Substitute Teacher Questions (page 4)
The following questions will be answered in this article:
- What’s the best way to take students to an assembly?
- How can I be sure I won’t lose my temper?
- What should I wear?
- What if students say, “We like you better”?
- What should I do when students finish class assignments early?
- Is there a better approach than yelling?
- What should I do when a student says, “I don’t get it”?
What’s the Best Way to Take Students to an Assembly?
The last time I subbed, we had a student assembly. I wasn’t sure how to proceed from the classroom to the auditorium, where we were supposed to sit, or what behavior standards were expected of the students. As a consequence, I was really confused and nervous. To make matters worse, my students behaved poorly, and I suspect it was because I was not the regular teacher.
If I can’t control the students’ behavior in a public setting, I look bad in front of the other teachers. Are there any tricks to ensuring good behavior during assemblies?
Carlene in Detroit
There are specific things you can do to improve behavior for assemblies. Just as with all good teaching, you must be prepared and set clear expectations.
When you read your plans and see that an assembly is scheduled, call aside a special helper. Ask him or her what the normal routine is for proceeding to the auditorium and where your class should sit. If there is time, ask a grade partner these same questions for added insight. Ask what the subject matter will be. Now you’ll have the information you need.
Tell the class in advance what time you’ll be leaving for the assembly, and tell them what the content of the program will be. You might ask them what they already know on the topic as well as what new things they think they might learn.
Review your rules and expectations for assembly behavior. Tell your class that you expect them to walk quietly in line and that they must sit next to someone who will not “get them in trouble.” Mention that you may find it necessary to change some seats if you see some people talking to one another.
Use proximity to help you monitor behavior. Use a special look or hand motion that you have explained earlier as a warning system. Finally, if someone is out of control, take that student off to the side and have that student sit near you and away from the others until he or she demonstrates the ability to return to the group.
How Can I Be Sure I Won’t Lose My Temper?
I’m generally mild mannered, but every once in a while something sets me off and I lose it. Obviously, I never want that to happen in the classroom, but I came dangerously close this afternoon.
I was teaching middle school reading, working with students who struggle academically. I tried hard to keep them involved in the lesson, but it was obvious they weren’t terribly interested in the work—especially when a sub was teaching them.
I simply could not hold their attention. As they began to act out, I began to become frustrated and then angry. At one point I yelled and then I pleaded. Even I could sense that I sounded pathetic!
Adam in Los Angeles
Every sub has had days like yours. You are not alone, and you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself. There are days when you just can’t seem to gain control, no matter what you do.
Please remember one thing—no matter what happens in that room, no matter how angry you feel, do not lose your temper. Once you do, you are no longer in control. Be aware that you are the authority figure in the classroom and your actions set the tone for the entire day.
When classroom behavior begins to deteriorate, try to focus on the few students who are cooperating. Praise them. Change your voice intonation. Tell the class that when work is completed you have a fun activity planned.
Then try to isolate the source of disruption. Usually one or two students are the culprits. Rather than punishing the whole class, take aside the cause of the problem, look him right in the eye, and ask him to get to work now. Tell him this is his one and only warning. If he continues to act out, give him a referral or a detention or send him to the office with a note. This will show the others that you are serious. Sometimes you need to make an example of one student to get everyone’s attention and to gain control.
What Should I Wear?
I find it difficult to decide what to wear the morning of a subbing job. One day I was told that I would be teaching middle school science. I put on a knee-length skirt, white blouse, and high heels, which was very appropriate for my given assignment. I knew that dressing professionally would help me earn respect.
When I got to the office, the assistant principal told me that there had been a change and I would be the PE teacher for the day. Help!
Given the way I was dressed, I was very uncomfortable and looked ridiculous. I had to take off my shoes and walk around barefoot in the gym for the last period because my feet hurt so much.
Diana in Connecticut
You were correct in your choice of clothing for middle school science. A professional look goes a long way in creating an appropriate image and gaining respect. But as a sub, you must be ready for anything.
Keep “emergency” clothing in the trunk of your car. A pair of sneakers, a whistle, a knit shirt with a collar, and shorts or casual slacks will always work if you need to be a PE teacher for a day or if you are suddenly assigned to go on a field trip.
Your comfort is important. If you plan to wear high heels, put a pair of flats in your bag of tricks for the end of the day. Keep a sweater in your car in case the classroom is cold.
But remember that casual clothes are only appropriate when the assignment dictates them. Always dress like a professional. It does wonders for your sense of confidence.
What if Students Say, “We Like You Better”?
Sometimes when I sub, the children confide in me that they like me better than their own teacher. I feel flattered, but I’m also uneasy about it. In some classrooms, they tell me that their teacher yells all the time.
I have two questions. How should I react to the comment about liking me better than the regular teacher? Do you think I should tell the principal about the teacher who yells all the time?
Ken in New Jersey
Students often like a sub better than their regular teacher. After all, if you do a good job and are kind to the children, you’re a novelty. Unlike the regular teacher, you don’t have to deal with the day-to-day stresses of grading, record keeping, parent conferences, and the daily challenges that students bring.
When you are told that you are liked more than Ms. X, thank the students, but explain that they have an excellent teacher and you admire Ms. X very much. Ms. X is responsible for their daily education, so she needs to be more serious sometimes. But you know that Ms. X is very proud of her class.
As far as reporting student comments about their regular teacher to the principal—absolutely not! You must never indulge in gossip like this. It is very unprofessional, and frankly, it’s none of your business. The principal is well aware of the strengths and weaknesses of his or her faculty. The principal doesn’t need your input in this instance, and it will reflect poorly on you if you provide it.
What Should I Do When Students Finish Class Assignments Early?
I seem to have a continuing problem in middle school classes. The regular teacher leaves work that the students are supposed to complete within a given time period. Some of the students rush through the work haphazardly. Then they start talking. When I ask them to stop, they say they have completed the assignment and have nothing to do.
In almost every instance, the perpetrators have not done a good job on the assignment. It’s my feeling that some students don’t want to work, they’d rather socialize.
I don’t want to give out more work, but I need to keep them busy so they don’t bother the serious students.
I am lost on this issue. Any ideas?
Jessica in Miami
All teachers—not just subs—are challenged by this problem. Our students all have different learning styles and pace themselves differently. In addition, they have varying levels of interest in any given assignment. Some are neat, careful, and conscientious. Others rush through their work in an uncaring manner.
If a student says, “I’m finished,” first check the work to be sure that it’s correct and complete. If you are satisfied, go to your bag of tricks and choose from the extra material you have in there for the early finishers.
To stock up on the extra material, go online and print out age appropriate material that will challenge the early finishers and still be “fun.” Make several copies. For example, for younger children be sure to have word fnds and other puzzles on hand. Some can be challenging, others easy. Hand out the extra work as needed.
You should provide a few choices so that the extra work doesn’t feel like a punishment. Some students may say they prefer to continue working on the original assignment, which is fine!
As an alternative to handouts, you can write an assignment on the board for early finishers. You might post a question that you want them to respond to. It could be a list of vocabulary words to look up and use in sentences. You might have some brainteasers to work on quietly.
The trick is to have students on task at all times. You and the students will have a better day when everyone is busy.
Is There a Better Approach Than Yelling?
I hate to yell, but sometimes it’s the only way to get a class to listen to me. Sometimes a few students will stop and listen. Then they tell the others to be quiet, but in a loud voice! Now that they are “shushing” the others, the noise level grows even more intolerable.
What is the best way to get the class to quiet down so that I can give directions? I find it very frustrating when I have to waste five minutes before anyone listens. I know there must be a better way.
Samantha in Arizona
The first thing I would do is ask your special helper to tell you the normal way of getting the class to quiet down. What does their teacher do? For younger children it might be flicking the lights, ringing a bell, or counting with a hand signal. Try using the normal method.
If you find that normal methods are ineffective, you might try telling the class that you have your own “special way” for asking the class to quiet down, just for use today. Make it a novelty and praise those who follow your technique.
I would recommend a special signal, such as five fingers in the air and counting backward. But—and here’s the important part—use a very soft voice, count slowly, and once you have quiet, pause for effect and begin giving your directions in the same very soft voice. Thank the students for following directions, and proceed with your lesson.
What Should I Do When a Student Says, “I Don’t Get It”?
I find it very frustrating to have to repeat directions over and over again. No matter how clearly I explain things, there are always a handful of students who never pay attention. They expect me to repeat the directions, just for them. I am tired of the dreaded words, “I don’t get it”!
I tell them to ask a neighbor, but this causes talking and disruption for the others. Frankly, it’s also unfair to the neighbor.
Any ideas for me?
Carolyn in New Hampshire
Experienced teachers have a distinct strategy when they give directions. Here are the steps to follow:
- Wait until you have the attention of the entire class.
- Pause dramatically and state the directions clearly, one time only.
- Then check for understanding by having a student repeat the directions. 4. Write the directions on the board, including page number and all other important details.
If someone says, “I don’t get it,” point to the board. Do not repeat directions. Stating directions one time, clearly and simply, is the best way to have students focus. If they know you’ll repeat things, they won’t feel the need to listen the first time.
When you are clear and firm, everyone benefits!
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