The most important things I have learned as a substitute teacher
When dealing with Junior High School students you need to be mean. These kids
will push you and push you. They know your breaking point, they are experienced
in the ways of substitute torture and they can and will size you up the moment
they walk in the door. They will push til the point of almost getting written
up or kicked out of class and they will calm down for just long enough that you
aren't considering such action and then they will start again. They will
manipulate you into feeling guilty in hopes that you won't follow through with
the disciplinary measures. They will beg and plead with you for every single
thing they want. An observer, the photographer for picture day, asked me if I
got combat pay. I don't.
So far, in my week of substituting I have learned these few techniques, some
more successful than others.
When answering a student's question it is best to respond quickly, usually in
the negative, firmly and with as few words as possible. For instance, the
question, "Can I go to my locker?" should be answered with "no." and all follow
up questions/complaints should be ignored as you walk away. It is best to start
speaking to another student immediately if possible. If you choose not to walk
away and/or to ignore the follow up question you soon find youself stuck in a
no - please- I said no- but I need to get my pencil- have a seat - Please, I'll
hurry debate when you've already told them no and you meant it. Besides,
when working as a substitute teacher it is best not to spend too much time with
one student - to do so would be as foolish as the WWF referee turning his back
on a 'wrestler' - before you know it you will be out cold on the floor while
someone is getting hit over the head with a chair!
At the beginning of class it is important to set the ground rules. Explain
what type of behavior you expect from the students and what your goals are for
the period. Be clear and firm in setting the rules and explain the
Another thing that I have learned is that you have make an immediate example.
As soon as the first child over steps the limits you need to kick him out of
the classroom. It sounds drastic but you have heard the phrase 'give him an
inch and he'll take a mile'. When disciplining I find the best approach is to
ask the offending student to walk to you, do not walk to them, make them walk to
you. Pull him aside, making sure that his back is to the rest of the class so
that you can keep on eye on the class and also so he does not get distracted. I
t is also best to make sure that you are standing against a wall, not a window
or door because again, he can get easily distracted. Then once you are in the
correct position you must make sure that he is looking at you while you are
talking to him, again to make sure he is listening to what you have to say and
also because the words seem to have more meaning when he is looking right at
you. If you need to take his chin in your hand and make him look at you. Try
to make direct eye contact for as much of the conversation as possible. Tell
him what he did wrong, that it is unacceptable and the consequence he will
face if the action is repeated. Then ask him if he understands. And ask him to
repeat to you what you have told him and then have him return to his seat. And
be sure to follow through with the consequences if he breaks the rules again.
An example of a conversation I would have would be
"You need to stay in your seat. I have told you more than once that you are
not to get out of that seat. For any reason. If you need to get up you need
to raise your hand and wait for me to give you permission. Do understand?"
-yes "Now, you are going to go sit down, you're going to behave yourself, and
you are not going to get out of your seat. If you have a problem you are going
to raise your hand and wait for me to give you permission. If I see you get
out of that chair without permission, you are going to get written up. Do you
understand that?" -Yes "Now, what are you going to do?" -I'm going to sit in
my chair and I am not going to get up "And if you do?" - I'm going to get
written up. "Thank you - now go have a seat." Note: If the student looks
away from me while I am explaining this I always make him look at me before
It is also important to make sure that you set appropriate consequences. You
don't want to set the consequences so high that you are sending the kid out of
the classroom on his first strike but at the same time you cannot be too lenient
or again, they will take terrible advantage of you. This last piece of 'wisdom'
I had to learn the hard way.
update: I have now been subbing in the same possition for
two weeks. The above techniques are appropriate when
conducting a study hall, however, sending a child out of
the classroom immediately is much to drastic. It would be
more appropriate to follow the guidelines below, IMHO:
1st offense: speak directly to the student from your
2nd offense: ask student to stay after class so that you
can speak to him/her. When speaking to the student after
class remind him/her of the rules you set earlier and that
he needs to follow those rules. Also, I find if is a good
idea to let the student know that he/she is a good kid and
you do enjoy having him/her in the classroom but the next
time you need to keep him/her after class he/she will be
written up. Note: be prepared to follow up with this.
Never make a threat/disciplinary warning that you are not
intending to follow up on! Also make it clear that a
wruteup results in detention, detention is a word they
like, it gets their attention very quickly.
3rd offense: keep child after class and inform him/her
that he/she will be written up and follow through with the
4th offense: hopefully it will not come to this but if a
student still refuses to behave send him/her to the office
for further disciplinary action. I have nocited that it
NOT a good idea to use your strongest weapon immediately,
you need to save something for later.