Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Guide to Being a Substitute Teacher: Know That You're an Idiot

I'm an English teacher, or at least that's what my certificate says. "Type 09, 6-12 English/Language Arts with a Middle School endorsement." That's me on paper.

I know a LOT about English -- as a language, a subject, and how to teach it. I know the most current instructional practices for a 21st century teacher, I know how to read a linguistics tree diagram, I know how to motivate students (thanks to this guy), and I know I'm not an idiot.

But here's the thing: I am an idiot.

I spent my day subbing at a high school that I would like to work at, but I was stupid enough to assume that I would be subbing for another English teacher. Nope. I was assigned to cover an Advanced Algebra class of sophomores, and I was totally unprepared.

Something I understand
Something I don't understand

When I got to the classroom, class rosters in hand (by the way, if you're subbing, invest in a clipboard), I found a stack of worksheets under a note that read, "Have students complete worksheets." Seems simple enough, right? Explain the assignment for the day, take attendance, and monitor students. Glorified babysitting, at best. Let's look at my day in the form of a word problem:

The teacher enters the classroom with a roster sheet indicating that there should be 27 students in the class. After the bell rings, the teacher counts 22 students. 5 minutes later, 3 students walk out of the classroom, claiming that this isn't their class. 8 minutes after the bell, 4 students walk into the class, but only 2 of them have passes. Before the teacher can explain the assignment, 6 students ask to use the restroom. 15 minutes after class begins, the teacher spends 5 minutes explaining the assignment. 8 students claim that they did the assignment the previous day. 5 students claim that they do not understand how to do the assignment. 6 students are playing cards. 2 students are sleeping. 4 students gather their belongings and leave the room. 

If you are the teacher, WHAT DO YOU DO?

This is how I attempted to solve the problem:
1) I divided the remaining class time into thirds and explained that I would allow students to leave the classroom one at a time during the second third, with a pass, but no one was allowed to leave during the first or final 20 minutes of class (block schedule). 
2) I encouraged students to work together on the assignment, to learn from each other, as long as they could keep the noise level down. 
3) I chased after the students who left, found them hiding in a bathroom, and called security to handle it. These kids scared the crap outta me, and said some awful things that made me wonder if I would find my tires slashed, but once security arrived, I went back to the classroom to find
4) Utter chaos.

Looking back on the day, I still don't know what my primary objective was supposed to be. What should my objective be, as a substitute teacher? Attendance? Discipline? The lesson? For now, I'm going to make my primary goal "don't cry," because I can feel like an idiot all I want, but I can't let these kids know it. They have more important things to learn.

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