The Substitute Teacher Guide to Relationships (page 3)
Taking the time to establish a relationship with a child has its own special rewards. Making a difference in a child’s life, even if it’s only for a single day, matters.
Sadly, there are some substitute teachers who feel that building relationships with their students just isn’t worth the effort. “After all,” they argue, “I’m there for just one day and then I leave. My job is to keep the class under control and present the teaching materials. That’s it.”
I disagree! As a sub, you have the unique opportunity to foster meaningful relationships with children. Because you’re not there each day, every child in the class has an opportunity for a fresh start with you. Kind words of encouragement and a warm smile can do wonders for a child who may not get enough attention from the regular classroom teacher.
Relationships do matter, and they’re always worth the effort. In this chapter, we’ll discuss relationships with your students, your teaching colleagues, and other members of the school community.
Is it Possible to Build a Relationship in a Single Day?
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase random acts of kindness. Someone you don’t know and will likely never see again does something to help you or encourage you or support you in a time of need. You may not remember the person’s name or even what he or she looked like, but you will remember the act of kindness, possibly for your entire life.
In a way, a single act of kindness establishes a bond—a relationship—between two people. When you interact with the children in your classrooms, remember that an act of kindness establishes a bond with each of them. The teacher-student interaction may take less than a minute, but a relationship has been established. Build on it.
There’s something else you should remember about relationships with students. If you take the time to establish, cultivate, and build on them, there’s a direct pragmatic benefit for you. Building these bonds will serve you well for the next time that you will be subbing in a particular school. Students talk about subs, and if you have a good reputation with the students, you will command greater respect. The bottom line: establishing and cultivating student relationships will make your job easier. And that’s always a good thing.
So, How do I Build a Relationship?
The answer is complicated and simple at the same time. You have to sense what a child needs and then try hard to give it to him or her. Above all, you have to be an observer first, listening and watching each child. Observe their demeanor, their interaction with others, their classroom presence.
Building relationships is all about kindness and respect, reassurance and discipline, but most important, it’s about doing what needs to be done to help a child. Recently, I ran an orientation session for student teachers at Florida Atlantic University. The intent of the session was to begin preparation for their student teaching experience, then two weeks away. One of the many topics of discussion we covered was this one:
“How do you handle the child who has a proverbial ‘kick me’ sign on his back?”
I explained that every class seems to have one child who is an outsider, who other children ostracize or pick on. It’s more common than most people might think. I asked my group of new student teachers how they would handle the situation.
There was a long pause, and then a young education major raised her hand tentatively.
“I was that child,” she said. “In fourth grade my parents were going through a divorce, and I acted out against my classmates, my teachers, just about everybody. The kids in my class reciprocated. No one would play with me. Kids made fun of me. It was awful.”
I thought she was just reinforcing my comment about “kick me” children, but then she continued. “One day my teacher asked if I wanted to have lunch, just the two of us.”
I could see that the young woman was getting emotional just recalling the incident, but I said nothing.
“We, you know, talked about things, and my teacher asked if we could do it again in a few days, and we did. A few days later she asked another student to join the two of us. We talked and even laughed. For the first time that school year, I felt really special.”
She swallowed hard, and I could see tears in her eyes. “A few days later she asked two more kids to join the group at lunch. Before long those kids were talking to me all the time.”
“To tell the truth,” she said in a shaky voice, “it was that moment that I decided to become a teacher.”
Take the time to build relationships with your students. Fourteen years from now, someone might relate a wonderful story about you.
Is it Worth Taking the Time to Build Relationships with the Full-Time Staff?
Be prepared for one harsh reality. When you walk in the front door of the school as a substitute teacher, you won’t always be recognized as a legitimate member of the faculty. But you can earn that status by being friendly and interested in your colleagues. Say good morning to them. Ask about their classes and their families. Tell them about the last time you subbed in their classrooms. Ask how a difficult student is doing. By showing interest, you will slowly gain their respect.
Don’t feel hurt if you are not included in conversation in the teachers’ lounge. This is a place where private conversation is important. Just smile and listen. The longer you work in one school, the more involved you will become in casual conversation.
As I mentioned earlier, I never participate in school gossip. It’s highly unprofessional and can sometimes cause problems for you in the long run. Keep your standards high, and the faculty will respect you. If an opportunity for a long-term position comes along, the principal may ask faculty members what they know about you. If the responses include phrases like “competent teacher,” “very professional,” “really friendly,” and “gets along well with everybody,” it’s likely the position will be yours.
How Should I Interact with Other School Personnel?
The secretary (a.k.a. administrative assistant) in the front office is probably one of the most powerful people in the school. She has the ear of the principal at all times. She also has the ear of students, teachers, parents, and administrators. She hears all the gossip. She knows where the keys are and where supplies can be found.
Learn her name. Always say good morning and good-bye. Make pleasant small talk with her. She deserves your respect and interest. She has a hard job, and if she becomes your ally, your life in that school will be much, much easier.
In some classrooms, you’ll work with paraprofessionals (e.g., teacher’s aides), who can be very helpful. Although they’ll be familiar with the classroom routine and every child’s name and quirks, you shouldn’t feel intimidated by the paraprofessional. Use his or her knowledge and always express your thanks for the help, but remember that you’re the teacher. Be a strong and confident team leader.
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