One of the many things that I do in the community that involve OUR KIDS is substitute teach at Danville North Elementary and Danville South Elementary Schools (that's a range of kindergarten through 4th grade, for those who are unfamiliar).
I'm in my third year of substitute teaching, and I thoroughly enjoy it. I have subbed at the middle school and high school levels, too, but due to scheduling issues, the vast majority of my experience over the past couple of years has been at the elementary school level.
When people learn that I'm a substitute teacher, it's not uncommon for them to ask, "What's it like?"
Well, every day is an adventure. But it's an awesome adventure.
Getting an Assignment
Most of my assignments come a day or two in advance -- real teachers have professional development days, doctor's appointments, conferences, and other assorted scheduled absences -- but I also get assignments the evening before, or even the morning of. Those assignments are usually a result of the real teacher or one of his or her children being sick.
I can't always accept an assignment due to conflicts in my own schedule, but the substitute coordinator with Danville schools is always very gracious and understanding when that happens. I don't get black-listed or anything when I have to turn down an assignment.
Some assignments are for a full day which, in the case of Danville elementary schools, runs from 7:15 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Some assignments are for a half day. Danville elementary schools use 11 a.m. as the midpoint time, so I might get a 7:15-to-11 assignment, or I might get an 11-to-2:30 assignment.
Most assignments are for a single day. Occasionally they're for two or three days. I've had a few very rare assignments that have lasted a considerable amount of time -- such as opening the school year for a kindergarten class this past fall -- but those are the exception, and not the rule.
Most assignments at the elementary school level are in homerooms, but I've also subbed in gym, computers, library, art and music. (Gym is my favorite.)
At the middle school and high school levels, you can let the substitute coordinator know what subjects you're comfortable with and which ones you're uncomfortable with teaching. For example, my strongest suits are social sciences, math and English. I am, however, a science moron. So my coordinator knows not to send me into a high school chemistry lab, or else we'll all be sorry.
A Typical Day
I arrive at school at 7:15 a.m., and I have to be buzzed into the building by staff who are already on-site. I then sign in at the front office, get my temporary school ID, and head to the classroom. (Substitutes should also be prepared to leave their drivers license at the front desk upon arrival as part of the school's safety protocol.)
I then have between 15 and 20 minutes to review the lesson plan and get my bearings in the classroom. The lesson plans are prepared by the real teacher, and they're usually 5-6 pages of very detailed instructions. (Imagine having to prepare that while feeling deathly ill... Ugh.)
Trying to absorb all of the lesson plan in such a short period of time can be overwhelming, so I break it down into segments. I focus on what I need to do from now until the kids go to "specials" -- gym, library, computers, music or art. When they're at "specials" and I have a break, I focus on what I need to do until they go to lunch. During lunch, I focus on the afternoon's schedule. Taking the lesson plan in small parts is a lot easier and less stressful.
I always make sure to locate the nearest exit in the extraordinarily microscopic chance that I have to evacuate the kids in an emergency, and I make sure that I start the day with an empty bladder because my first crack at a restroom break might not be for several hours.
Then the kids arrive, and the building roars to life with energy and kids' voices.
By now, most of the elementary school kids in Danville know me, so I get a lot of "Mr. Ivie!" followed by high-fives or hugs when they arrive. New subs can expect a lot of "Where's Mrs. Smith?" Subs in middle school or high school can expect a lot of "Sweet! A sub!"
I then work my way through the lesson plan for the day.
At the elementary school level, teacher's aides come and go throughout the day, and you will learn very quickly that they are incredible resources. They can straighten out unruly kids by simply walking into the room. They can help you find stuff in the room, and they provide excellent guidance when the best-laid plans go haywire.
At any level, there are always real teachers all around you, and they're always super helpful.
At the end of the day, after I make sure the kids get on the bus, get out to their parents in the car pickup line, or get to their after-school care within the building, I make notes for the real teacher about how the day went.
I take great pride in doing all I can to accomplish everything in the lesson plan because I know that every day is an integral part of an intricate plan to educate OUR KIDS. But if circumstances arise that prevent me from accomplishing everything, I let the real teacher know what hasn't been covered. And, of course, I let the real teacher know how the kids behaved.
Ultimately, if I get all the kids home in one piece and I've covered most, if not all, of the real teacher's lesson plan, I chalk the day up as a success.
What it Takes to be a Sub
All substitute teachers must obtain a substitute teaching permit through the Indiana Department of Education. To get one of those, you must be 18 years of age, hold a high school diploma, and pay a fee of somewhere between $15 and $20 to the state.
Once you obtain your substitute teaching permit from the state, you can substitute teach in any school corporation in Indiana, subject to each corporation's interview and screening process. You can also sub in multiple corporations at the same time if you want. I prefer to stay within Danville, but I know of subs who have filled in for Danville schools and Avon schools.
I think that the No. 1 quality that a substitute teacher must possess is flexibility.
Kids come from a wide array of circumstances, have a wide array of personalities, and possess a wide array of learning styles and levels. Plus, as in life, things rarely go exactly as scripted. Stuff happens. A sub has to be able to adjust and adapt to all of this.
If a student's needs outmatch your skill set, call for help. I'm fairly experienced with substitute teaching, and I still have to call in the school counselor, another teacher, or the school principal on occasion. It happens to everyone.
If you teach a lesson and kids are still blankly staring at you, you have to be willing to teach the lesson all over again, but using a different method. Not all students learn the same way I do, so I have to be flexible and explain things a different way until I'm speaking their learning language.
As you might expect, a genuine love of children and a healthy dose of patience also come in quite handy for substitute teachers.
So does a comfortable pair of shoes because if you're doing it right, you're on your feet and moving around for most of the day.
At the elementary school level, wear comfortable clothing that you don't mind getting pen marks, paint, glue, snot, glitter, and all kinds of other stuff on. Make sure your clothes are flexible and, for you ladies, not revealing when you bend over or kneel down -- which you'll do quite frequently to tie shoelaces, zip up coats, pick up trash off the floor, etc.
Classrooms vary wildly in temperature, too. I'm warm-natured, so I normally wear moisture-wicking shirts. Those who are cold-natured probably want to bring a sweater.
Dealing with Behavior
Behavior-wise, the main issue that a sub will have to deal with is students talking amongst themselves and not focusing on what you're trying to teach them. I think the key here is to draw a line in the sand and not let anyone cross it without repercussions.
Expect some shenanigans from the kids when you substitute teach. It just goes with the territory. We did it as kids, and kids today still try to get away with stuff that they can't get away with when the real teacher is there. I understand that. I give kids a little bit of leeway to be the kids that they are, but I draw a line in the sand when their behavior prevents me from teaching, puts other students at risk, and/or is disrespectful toward me or other students.
There is a myriad of ways to handle discipline when kids cross the line (they're often spelled out in detail in the lesson plan), and once they cross it, you must always intervene. If not, you'll lose control of the class because kids will see that there are no consequences to their poor behavior. I like to have fun with students while I'm in a classroom, but as soon as the learning stops, other students' safety is at risk, or I start to lose control of the classroom, the fun comes to a screeching halt.
In my three years, hundreds of classrooms, and countless students, I can count on one hand the number of times I've had to send a student to the principal's office. It happens, but it's extremely rare.
The vast majority of the time, kids will respond well once you've established where the line is and demonstrated what happens if someone crosses it.
It's also essential -- and quite easy -- to pick out the well-behaved students. They are fantastic resources to lean on because you can trust them to tell you where things are located, how the real teacher does things in the classroom, whose behavior is normal and who is acting up just because a substitute is here. You can also send them to another classroom or to the office to retrieve help if necessary. Real teachers will often give advice on who to trust in their lesson plans.
Overall, it's been my experience that major behavior issues are very rare at any level in school. Minor behavior issues are routine, but the stereotypical "open season on the sub" kind of stuff almost never happens.
It's also been my experience that kids respond well to praise and positive reinforcement, so if a student has been a thorn in your side all day but finally makes a good choice, make sure to praise that good choice. Sometimes students don't hear a lot of praise in their everyday lives, so a little positive reinforcement is like a breath of fresh air to them. Not surprisingly, when kids feel valued, you'll get a lot more out of them.
Ruling with an iron fist or dropping the hammer on the kids in the classroom is a last resort for me, and it's usually the last step before I have to call in help.
What it Pays to be a Sub
Danville schools pay $70 per day for substitute teaching. As you might guess, half-days pay $35. Certified teachers get paid a little more (I'm not a certified teacher). I've heard rumors that other school corporations pay differently, but I don't have first-hand experience to know how accurate those rumors are.
The school corporation takes taxes out and issues a W-2 tax form at the end of the year, so don't expect to be handed $70 cash at the end of the day as you walk out. Danville schools pay every two weeks. I would assume that other school corporations are similar.
Don't be a substitute teacher just for the money, though. As soon as the kids realize that you're only there to collect a paycheck (and it won't take them more than 30 minutes to sniff that out), they'll chew you up and spit you out.
Be a substitute teacher because you love children, because their minds are great big sponges that are thirsty to soak up knowledge, and because you have a chance to make a positive impact on their lives by being a good role model.
That's just my two cents.
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