Substitute teaching! How would the world manage without the substitute teacher? School systems would perish, children would be ignorant, contract teachers would have to work all the time, principals would jump off tall buildings and parents would cry.
That is why substitute teachers are paid half the salary that contract teachers get. Fair enough; after all, the substitute doesn’t have to plan everything, doesn’t have to attend tedious faculty meetings where the administrator and his most ambitious teachers drone on for hours about nothing. The substitute has it cushy.
Well, not entirely. No benefits. The substitute teacher never knows whether or not there will be work the next day; has to be ready to jump into the fray at the early morning behest of the district substitute clerk, or, more likely, a recorded telephone message.
The substitute teacher (ST) doesn’t know anyone’s name, doesn’t know which child or teacher or administrator is harboring delusions of royalty, doesn’t know where the bathrooms are, doesn’t know which chair in the teacher’s lounge is reserved for the grand dame; oh, it is a sorry existence. But it is halfway decent work compared to telephone sales or fast food service. And it is mostly indoors.
See the local school board and apply. You may have to take a test or two; usually not too hard to pass. There may be a wait for police check. We don’t want convicted felons waltzing in and corrupting our children. We also worry about sex offenders. Most applicants get through. If you have to take a test on the local state and county constitution, best to study real hard because such documents have grown like Topsy and cannot be understood by mortals.
In many places all you need to qualify as an ST is a bachelor’s degree. It doesn’t matter what the subject you studied. You don’t really have to know anything; it is already laid out for you. You just have to find a way to relate to the students. Some people have a real knack for that, others manage somehow.
Tricks for getting control of the class: This is oriented more toward elementary classes than secondary. Secondary classes are short and pretty much self-contained. Either they are well-behaved or not. You have little to do with it.
Elementary students will respond to some sort of organized discipline. The teacher of record has doubtless set up a regimen. Find out what it is and follow it. If the teacher is good at discipline and the children like that teacher, or at least respect or fear him or her, you are in luck. If not, you are going to have a stressful day. You need to be as flexible as possible. If you are a relaxed person, thank your stars. If you are uptight, you will suffer. If you know anything about operant conditioning; Skinner-type stuff, reward the desirable behavior in small increments; that sort of thing, you will flourish. If you don’t know about it you would be well-advised to learn.
One of the most unpleasant features of being an ST is the well-meaning contract teachers who greet you with “Who are you today/” No one has ever figured out a suitable answer to that idiotic question. Better not answer in a way that shows them how stupid they are. Just smile and gulp and ask where the lunch room is.
But don’t go there.
Jack Wilson is a writer, artist and retired teacher from Los Angeles and Phoenix.