I have been a substitute teacher for four months at a number of different schools. Over the past few weeks, I have had a problem with one school that I've subbed at regularly. The students in some of my classes won't listen to me and some of the staff has been rude and disrespectful towards me. The school itself seems a little disorganized at times. Many of the teachers never leave work for the students to do. The substitute coordinator occasionally never tells me the content area of the class I'm supposed to cover, sometimes not even getting the correct room that I'm supposed to go to. Then complains that I'm not prepared with activities for the students.
Despite being liked by most of my students, many of them don't take me seriously. In this school, discipline involves the dean or one of the regular teachers screaming and intimidating the kids into behaving. Whenever I've tried yelling at the class, I'm usually ignored. They also ignore the lessons that are left by the teacher, as well as the ones that I come up with. Whenever I give the class I'm covering a worksheet about less than half of the class actually does it while the rest, usually crumple the worksheets that I give them up to throw around the room or make paper airplanes. The only thing the kids seem to want to do whenever I'm covering their class is play cards and scream at each other. The staff is usually no help. Whenever I try to send a student to the Dean or the Assistant Principal, they never discipline anyone. The student comes back five minutes later and is back to doing exactly what I did when I sent him out. Once when a student was threatening to fight another student the Dean would not to come into my class to help me prevent it m because he was on his lunch break. Only the end of the period prevented a major fight from happening.
A few weeks ago, I was covering an english class and the teacher left the kids an assignment that she never explained how to do. I did my best to explain the assignment to them but when the class became noisy one of the school aides came into the class yelled at the class and then explained the lesson differently than I had which only left the kids confused and not wiling to do the assignment.
A few minutes later, after the class was being noisy and again ignoring my attempts to get them to be quiet the aide came into my class again. This time not only yelling at the kids but also at me in front of the class for not being hard enough on them. After that the kids wouldn't take anything I said seriously.
At my most recent day at that school, I was covering another English class, who I never had before and the teacher did not leave a lesson plan. I had a student go to the main office to run off a reading comprehension worksheet but the class was already starting to get a little rowdy, so I decided to give them a word search activity to try to keep them occupied while I waited for the other worksheets to arrive. A few minutes later the Dean came into my classroom, to speak to the class about a previous incident involving some of the students in that class. When he saw what I had the students working on, he accosted me in front of the class for not teaching the class an appropriate lesson and giving the students an activity that was "a waste of time." He also threatened to tell the principal and make sure that I never got called back again.
I know that there's probably nothing I could do about how the staff treats me. But how can I improve as a substitute?
Sounds tough. I started out this school year teaching high school; but, did not finding it very rewarding. Before I considered going back to retail, I tried out teaching elementary...and LOVED it. There is a different level of respect ... plus, generally, the subject matter is never a problem for me. I do end up having to teach more than I did in high school (high school felt more like babysitting than teaching); and, you build a quicker rapport with the students. (When students only have you for an hour or so, they find it easier to either ignore you or be disruptive, I've noticed. Even in elementary, the hardest classes were always for specialists...especially if I haven't had the class before. They feel this short amount of time spent with a substitute gives them some kind of free pass to act out. Maybe they figure they aren't held as accountable...especially since you don't learn their names.)
Things that helped me the most this school year:
1) Doing the time! I'm a much better sub at the end of the school year than when I started in October. I still have a lot to learn, I feel ... but, I have a better control of a classroom now and I don't have those nerves that plagued me early on.
2) Find a book that is designed to help substitutes. Then, incorporate your teaching style with their suggestions. (The one book I got had some great tips; but, I don't think I could ever be as strict as they want a substitute to be. I'm "parent strict" in my approach.)
3) These boards were very helpful. I tried to read stuff that I didn't even have an interest in; because, you never knew when a particular incident someone else had would come up at another time. This board prepared me in a way that I didn't have available elsewhere.
4) The best source are the teachers themselves. When I had a particularily rough day with a group of 5th graders, the two 5th grade teachers gave me such wonderful, helpful advice ... letting me know the mindset of the group and how their actions and attitudes weren't a reflection of my teaching. Plus, the teachers have techniques that work well that I hadn't thought about.
You got some good advice how on to improve. I would just suggest not working at that school anymore. It really sounds like you are in a lose-lose situation. This job can be hard enough when you have the support of the staff, so without that, it just doesn't seem worth it.
I'm with YiLu, it seems that no matter what you are not going to be welcome and respected in that school, at least not by now, so give yourself a break and do not go back.
As for becoming a better sub, it will come with experience and training. I'm pretty sure you are the kind of person that is always looking for ways to improve so you will find tools to help you become a great sub.
1) Don't go to that school if you can avoid it. There are better places to go to.
2) If you have to go to that school and you have a multi-day assignment, be bold. Change the seats completely around. Make a map of the room before you do this so you can put things back in the end. Doing this will shake up the class and let them know who is in charge. Have everything super-organized, books on the desks OPENED to the right page already, you dressed your finest, worksheets already on the desks, room absolutely clean, transparency already showing on the overhead.
3) Draw up seating charts for all classes. No, I don't mean assign seats. That will start a war. Let the kids come in and have a seat and you draw it up based on where they are seated when you take the roll. You will at the end leave the charts with the teacher. In most cases you can tell the students this so they know the regular teacher will know where they sat. Sometimes you will see half the class get up and move to another seat. In other cases don't tell them what you are doing. Let them think they can sit wherever they want and misbehave. Then when the time is right, STRIKE. Fire off an endless barrage of their names, looking at each student when you do so and asking them how they are doing with the assignment, and you will put the fear of God into them as they wonder how you know them already.
Also on this point, forget using the teacher's seating charts, especially if you are some months into the school year. They are often hard to read and can become horribly outdated. You will have useless fights with students who claim they were moved last week. Just do your own charts based on where the students sit. If you have to move them later, do it, telling them they will have five seconds to get to the other seat before you send them out.
4) Use the seating charts to record positive and negative points, the positives being for recommended extra credit. Move around the room and continuously do this. EMPHASIZE MORE ON THE POSITIVE. Give at least two or three positive comments for every corrective one, and do the correctives as quietly as possible with the individual in a way that garners the least distraction for others.
5) Don't yell and scream. You only add to the chaos when you do that. Be mellow, counting to 10 if you need to. Realize that at the end of the day, the only person with an increased risk of a coronary in that situation will be you.
6) Don't have a lesson plan and you have kids throwing things at each other? Fine, they want combat, give them combat. The game of Combat, which I invented, where students throw questions out to each other. Here's how it works:
The goal of Combat is to eliminate as many of your enemy as you can by firing off review questions to them (I've never done it in math, but I suppose it could be done with math problems). You divide the class into two armies, which are further divided into two or three divisions. Each division has a commander. The job of the commander is to manage the division's preparations for battle (coming up with review questions) and to direct attacks. The divisions are given up to 20 minutes to come up with review questions. Inevitably some will be lost, so you must assist by handing out additional prep questions to get them going.
Make sure the review questions they come up with are academic and relevant to what they are studying.
The honor of the first shot is given to the division commander who can most closely guess a number that you come up with between 1 to 100. That division then gets three questions to fire off at a chosen enemy division. The other divisions in the defending army can assist in finding the answer but it must be the targeted division that actually answers the question. That division is given 30 seconds to answer. If they cannot give a correct answer or the time runs out, they suffer a hit.
Once the defending division has withstood the first volley, they get a chance to retaliate. Shots keep going back and forth from there. Remember to keep the divisions of the defending army not under attack engaged by helping their fellow soldiers defend.
Score is kept with the drawing of a battlefield on the board (if this is a history class you can choose historic battles). A scorekeeper (usually a student who does not want to play or who does this to even out odd numbers of opponents) keeps the score, drawing the explosions when a division is hit. It is extremely rare that a division will be entirely wiped out.
Typically students will start out lost at this at first, particularly during the prep phase, but once they get going they can really go at it. I did a variation of this once based on Pearl Harbor that had sound effects and a model board, complete with ships and submarines. But that was for my student teaching.
So don't just throw up your hands at all that energy that is being put out. Utilize it to your advantage. Turn it in your direction. The kids will follow if properly directed.
I completely agree with John on the seating chart. Take the time to do this. I personally walk it aroung the room and have the student write their own name down. They will pay attention when you say "Suzie, please get back to work". It has been very helpful in my HS assignments. I also agree that you should never sub there again if at all possible. Good luck next year.