Some of the most popular posts ever on Scripted Spontaneity over the years have been the ones that mention substitute teachers. In particular, last year I received a lot of feedback after listing my four favorite traits in a sub; this after a solid nine weeks with substitutes filling half the spots on my team. The comments on that post really pushed my thinking in new directions, and that is why I am writing about it again today.
I am lucky to teach in a district that is large enough to afford some pretty high-tech (and convenient) ways to handle the substitute teacher process. Our current system is web-based and allows teachers to rank their favorite subs so that they receive automated telephone calls in the order that you choose.
This feature put me in a bit of a strange position: I needed to pick my five favorite subs. A decision this big required lots of creative problem solving, higher-order thinking, standards mapping, and similar educational buzzwords. Once my top five were chosen, I looked over the list and assessed what I truly value in a sub. I thought about what some teachers (both full-time and substitute) had shared, and I came to some new conclusions. The results are a bit different from the last time:
- My first choice was actually pretty easy because she has subbed successfully for me in the past. Best trait: Her end-of-day note to me is usually short and filled with positive messages. In a way, it’s like being a parent and leaving your child with a babysitter. You don’t want to hear that they were demonic hellspawn. You want to hear that they behaved properly. I guess I value a sub who tells me what I want to hear.
- Another reason why this sub’s notes are short is that she is both tolerant and fierce. She doesn’t expect perfect behavior, but she draws a clear line and enforces it. I wish I had this quality myself and maybe that’s why I like to have her in my classroom.
- I care what my teammates think, too. If my sub wrote nothing to me, but complained to my teammates, or my teammates were forced to step in and deal with a situation, I would be embarrassed. So, I need a substitute who won’t make my teammates’ lives any more difficult than when I am there. Although, I guess that isn’t really saying much.
- Planning for a substitute is one of the reasons that I argue teachers have it tough. Forget about working conditions or pay for a moment. In what other field is an employee forced to do more work to be out than if he was at work? Most of my lesson plans are pretty flexible and vague, and (sadly) somewhat dependent on my being in the classroom. When I am going to be gone, I have to write up a simple lesson plan that usually strays from the bigger picture unit that my students are engaged in. The best subs can teach a pretty involved lesson; a lesson that is close to what I would have taught myself.
Okay, so it’s not rocket science. I mean, I think that all teachers want to be able to trust their substitute teacher to handle their lesson and their students’ behavior while they are not able to be there. But, in the end, and as I stated last year, it is truly amazing that we can find anyone qualified and capable of doing these things for the pittance that we pay them. So, thanks Mrs. Z. You’ll always be at the top of my list.