The Substitute Teacher Guide to Staying Young at Heart (page 3)
How Does Age Relate to Successful Subbing?
To children, all grown-ups are “old.” Because children are not very good at judging the age of an adult, you can use your years of life experience as a helpful tool.
Regardless of your chronological age, it is important to be able to relate to the students and be cognizant of their world. You should try to make yourself aware of the media, technology, and culture of the age group with which you are working. Know what TV shows they watch, which music they listen to, which sports and teams they might enjoy. It’s a good idea to drop a name of a famous singer or popular TV show. In a subtle way, it establishes credibility and indicates that you understand their world. It’s also fun to see their reaction when you mention a pop icon or video game that they assume you don’t know.
“Wow, Mrs. P., you actually know about Sponge Bob?” exclaimed a third grader when I mentioned the cartoon character.
“Sure,” I responded (exaggerating just a little). “I watch him all the time. He’s one of my favorites!”
At one point in my career, I subbed in the same school system that my children attended. I always played up my role as a mother of children “exactly your age” who attended a neighboring school that all the children knew. Some of the students actually knew my sons. This helped establish me as a teacher and a mom, just like theirs.
What if I Am an Older Person? Will the Students Relate to Me?
If you are an older person, you probably have had some very good life experiences to share with students. Don’t be afraid to talk about them, but do try to avoid a preaching tone. Your intent is to provide a “history lesson,” not to convince the children that things were better in the good old days.
I love to tell students what it was like when I was in their grade. Every child knows what “old school” means, and all are fascinated with what it was like in the old days. They are often dumbfounded when I tell them that there were no calculators or computers or cell phones, no Google or video games.
“You know, boys and girls,” I’d say, “when I was in the third grade . . .”
“That must have been a long time ago,” the classroom comic would interject.
“It was,” I’d say with a laugh, “but in those days school wasn’t for wimps.”
“Do you mean, Mrs. Pressman, it was tough?”
“Not tougher than here.”
“When I was in third grade, we had to memorize multiplication facts and then recite them in front of the whole class, and if we made a mistake, we’d get punished.”
“You’d have to write the part of the multiplication table you didn’t know twenty-five times, and you’d stay after school until you got it done!”
“Whoa! They can’t do that.”
“Like I said, school in the old days was not for wimps.”
The more students know about you and your background (and history) the better you’ll be able to engage them. So tell them about your previous career, about the years you lived in a big city, about interesting family members, about your trips to far-off places—you’ll be more “human.”
Is it True that Being “Immature” Helps you be a Better Teacher?
In my current job, I train new teachers, and I’ve noticed that the very best teachers are the ones who have a whimsical persona. They have the ability to be somewhat childish when they need to be.
The best teachers love to be silly. They are not afraid to use self-deprecating humor. They can get into the mind of a child and make him or her laugh.
During a job interview, I was once asked how I would feel if I were observed by parents and administrators for a special early childhood program in the school district.
My answer: “I never mind being observed. I am very happy to make a fool of myself in front of anyone who wants to watch me!”
I could tell from the laughter and warm smiles that this response got me the position. Any good teacher knows that your ability to act in a childish manner makes you an effective teacher or substitute teacher.
Your chronological age has very little to do with your effectiveness as a substitute teacher. Remember, children are interested in your age, but they will not be judgmental about it. They are fascinated by age differences. Try to apply the following guidelines:
- Stay current. Learn the current culture—media, music, and the like—and use this knowledge in the classroom. It will help establish credibility.
- Use your age as an asset. If you’ve very young, recognize that your students may be able to relate to your experiences because they are not too far removed from theirs. If you’re older, understand that life experiences provide you with many effective teaching tools.
- Don’t be afraid to be whimsical. A little “immaturity” goes a long way in the classroom.
If you stay young at heart, your chronological age really doesn’t matter. Effective teaching is about the way you translate your life experience into the classroom, not about how much—or little—life experience you have.
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