Substitute Teacher Part II – Lessons from Subbing

I didn’t actually become a sub in a school district. The process requires sending paper packet to the district where it takes months and months of approval to get an emergency credential. It is much easier but also far less lucrative, to sign up with a company that contracts substitutes. Why schools allow someone who isn’t credentialed to sub and why the requirements are different? I have no idea, but after one week of subbing, I can say, this is an under appreciated, overlooked and underutilized position.

People need days off. They need them for personal and health reasons. As a result teachers need days off. However, children do not get days off and they go to school not to be babysat but to learn. However, it speaks a lot about our education when those teacher replacements are treated little more than babysitters.

My first assignment was good because the teacher actually tried, in as much as she showed me how to use the new blackboard, which is a big screen touch screen and printed out a lesson plan. She didn’t show me the software that kids use and so when I walked around the class, the kids could have been doing anything, I wouldn’t know the difference.

The logical thing would be to send a syllabus, school rules and class rules and assignment. But schools don’t do this for a reason: they like to be able to switch classes on you. So you might be good at first grade and terrible at fifth, too bad, you’re teaching fifth, or worse, special ed. Why? Because the school doesn’t care how bad you are at teaching, all they need is an adult in the room.

Of course one result of being a sub and at the end of the year is that I get to see where the kids are in their learning at the end of the year and their capacity to learn. It is not great. It doesn’t help that kids are not interested in learning or working by the end, but kids with ability to do basic math and reading are the exception, not the norm.

I seriously don’t know what the teachers do with these kids but none of this computer stuff is helping. The problems of course haven’t changed in 30 years, they are still as abstract and unconnected with the world of a child as ever. Asking a 5th grader about profit of selling paintings or how many nails seven homes use is absurd. Kids have interests and passions. You can use names of important people and create interesting problems. But people who write books are devoid of any imagination or connection to a kid, so they bore them to death.

So what would I do if I was in charge of a school district? Educate the subs. Just a little bit of training of classroom control and education and education for all class levels would ensure a better experience for the sub and most importantly the child.

I would do an interview with the sub. It is less important of their ability to write at college level than ability to teach and connect with kids. Have the do a mock lecture, check them of how they deal with a class. Then I would make sure schools control their schedules and make sure that the subs who are scheduled for a class, get that class. This would make it easier for teacher to get in touch with the sub and explain the day and their class, who the problem child is and who will be the go-to student and what are the key rules that knowing will ensure you do not get taken advantage of. For instance one teacher had a policy of one bathroom break a week while the other gave out tickets and kids used tickets to go to the bathroom. You can imagine which class was the problem with the day being one long ticket and bathroom bonanza.

I would also do better work at looking at and requesting books that make subjects fun. Too many texts and problems are done based on what teachers find interesting who have no concept of popular culture. It would be so easy to license some interesting pop culture or get non profit use and create things that are fun and interesting.

And I would have an intro to school to first time subs. Substitute teachers arrive at a new campus without an idea of where to park or where to go for food. No one talks to them and completely ignore. It is worse than an uber driver. By having a good relationship with the substitute, you will ensure that good ones come back and kids get to know them and that they actually have a relationship and ability to impact kids.

A substitute teacher is not just a babysitter. They chose that job when they have other options, it is someone who is on some level considering teaching and might be good at it. Treating them as mere babysitters is a disservice to the sub and the students who they could be educated during that one day of a teacher’s absense. Something that can be enabled with just a little more training, communication and care.

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