The Substitute Teacher Guide to Classroom Observation
Look, listen, and learn—very good advice for even the most seasoned substitute teacher, and a crucial guideline for those of you who are just starting out. Someone once said that half of success is showing up. I contend that the other half is just paying attention. Observation is another way of saying the same thing.
How Can I Get the Most out of my Subbing Experience?
Every day you walk into a classroom—look, listen, and learn. By applying the powers of observation, you’ll walk away from your subbing experience with ideas that you can reuse in other classrooms and with other students. I recommend that you keep a spiral notebook in your bag of tricks. When you observe a good idea, write it down.
And don’t confine yourself to observing only full-time classroom teachers. You can learn many tricks of the trade by observing other experienced subs.
You might argue that you don’t have time to observe other teachers because you have a classroom of students to teach. That’s true! So do the next best thing—ask questions. If you’re a new sub, don’t be afraid to ask more experienced full-time teachers and subs for ideas. If an idea works, it can become part of your repertoire. And if it doesn’t work out for you, it’s only one day and you’ll know not to repeat it again.
What Can I Learn by Observing Students?
You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn from students. As I mentioned in the Helpers chapter, students provide a wealth of knowledge about how things are done in the school and in the classroom. Ask students what methods are used to line up or to get students’ attention. You will see which ones are effective and work with your individual personality.
In addition, students can often provide you with excellent ideas for “filler” activities and games. In fact, most of the classroom games that I use were taught to me by students. I was sure to ask them what they like to do when there is some extra time. Students love to teach a sub something new. Why not allow them to feel as if they are helping you?
Let’s say you have fifteen minutes to fill before the students go to lunch. Here’s how the interaction with your class might proceed:
“Let’s do something special before we go to lunch,” you say with enthusiasm.
“Yeah!” respond at least a few of the children. Hands go up immediately with suggestions while other children shout out ideas.
Maintain control. “I think we’ll play a game. Which short games are your favorites? And please, people, no shouting out ideas. Raise your hands.”
“I think we should play Higher/Lower,” says a girl with curly hair.
Another hand goes up, and you nod to acknowledge a freckle-faced boy. “I think we should play the Unique Game.”
“Okay,” you say, “let’s play the Unique Game, and don’t worry, next time we’ll play Higher/Lower.”
Once the choice is made, have the student who suggested the game explain the rules to you and the class.
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