Substitute Teachers

Substitute Teachers: challenges and student perspective

         Substitute teachers are near and dear to my heart. One of my jobs as a psychologist in a large urban school district was training substitute teachers on classroom management. And now my son is a substitute teacher, while getting his teaching credential.  
         There are many myths about subbing, like "Don't smile for the first day." I advise the opposite.  Even if you are facing a challenging group of adolescents, smile and tell them that you're so happy to be there, because this is your favorite age group and the teacher has said so many great things about them. It's hard to be evil to someone who likes you.
         One of the many strategies is to put a few sample notes home on the board, e.g. "________________ was so helpful today in the class. I appreciate the positive attitude and helpful behavior." The sub states that he or she loves to send positive notes home or to leave them for the regular teacher. The sub then invites students who want such a note to let him or her know at sometime during the day. Amazing what this motivates in a classroom.
         So, I was very impressed by the letter that my niece's fifth grade daughter wrote about a long-term sub when the teacher was out with knee surgery. Granted, she is an exceptionally thoughtful and bright child, but I thought the information and perspective would be valuable to anyone who is doing substitute teaching (and to teachers selecting a long-term sub)
         Thanks to Sophia.

Dear Mrs. G.,
We are writing this letter first to welcome you back, and we are very delighted to see you again as our fifth grade teacher!  We hope you had a full recovery and are feeling much better.
The second reason we write this letter is to express our concern regarding the atmosphere of the class during your absence.  While we understand that filling in as a substitute teacher is not an easy job, we feel that there was a very high level of stress.  This stress made learning difficult and made the classroom very unpleasant at times. We believe many of our actions were interpreted as misbehavior, and numerous pink slips were distributed to students who have never been reprimanded for behavioral issues. For example, good-hearted joking and fun was not tolerated and was regarded as bad behavior. The threat of receiving the punishment of pink slips added a lot of tension on us, and some of us took it very hard. The class felt controlled by the fear of earning a pink slip. Even for those of us who were not the subject of a pink slip, the situation of seeing our classmates being treated unfairly and our classmates’ reactions to the punishment were upsetting to the point of deep sorrow for each other.
I, as our anonymous writer, felt this sorrow throughout your absence. Though I didn’t get a pink slip during this period of time, I did watch many of my classmates receive them. I watched sobbing out of agony after class, recognition to everyone that you need to stop talking, even if you were trying to work and your tablemate wants to start a conversation, groups drawing together on the back of their papers while waiting for others to finish their sprints, but then misinterpreted for passing notes. Also, as mentioned before, humor was not accepted.
I am still very stressed from what happened the Thursday this paragraph is being written. I also keep this name anonymous. I felt as if I needed to converse this issue with a group of students. Because of this I felt compelled to write this letter. Honestly, I feel we tried really hard to be on our best behavior and show respect in the beginning, but every day class got stricter and stricter, and we slowly became restless. Finally I realized that it wasn’t that we were bad students, but that we actually really missed you and we wanted our normal routine. I personally feel that the class was not run by reward and kept calm, as you would do.
Thank you for taking this time to read this letter, you have no idea how incredibly pleased we are to have you back. Next time you have a sub, we would appreciate it if you were able to vary it with different people, if you have a choice. We look forward for better times with you this school year.