Substitute Teaching: A Handbook for Hassle-Free Subbing

Substitute Teaching: A Handbook for Hassle-Free Subbing

by Barbara Pronin

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The book that tells everything you need to know for a successful and rewarding part-time career:

What a sub does
How to qualify (it's easier than you think)
What you'll earn
How to ensure you'll work as much as you want, and where and when you want
The four keys to good subbing

Plus: A sub's bag of tricks-a wealth of brainteasers, puzzles,


The book that tells everything you need to know for a successful and rewarding part-time career:

What a sub does
How to qualify (it's easier than you think)
What you'll earn
How to ensure you'll work as much as you want, and where and when you want
The four keys to good subbing

Plus: A sub's bag of tricks-a wealth of brainteasers, puzzles, games, instant arts and crafts, creative play, indoor sports for rainy days, and ways to use your own special talents to keep students productively-and happily-occupied.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“This excellent 'state-of-the-art' handbook is also a practical first-aid manual for prospective and practicing elementary school per diem subs...compact, realistic, and immensely readable. Highly recommended.” —Library Journal

“I find Substitute Teaching an excellent reference for substitute teachers. A book like this has been needed for a long time.” —J. Ronald West, President, National Council of State Consultants in Elementary Education

“Barbara Pronin has written a lively, interesting, and above all, useful guide that every substitute teacher (and principal, too!) would do well to read.” —Samuel G. Sava, Executive Director, National Association of Elementary School Principals

“To be effective, substitutes must be prepared, flexible, and appreciate the importance of their responsibilities. This book by Barbara Pronin provides key information and ideas that could help in our quest to provide a quality education for each child.” —Paul B. Salmon, Executive Director, American Association of School Administrators

“An enthusiastic substitute teacher, Pronin offers a guide to others interested in subbing as a part-time career...her guide should give substitute teachers a basis from which to begin.” —Booklist

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Read an Excerpt

Substitute Teaching

A Handbook for Hassle-Free Subbing

By Barbara Pronin

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 1983 Barbara Pronin
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-4176-1


What Does a Sub Do?

Let me go on record as saying here and now that substitute teaching is fun. It is necessary to like children, of course, and to be open-minded and flexible enough to face new classes daily. But if you are a reasonably friendly, outgoing person with a general knowledge of the basic subject areas, you have the attributes.

As you might expect from the term "substitute teacher," the sub is a stand-in for the regular teacher in any given classroom on any given day.

Whether the regular teacher is out sick, attending a conference, or stuck in a snowstorm on the slopes of Aspen, every school district must have at hand a roster of people — familiarly dubbed as "subs" — who can, at very short notice, step into the classroom and take over the duties of the teacher.

It comes as no news to most of us that the American population is shrinking. The high cost of living and our concern for the welfare of future generations is resulting in smaller families. Schools are closing here and there because of lower student enrollment, and newly certified teachers sometimes have difficulty finding jobs.

Yet, in a recent questionnaire sent at random to more than a hundred school districts nationwide, one hundred percent responded overwhelmingly that they have an ongoing need for substitutes! Someone must stand at the head of each class when the regular teacher is out.

But what does the sub do?

Since the primary obligation of every teacher is to teach, you are correct in assuming that you, as a sub, will be expected to instruct students in all of the basic subject areas from first grade penmanship to high school algebra depending upon the grade level of the teacher you are replacing.

Does this mean that you must be a whiz in every subject? That the intricacies of trigonometry must be as easy for you as simple addition? Of course not. What it does mean is that you should be aware of the kinds of subject matter taught at the various grade levels and have a passing acquaintance with them.

You must also be aware of the differences in attitude and behavior at various grade levels so that you can determine which age groups you will be most comfortable with as a sub.

In a later chapter we will discuss these academic and behavioral differences in detail so that you can make an intelligent decision about where you would most like to be. For now, suffice it to say that, yes, you will be expected to teach.

You will be expected, too, to maintain control of the class. While quiet times are still necessary and desirable — as during the taking of tests, for example, or when all students are working on a simultaneous assignment — the days of silent classrooms many of us remember from our youths have more or less gone the way of white buck shoes and poodle skirts.

Today's classrooms, as we shall see, are often active and multilevel. That is, more than one grade level may be represented in a room or the children may be grouped according to their skill. While this is efficient in terms of learning, it can also mean that you must have eyes in the back of your head (remember the way your mother did?).

When you are not accustomed to dealing with thirty children at once it takes a keen eye and a cool head to develop firm organization. You need to know what's going on in all corners of the classroom for the day to progress in a smooth and orderly fashion.

As one sub recently told me, "The first time I worked with a special reading group I told the rest of the class to read silently to themselves and I assumed they would do just that. By the time I looked up to call the second group forward, there was bedlam — and I hadn't even realized!"

Before long, you will discover that the surest way to keep "bedlam" from your door is to keep students busy and happily occupied, especially when you need to work with individual groups. Timefillers (Chapter 12) and a little common sense will help.

You must become familiar with standard school procedures such as fire drills, playground rules, and the like, for you will be expected to supervise and enforce them. A later chapter will steer you toward learning these basic procedures before you enter the classroom. When the appropriate bell sounds, you should instruct the children about its meaning, not the other way around.

You will perform whatever extra duties the regular teacher was scheduled to perform on a given day. The task of supervising children during recesses and lunch hour, and in the lunchroom itself, is often divided among staff members who may give up a portion of their own free time on a rotating basis in order to do it. While it may seem that teachers are absent only on rainy days when they have bus duty, rest assured this minor inconvenience comes with the territory.

If the teacher was scheduled to attend a staff meeting you may be required to attend in his or her place, taking adequate notes.

In kindergarten through sixth grade classrooms (K-6), particularly where students are in the same room all day, you may find yourself with blocks of unscheduled time, which you will be expected to fill with choices of your own.

Every absentee teacher leaves a lesson plan of some sort for the substitute's use. This may be in the form of a note to you or on a schedule listed in the plan book. Needless to say, some lesson plans are far more complete and detailed than others.

At those times when the daily lesson plan is skimpy or is altered for some reason — for example, band practice is canceled or a scheduled film does not arrive — you may have free time on your hands. Subs are encouraged to use this time to introduce their own projects and activities.

Part Three of this book is filled with hundreds of indoor and outdoor ideas to help you use free time happily and creatively and to get you started using your own special talents and skills to fill your bag of tricks.

Last but not least you will be expected to behave in an ethical and professional manner. You will arrive on time and stay until your tasks are complete. You will dress in a manner befitting a teacher, uphold the district rules for health and safety, and use school property and materials with care.

You will treat each school, each class, each day's assignment with equal enthusiasm and aplomb. You may have your favorites, for every school has a "personality" all its own, but you will make it a point never to openly compare one school or staff with another. You can't win friends or influence people by literally carrying tales out of school. If you are quick to criticize School A, muses the staff, what must you be saying about us?

Subbing assures such built-in variety that you will never be bored. That's what makes it such fun. With rare exceptions, your days will be exciting and rewarding both for you and for your students.

Of course there may be days when you would rather be penned in a barnyard full of chattering chickens. You may thank a higher power that certain children do not live under your roof, and there may be times when you wonder why you didn't choose trucking over college. Relax. Every teacher has these moments.

But you have the option of picking and choosing when and where you will teach. This is a part-time career, after all, and you'll work only as much as you wish. If Mrs. Glutz's fifth grade has all the earmarks of a madhouse, take comfort from the fact that you need never return there again. (And pity poor Mrs. Glutz.)

You have the freedom to use whatever lesson plans have been offered by the regular teacher and to supplement them with whatever enriching experiences you bring to the classroom to make for a more pleasant day.

And you have the luxury of meeting new people daily and of sharing in the joy of a child's new discoveries, emerging personality, and youthful energy without the day to day responsibility of channeling that energy into routine academic expectations.

In short, you get to do the fun things for which many regular teachers simply do not have the time. You can approach each day with a sense of adventure and spontaneity.

What you will not have to do is prepare long-term lesson plans, assign grades to report cards, confer with parents, or get involved with the mountain of paperwork and meetings with which most teachers have to contend.

Best of all, when you leave the classroom at the end of the day you will not be burdened with stacks of papers to correct, next month's Open House to plan, or the senior play to direct. You can leave the school grounds with a clear conscience and use the rest of the day for your personal and particular pursuits. For those of you with family responsibilities, artistic or educational commitments, or a proclivity toward afternoon naps, this advantage is not inconsiderable. Subs have the added bonus of little or no homework!

Lest we seem to imply that substitute teachers have the best of all possible lots, it seems fair to point out that there are some equalizing factors.

For one thing, subs are not paid anything resembling the daily equivalent of a regular teacher's paycheck. Teachers are not highly paid to begin with and, for the privilege of escaping the long-term responsibility of the teacher, you will be paid at a lower daily rate.

For another, in most cases you will not be eligible for the package of benefits including insurance, pensions, and the like to which regular teachers are entitled. While this is typical for part-time employment in most fields, it is a point you may wish to consider.

It should be noted that if you are interested in (and qualified for) long-term subbing assignments in which you are replacing the regular teacher for an extended period of time, your rate of pay and attendant benefits will increase in direct proportion to the long-term duties that you take on. More about pay scales and benefits will be found in Chapter 3.

Third, for all the inherent fun and spontaneity, the sub's task is not child's play. You are expected to maintain order and an atmosphere of learning in a situation that differs greatly from that of the regular teacher.

You may be familiar with the basic subject matter, but you cannot draw from a background of continuity or familiarity with your students' level of skill.

Furthermore, as a sub, you have no regular place in the pecking order of the school faculty. The extent of your authority is therefore questionable, at least in the minds of some students. This can make discipline a little tricky.

Most important of all, you lack the single greatest piece of leverage available to every regular teacher: the power of the grade.

With experience, and by mastering the techniques suggested here, you will gain a measure of confidence and authority. Your face will become recognized on various campuses and your reputation for fairness, fun, and knowledge will precede you. That helps. But experience and reputation notwithstanding, the power of the grade will elude you. And it is grades — those little letters A, B, C, D, and F — for which many students perform their best (or worst!) work.

An A from the teacher buys for the student parental approval and sometimes extra privileges. An F can send the world crashing about his feet. It is the regular teacher who, by and large, dispenses these harbingers of fortune. Students are aware that your presence in the classroom for a day or two will not measurably affect their grades. This knowledge can act as an open invitation to goof off, misbehave, and generally try your patience without too much fear of reprisal.

It is essential, therefore, that you as a sub develop concrete ways to offer evidence that your own assessment of their work does count.

As you become familiar with the ideas in this book you will learn about positive reinforcement and assertive discipline. You will master the tools for making your part-time teaching career truly hassle-free. It is through the use of such things as "superstars," "sour apples," and "brainteaser champs" (see Chapter 10) that you may gain your greatest measure of control. Certainly you will have a start in developing your own methods for maintaining the happy and productive classrooms for which every sub must strive.

There are rumors afoot that substitute teaching is a matter of survival at best. Proponents of this view would have us believe that subs must necessarily be subjected to chaos and lack of cooperation; that any learning that takes place in their classroom is purely coincidental. They regard subs as little more than glorified babysitters who lack initiative and authority.

On the contrary, substitute teachers who enter the field with a clear knowledge of what to expect and who are prepared, confident, and willing to give of themselves perform a vital service and can give an added fillip to our educational system.

Not only will you provide leadership and continuity but you will do it with your own special flair. You will, of course, move within the framework of the regular teacher's long-term goals. But by adding your insights, your talents, yourself, you are sharing something no one else can give.

As a sub, you must stand in for the regular teacher and take on the responsibility of moving academic learning forward. You must use whatever materials are at hand and supplement them with innovative, educational, and diverting activities of your own. You must do it in a setting that is casual but correct, friendly but authoritative, and often entirely new to you.

What does a sub do? A sub teaches. And improvises. And enriches. And has a heck of a good time doing it!


Can I Qualify?

Let's begin by saying that it is possible to substitute teach in most of these United States without having regular teacher certification.

Regular certification means a currently valid teaching credential issued by the state in which you live. It is a document held by every regular teacher in the state certifying that he or she has met certain requirements including graduation from an accredited college or university with the appropriate courses in Teacher Education and endorsement in special subject areas.

Usually, teachers have had to spend a specified number of hours in student teaching assignments and may have been required to pass licensing or proficiency examinations.

In other words, preparation for a full-time career in teaching involves the same sort of rigid training necessary for a career in any professional field. This, of course, is as it should be. The long-term education of our children is too important an undertaking to be left in the hands of unqualified or semiprofessional people.

Men and women who substitute in long-term positions, when the teacher is absent for a period of weeks or months, are required in most states to fulfill all or most of the qualifications necessary for full-time teaching. These people must be responsible for long-term lesson planning and grading just as the regular teacher would be.

The criteria for long-term subbing vary from state to state both in terms of credential requirements and in the number of consecutive teaching days considered to be "long term." Yet, whatever the criteria in an individual state might be, most administrators agree that regularly certified teachers are preferable for these positions.

But when a teacher is absent for a day or two and when short-term lesson plans can be initiated so that the process of education is uninterrupted, most states and school districts find it necessary and valuable to use qualified semiprofessionals as substitute teachers.

These short-term, or day to day, subs must hold a credential as well. But the qualifications for obtaining such credentials are often less stringent and far from standardized.

As in licensing procedures in many other fields, the requirements for substitute teaching credentials are left to the discretion of each state. They are based on current needs and individual preferences and are issued by the state's Department for Teacher Certification. Often, they are applied for with a recommendation by the school district in which you expect to sub.

In order to discover the minimum requirements for substitute credentials in all parts of the country I polled each of the fifty states. More than a hundred randomly chosen school districts were contacted in major cities, suburban areas, and outlying regions. The results are nothing less than staggering.

Every district responding indicated an ongoing need for substitutes. Salary levels differ dramatically. But the differences in credential requirements as set forth by every state are even more dramatic.

A chart at the end of this chapter lists the minimum educational requirements currently acceptable in each state. A quick survey will reveal that, depending upon where in the country you live, you may be qualified to substitute teach with anything ranging from a high school diploma to regular teacher certification!

Sometimes even within a state the requirements are not standardized but vary with the needs in different areas. Major cities, for example, have more potential subs from which to draw. Their requirements are somewhat stricter. In rural areas, where teachers are in shorter supply, the standards for subs may be relaxed.


Excerpted from Substitute Teaching by Barbara Pronin. Copyright © 1983 Barbara Pronin. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Barbara Pronin, who has been an actress and a probation officer, now combines writing, motherhood, and substitute teaching. She lives in West Covina, California.

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