Monday, February 16, 2009

Dear Substitute Teacher,

All you have to do is show up, call roll, hand out my assignment and keep the students in line. It's not that hard to follow directions.

Substitute teachers - hear my plea! Take attendance! Please!! Take it properly!

Didn't you ever go to high school yourself? Passing around a sheet of paper and telling kids to write their name is not taking attendance. Kids write down names of their friends who are cutting class! Surprise! They write down names of famous historical figures! Duh! Or porn stars! Shock! The quiet kid or the avid reader misses the paper being passed and gets marked 'absent' - all because you didn't do your job!

The next day I drag in - usually still sick - and see what you have left me. A list of 22 names (minus George Washington) for a class of 23 kids. Hmmmm... so who is missing? (It's like naming the 50 states and you get to 49 and you can't recall which one you left out. ) Do you realize how much time you will save me if you just write down the name of the absent kid? It'll save paper, too. Now I'll have to spend my planning time figuring out WHICH kids are missing off the lists. And then I have to refer to the absentee bulletin, the online attendance record, the suspension list, the tardy list and the sign-out lists to see if they were really absent from school or if they cut or if they just missed the sign in sheet.

Truly, I cannot even start to thank all the substitute teachers out there. I have encountered some really top notch ones. Thanks for being so great so that when I am sick, I can stay home in misery without worrying about my desk, my classroom, my students .... we really depend on you when we need you.

Tips for High School Substitute Teachers:

-Take attendance. Use the seating chart. Being able to call a kid by his name will do wonders for the cooperation factor.

- Always take a class set of something for the kids to do JUST in case there is no lesson provided. Make sure it'll take the whole class period. Crosswords, sudokus, brain teasers, a copy of a recent article from the paper, a series of trivia questions.....

-Do not override the teacher's lesson. If the kids tell you "We can't do this - the teacher never taught us this" do not believe them. I will never leave a sub plan like that. I wouldn't do that to you or to them. If you feel it is an honest plea from well meaning kids that they don't understand the work, then let them work in groups so that they can help each other. The smart kids can help the slower student. I will deal with it the next day.

-DO NOT cancel class and turn on the TV or declare 'study hall' time.

-Sub at just one or two schools all the time so that soon you become as familiar as one of the full time staff members. Then you will receive more respect and cooperation from the kids. They will think of you as a "real teacher" - which you are, but they will view you as an authority figure when you are a familiar face at school.

-Watch them. Read your newspaper or book, but you have to look up every few minutes or they'll realize you aren't watching and get sneaky. Most kids are good, but you never know. If a sweet kind honor student just HAS to SMS her boy friend and tries to sneak the phone under the desk - and the principal walks in at that moment - she AND you could be in trouble. Why risk it?

-Dress and act professionally - mean business - don't be too harsh on the kids - know what school rules are and enforce them.

A note about substitute teachers.......
Why do we need them anyway? In European countries, when a teacher is absent, the class is usually cancelled and the kids just don't go to class. They just go anywhere. Or some schools have a "study hall" that is a permanent large room - open all day- with a teacher monitor and they can go there for quiet study. Why are American teens not trusted this way? Why must they have a "sitter" but European teens are fine on their own? Is it expectations of behavior in society? Is it the litigiousness of parents in the US? I don't know the answer.

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