This post has little, if anything, to do with the 21st century learning conversation. I was speaking with a colleague who is teaching Grade 6 in an elementary school nearby. She had occasion to need a day off. She told me that one of the reasons she has so many sick days stored up is because it is often not worth it to be away from her class due to the unpleasant aftermath of having a supply teacher in her classroom. I have the privilege of teaching a “pre-student teaching” course for my faculty of ed. This is a mandatory course that must be taken prior to the beginning of the student teaching practicum. One of the topics of conversation in the seminar portion of the class is “marketing”. By this I mean the opportunities presented to student teachers, and beginning teachers who have just attained certification, to market themselves effectively. So this post is for those of you who are just starting your journey but it might also prove helpful for experienced teachers in setting out expectations for supply teachers.
First let me say a huge “WELCOME”. You have chosen the most noble of all professions. If you are still looking at you career path as a “vocation” I promise you a career filled with wonder. If you are looking at your career in teaching as a “job” I respectfully suggest that you find another “job”. You are apt not to like this one.
For those who have answered the “calling” to teach let’s start at the beginning. You have completed your teacher’s college program (or are engaged in your practicum) and you have received or applied for certification. That’s the “good” news. The challenge now is to land a teaching position with a school board and, depending on where you live, that may be the “not so good” news.
I have a very simple “mantra” (which didn’t really become a “mantra” until recently because I didn’t know what a “mantra” was).
“I enjoy being in the company of people who enjoy being in the company of children”.
It is highly likely that are you are dedicated, energetic, enthusiastic, a self-starter and possess all of the attributes of an excellent teacher. If you are filled with boundless love for being in the company of children your passion will bubble forth and you will shine in an interview. I can say, without hesitation, that you will, one day (and hopefully soon), realize your dream of teaching your own class.
But let’s face reality. Teaching opportunities are sparse. Fear not. This is a cyclical thing. I have seen the peaks and valleys many times over the past 50 years. Lots of socio-economic and demographic factors determine whether or not we are at a peak or in a valley. Right now we are in a fairly deep valley. For this reason teacher’s college enrolments are way down and soon the inevitable will happen? There won’t be enough teachers to fill the void created by economic growth, early teacher retirements, housing starts and recycling of old neighbourhoods back to young family neighbourhoods. The best advice I give to my student teachers is “stay the course”. If you have the passion you will eventually have a successful interview and you will be hired to a teaching pool. The bare truth of the matter is that you will very likely have to wait your turn for a teaching position by serving as a “substitute” teacher for a while. This is an amazing opportunity for you to hone your skills, learn from other teaching styles and, most importantly, “market” yourself.
I enjoy being in the company of people who enjoy being in the company of children
As a supply teacher you have a golden opportunity to impress. Principals are always recruiting, whether or not they have immediate openings they know of someone else who could use a teacher with your particular skill set and qualities. It’s up to you to make him/her aware of those qualities. Principals communicate with one another. They talk…a lot, especially when it comes to recruitment.
When teachers ask to have you back to their classroom that is a very good thing. I have had the opportunity to witness many, many substitute teaching situations and I have learned a great deal from the supply teachers I have come to know and respect. Many of them became full time teachers in my own school and/or in the schools of colleagues. Those who simply manage to keep the lid on and don’t call the office too often are still supply teachers. Based on my own experiences I have put together a guideline of sorts, to help student teachers who will eventually become supply teachers, thrive in the position, and market themselves effectively.
It is in your very best interests to (a) take advantage of this chance to experience the teaching styles of others, (b) see this aspect of your career as your “apprenticeship”, (c) become a visible and significant presence in a school or schools and (d) impress the staff and the school administration with your zeal and your passion.
As you probably already suspect supply teaching is not easy. At the outset, most classes perceive you, as “their day off”. It is your responsibility to dispel that myth and make the school day as positive, productive and beneficial to the students as if their own teacher were at the helm. You want to receive those calls in the morning where a teacher or principal has asked specifically for you when a supply teacher is needed.
You are expected to follow the day plan to the letter, and to communicate with the teacher on how the day went. Unfortunately, sometimes there is no plan left for the day. You rub your hands with glee because this is your chance to shine. Grab it and milk it for all it’s worth. As a resourceful, competent and enthusiastic teacher you will arrive prepared for every possible circumstance. You will have with you, your “bag of tricks”, your “wonder box”, your “tool kit”, (whatever you choose to call it). It is your resource of lessons, activities, games etc. for that grade level. (Such activities and resources abound on the internet).
*note: While you are in that classroom steal as many ideas as you can get your hands on. Stealing ideas from other teachers is the highest form of flattery. Trust me.
You will teach effectively for the day. You will handle routine discipline issues yourself. You will call upon the office or the support staff only if you feel a situation is beyond your scope of responsibility or experience. In such cases you will already be apprised of issues that could arise and how to address them.
These children are better people for having had me as their teacher today
You will leave a detailed written report for the teacher, making sure to accentuate all of the positive experiences and triumphs of the day. No need for “tattling” (unless really serious). You want the kids to be happy to see you next time you come.
Here are some simple steps to follow if you are just beginning your career as a substitute teacher.
When You Arrive at a School for the Day:
- report to the office
- be early
- at the office you will receive plans and/or instructions etc. Most schools have a “supply teacher” package for each teacher and/or there is a taped recording for you to listen to
- introduce yourself to the neighbouring classroom teachers.
- if technology is a strength of yours find out where the computers, smart board, projectors etc. are and if they are available.
- use the students to help you familiarize yourself with routines and procedures.:
In The First Five Minutes
- greet students outside or at the classroom door depending on school procedures. *speak to each child. (Let your sense of humour shine).
- walk around the class as students settle in.
- when addressing behavior do not diminish a child in front of the class. Use visual cues and speak quietly.
Students will learn a great deal about the teacher in the first five minutes.
In closing I invite you to contact me if you would be interested in having some examples of the kinds of resources that are available for your “tool kit”. Just reply to this post or twitter @MichaelHardin14.
Enjoy this challenging yet rewarding path along your journey and see it as an opportunity to hone your craft. Your role is not to “survive”. It is to teach effectively and to be a significant presence in the school community. The most important precept of supply teaching is this. (feel free to use this as your own “mantra” if you wish)
These children are better people for having had me as their teacher today.