An outsider taking over a class can bring out the worst in students. They forget or don’t consider the fact that substitute teachers are people with feelings. As such, their behavior towards substitute teachers can include all sorts of teasing, tricking, and tormenting. Even elementary school students, following the example of older students, will drop their books again and again, switch names and seats, and make rude comments.
However, when students are challenged to think of substitutes as people with feelings and asked to treat them as such, the students will usually behave respectfully, helpfully, and kindly. By doing some advance planning with students and inviting them to exercise their power in positive ways, misbehavior ceases and ft chaos diminishes. In the process, students strengthen their interpersonal skills, practice taking leadership roles, and develop their social interest.
- Most disrespectful behavior towards substitute teachers can be eliminated if you follow the steps outlined in “Planning Ahead.”
- Once students have participated in the role-playing and problem solving discussed in “Planning Ahead,” assign a student to explain the process to the substitute and then facilitate the meeting. (If they are familiar with the class meeting process, this is extremely effective.)
- When a substitute lets you know that she enjoyed your class, make sure you share the specific compliment or appreciative remark with your students.
- Ask for your students’ feedback on the substitute. Spend some time listening to their experiences, and be ready to assist with solving any problems that occurred. This keeps them involved in the process of working cooperatively with substitutes.
- Make rime during a class meeting for students to give each other compliments or appreciations about specific things they did to help the substitute.
- If you have to deal with a student who has been discourteous to a substitute, share your own feelings respectfully, and ask for help in rectifying the situation.
Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems
- Use class meetings to discuss appropriate behavior towards substitute teachers and what happens when a substitute teacher comes into a classroom. Ask, “What do students like to do to annoy a sub?” List students’ ideas on the blackboard. Then ask, “How do you think substitutes feel when students do these things?” Again, record their ideas.
- Role-play some of the ways students annoy and deceive substitute teachers, allowing students to take turns playing the substitute. They can also role-play solutions to the problems that are created. Doing this gives them a vivid picture of what is going on.
- Now ask students how they think the substitute feels when being treated this way. Usually, students have simply not thought about the substitute’s feelings.
- Ask students how many of them are willing to be helpful instead of hurtful when they have a substitute. Have them brainstorm to make a list of ways to help. Write all their ideas down, and ask for volunteers to make a chart of these ideas that can be posted in the classroom. They might want to title the chart “How to Encourage Our Substitute.”
- Appoint student assistants for each academic subject as well as for lunch, recesses, and any assemblies. Let the students brainstorm to create a list of things the assistants could do to be helpful to the substitute. Provide the substitute with a list of the student helpers and a copy of the class’s list of suggestions.
- Try to let your students know when you aren’t going to be in class. This gives them a chance to ask questions about where you’ll be and to make constructive plans for how they will behave, work, and organize themselves while you’re gone.
- Invite your students to look at having a substitute as an opportunity to work together in a new situation. Tell them you have faith that they will handle the event respectfully.
- When a long-term substitute is scheduled, arrange a time for students to get to know the substitute and to interact with him in positive ways. Involve your students in planning the substitute preliminary visit. They can write interview questions, plan a group activity, or prepare a list some special features about the classroom.
- Involve your long-term substitute in class meeting process. Share information with him about how you use class meetings to enhance the atmosphere in your classroom.
- Be aware that substitutes often feel left out and isolated from other teachers and members of the school staff. During a faculty meeting, discuss the problem and get everyone involved in finding solutions.