First Week of Student Teaching: The Substitute Teacher

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I think it’s safe to say that I’ve had one of the most unique experiences as a student teacher during my first week in my school. Why? Well, my cooperating teacher and his wife had their new baby, which meant he had to take a week off from school and request a substitute to cover his classes. So, my first introduction to the classes and the students have been through a substitute teacher.

Before entering graduate school I took what could be called a “gap year” in order to become a full-time substitute teacher just to make sure that education was a career I wanted to pursue. My time as a substitute teacher was a formative experience in my life and it helped prepare me to work towards becoming a teacher. Fortunately for my first week, the substitute teacher in the classroom was formerly a special education teacher for over 25 years. So I took my first week as an opportunity to do three main things: 1) get to know my students, 2) take an active role in the class alongside the substitute to establish a presence with the students, and 3) observe the substitute teacher to note particular strategies she uses for classroom management.

My main goal this week was to introduce myself and get to know the students. Having a substitute actually presented a great opportunity to engage with the students directly as they worked in groups and independently on projects left for them by my cooperating teacher. For every class I was able to go around to help students in their groups or individually as they worked on projects. I think hitting the ground running in this manner might actually be beneficial in the long run as I continue going into the classroom this semester.

From observing the substitute, there is one strategy she used which I thought was particularly effective. At the beginning of each class, after taking the roll, she talked with the students and established her rules and expectations. Her remarks at the beginning of each class can be summarized in one word, respect. After taking role she told students that her one rule was “Respect” and that meant that “students would respect her, that students would respect each other, and that she would respect them.” Instead of leaving it at that she went on to describe examples, “What does that look like? It means you’re sitting at we’re at our desk or in our groups. We’re keeping our hands in our own area, we’re not throwing something or anything like that. What does it sound like? It means we talk quietly with one another, we don’t raise our voices, and we don’t use profanity or say hurtful things to each other. Are we all clear on this?” After getting nods or yes answers from the students she then proceeded to give students directions for completing work that day.

As a former substitute teacher and current student teacher, I found that the way she started each class by talking about her rules was extremely effective. It also reminded me about my Methods class last week where we talked about making our own rules, mentioning that our rules should be short, clear, and easy to understand. I think the substitute teacher’s rules fit that description, but the most important thing she did was to describe how those rules looked and sounded like, and then made sure students understood.

As I go into this week I will continue doing what I did last week. I do not yet know when my cooperating teacher will be back, but I expect he will return later this week. Until then, I am using the district pacing guide and my knowledge of where students are in the course content to map my unit plan and create lessons for when I eventually begin to take over some classes.

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