. We’re all very proud of her.”
“Tell her that I said hi.”
“I will, for sure. Have a good day, and if you need anything at all, just see me. Here, let me show you the fastest way to get to Room 118.”
Melinda is smiling broadly now. You’ve engaged her, and you have an ally in the office.
Before you leave, you decide to take advantage of Melinda’s generous offer of help.
“Ms. Harold,” you begin.
“Oh, just call me Melinda. Everyone else does.”
“Melinda, can you tell me about the sign-in and sign-out procedure?”
Sign-in and sign-out procedures vary from school to school. Most schools have very strict rules for visitors, so be sure to follow the procedure exactly. Many schools ask you to sign in on a computer and to wear a badge for the day.
Once you arrive at your classroom, your special student helper can help you navigate through early morning activities and can also help you find the rooms for specials, the cafeteria, and the restrooms. If the school has a particularly complex layout, try to notice landmarks that will help you retrace your steps.
Should I Introduce Myself to Other Teachers?
It is extremely important to introduce yourself to the teacher in the room next door. Chances are that classroom will be the same grade level, and the teacher will have knowledge of the curriculum and routines. You’ll welcome that person’s help. The teacher in the room next door might also have been given specific information for you by the teacher for whom you are subbing.
If you return to the same school shortly after, be sure to make contact with the classroom teacher for whom you subbed. Teachers love to hear about and talk about their students, so have a few comments ready and don’t be afraid to compliment the class. It’s likely that part of the conversation will follow this pattern:
Classroom teacher: How did Seth behave for you? He usually gives subs a hard time. He drives me crazy some days!
You: Seth wasn’t too bad on Monday, but I can see what you mean. He tried to challenge me a few times. I can imagine what you must go through.
A conversation like this shows that you are truly interested in the students. You will appear to be a caring individual who empathizes with the teacher’s situation. That teacher will probably request you the next time he or she is absent.
I have found that there are teachers in each school who try to make conversation with the subs and others who don’t bother because you are not part of their daily life. It’s not your job to meet every individual in the building, but try to introduce yourself when appropriate. You want to appear friendly and caring.
Walking into a school for the first time as a sub is never easy, but it is manageable. By following these simple guidelines, you can always get off to a good start:
- Do some research to learn about the school before your first visit. Most schools have websites, and it’s always worth a few minutes of your time to check them out.
- Try to arrive early. There may be some confusion surrounding your first visit to a new school. You don’t want to be late for class.
- Be sure to cultivate a good relationship with front office staff. They can help you get over the hurdles of being a “newbie.”
- Introduce yourself to the teacher in the room next door. You may need some special information about routines and curriculum.
Each school has its own culture. Prepare in advance, be an astute observer, and be friendly to faculty and staff, and the next time your visit will be easy!
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