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And Then I Split My Pants...

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There will be days in your teaching career that you will remember forever and share in detail for years to come.  It will not be the smooth days where everything goes as planned and all things considered, an A+ day. Nor will it be the days you feel like a complete fraud and wonder how it came to pass that you were granted a teaching certificate, let alone put you in charge of a classroom.  Nope.  It will be the days that are seemingly turned upside down, where you encounter the "out of nowhere" or "what just happened?" scenarios that force you to tap into (or quickly develop) your Ninja Teacher Superpowers. These are the days that when conquered, make you feel ten feet tall, bullet proof and ready for anything.

My most memorable substitute teaching day began with a panicked call from a district office. I dressed hastily, hopped in the car and arrived 15 minutes into first period.  The school secretary greeted me at the front door, handed me the hand-scribbled lesson plans as I walked by, and the principal high-fived me as I rounded the corner to class.  AP Calculus.  Well, okay then.

In a nutshell, the rest of the day looked like this: English class and tempura paint which ended up in my hair; geometry, more Calculus; last minute request to supervise a Theatre show rehearsal; a faulty set for said rehearsal, leading to the splitting of the pants.  That's really all you need to know. Except that I left that day, having dealt with what would have put most people in rehab, and I handled it.  I did it!  The teacher's version of American Ninja Warrior!  If you embrace those obstacles, running straight into the Bridge of Blades with a bring-it-on attitude, you'll find yourself conquering Mount Midoriyama every time.  Here are a few more tips on substitute teaching  which can propel you towards that dream contract.

  • You are always on stage: First impressions mean everything and every job is an interview. You are observed by school personnel, students and parents.  Always be aware of that.
  • Be ready for anything:  See above.
  • Follow the lesson plan:  If the classroom teacher was able to leave lesson plans, follow them. Don't jump in and do your own thing. Conversely, if it was an emergency situation that brought you here, lesson plans may not be available.  That's when the bag of ready-made lesson plans should be used.  It will go a long way to impress those around you if you can easily adapt to unplanned situations.  After all, a good deal of teaching is about managing the unexpected.
  • Take that idea with you: If you see a great lesson, room design, classroom management plan, or anything in general that really catches your eye and seems to work, take the idea with you.  It's okay.  Teachers love to share.  Now, that doesn't mean physically remove anything from the classroom; just take the idea with you. The internet has become a great resource for teachers; use it. This is how you grow your toolbox.
  • Know your next door neighbors:  In addition to introducing yourself to the school secretary and principal, it is important to meet the teacher(s) next door.  This is part of being visible, but you should also know that as your neighbor(s), they know how your day went with your class. If it goes well, they may add you to their list of favorites for a future substitute assignment and they'll likely to share some positive comments about you when the teacher returns. 
  • Build your portfolio:  If you are in a specific building often and the staff gets to know you well, it's a great opportunity for you to add letters of recommendation to your file.  Also continue to update your resume with your experiences and growing expertise as you gain them.  When that job opens up, you'll have an up-to-date file ready to go at a moment's notice.  And sometimes, a moment is all you are afforded.
  • Bonus Tip - Keep an extra set of clothes in your car at all times:  You just never know.

I'll leave you with a quote from a very successful school principal.  "As a sub, you have to be EXCELLENT. You have to make yourself stand out from the rest of the field.  How can you do that? Talk to staff before and after school, at lunch and in the staff room. Your work with the class, following lesson plans, the quality of work the students produce for you, a clean room, etc., will speak volumes for or against you." Steve Barnes, Lidgerwood Elementary.

Make the most of every experience as a substitute teacher and you'll be glad you were willing to spend the time to increase your skills by taking on a variety of situations.  Good teachers know that learning never really ends. Use this unique experience to your advantage and you could find that job before you know it. Now, go get it!

 

Cathy Stephens, Director

Office of Educational Certification & Career Services

Whitworth University

Spokane, WA

 

 

 

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