[A.K.A. HOW TO HERD CATS]
So I can’t actually guarantee you won’t ever get frazzled on a particularly bad day of subbing. I sub for a choir teacher who has a men’s choir of 50 middle school boys at the end of the day and it never goes well for me. Sometimes you just have to “let it go…” But I can honestly say that 95% of my days are good ones, and I owe it to a few essential phrases and tactics I have figured out work in most situations. Knowing how to manage the classroom is the key to leaving school feeling happy and not exhausted at the end of the day.
#1 – Setting the tone
State your expectations for the students at the beginning of each class. If you are telling them that you have a set of expectations, they essentially know that you are watching for their good behavior and ready to face any poor choices they might make. For example, “The expectation for you during this class is that you will be working on _______ until you are finished, and your voice level will be at a 0 – no talking, 1 – whispering, or 2 – indoor speaking voice.” You can say this in a way that is both nice and serious. If things start getting crazy, tell them the consequences for misbehavior. “Anyone I see that is not keeping their hands to themselves or being a caring and respectful friend I will send down to the office.”
#2 – Getting students’ attention
Sometimes it’s hard to get the whole class’s attention if they’ve been chatting or moving around the classroom. There are a lot of “call to halts” you can use when you need to give the class directions that are positive attention-getters, instead of yelling, “STOP TALKING.” I like to use the countdown from 3 to 1 – it’s a universal signal that something important is happening and you need to listen. You can also do the clap – you know, clap, clap, clap-clap-clap? Yeah, pretty universal too. Sometimes just standing in the front of the room with your hand raised gets the whole class to raise their hands and be silent – this is amazing! “I will wait until you are ready,” never works for me, nor does getting angry. It’s good to remain calm. Teachers who get angry instead of staying calm are the ones who feel punished at the end of the day.
#3 – Correcting behavior
In Education-ese, we call this redirecting. A student is doing something that’s disruptive or harmful and you need them to stop, so you basically ask them to do something else. I have found that students don’t like to be called out for bad behavior and it’s best if you can get them back on track by addressing the class as a whole with a positive remark or incentive. For example, “I love how this side of the room is ______ [doing the right thing].” or “I’m going to come around and everyone I see doing ______ [what they’re supposed to be doing] is going to get a sticker!” (or find out what the school’s behavior incentive program is and work that magic!) Point out and reward positive behaviors and the negative ones should dissolve. If they don’t, my suggestion is to go to the trouble student individually and tell them in a quiet, yet serious voice that you don’t appreciate their behavior and you will write their name down along with a description of how they acted in your class for their teacher to see tomorrow. No matter what, do the best you can to end the class on a good note – and leave a nice note for the teacher.
It boggles my mind to think that anyone can be a teacher to the same group of students every day, be the bearer of student personality faults, plan all the lessons, grade all the assignments, conference with the parents, and not lose their minds. I just couldn’t do that job. Starting over fresh everyday is huge. That’s a big reason why I love substitute teaching. I recently met a woman in her early 40’s who has been subbing for 20 years! She was pleasant, smart, and kind – not burned out and crabby like some people who have been doing the same job for that long. She told me how much she appreciated her job for both the flexibility and decent pay. She’s made such a good impression in the schools that she was able to get a building substitute position at one of her favorite schools in the district. She gave me such a positive vision for the work I am blessed to be doing! If she could devote 20 years of her life to subbing and has plans for more, how lucky am I to get to be doing this job right now?
Anyway, that’s just to give you hope if you happen to be a new substitute teacher who’s having a rough time. Let me just say, You can do this! I think you can, I think you can.
*Image credit goes to Key & Peele’s Substitute Teacher video. Watch it for guaranteed comic relief. My apologies in advance for the PG-13 word choice!