Yesterday was my first day of subbing… and I was eaten alive by 7th graders. I remember sitting, deflated, in that empty classroom after the last period, staring at the sub-report handout I had printed the night before to leave for the teacher. My feet throbbed, my head hurt, and I was seriously discouraged after a long day of major disruptions and a long failed list of classroom management techniques.
Backtrack to the night before, I remember receiving the call and panicking before accepting the assignment. “OMG, I’m not ready for this!” ran through my head, but I had been reading Internet sources and library books on substitute teaching for two weeks after my application was submitted. I had created a sub-pack, which had slowly evolved into a sub-crate. I stocked up on office and art supplies, brushed the dust off my stopwatch, borrowed Halloween picture books and a teacher’s almanac for creative writing prompts, bookmarked printable logic puzzles and brainteasers, and compiled all the districts’ information sheets in a binder.
One of the things I had been heavily working on before the call were tiered activity menus. I was subbing for middle school and high school level students, and I wanted to find a way to make time-filler activities more educational for the students. With tiered menus, I could easily customize the activities to fit their teacher’s curriculum and the option of choice would appeal to both MS and HS levels. It was luck that the teacher I was called to sub for had a classroom website. Not only was I able to grab a copy of her classroom rules and classroom management system, but I also found that she just finished a unit on the scientific method. I created a science tic-tac-toe menu as an emergency time-filler, wrote an introductory speech for myself, and went to sleep.
I soon learned the next day that the best preparation itself is experience. The teacher’s emergency plan consisted of reading magazine articles and completing a crossword puzzle. With each period, I alternated between whole-class, small groups, and paired readings. It became obvious that the students were bored with the content, no matter how I switched up the format. Fortunately there were articles on parasites and the Colorado River so I shared personal stories about my days working as a biologist seining the CO river for infested invasive fish species. It caught their attention, but as the day progressed, news passed through the grape-vine that there was a new sub and the disruptions started to pile up.
The lights were shut off by an anonymous student, a door was slammed shut, students were giving fake names, and the noise level incrementally grew louder as I got closer to sixth period. I greeted them and said goodbye to them at the door, reminded them of their teacher’s class rules, gave group-work and the last minutes as free time as incentives and warned students if I had to give three formal warnings they had to go back to their individual seats for the rest of the period and do work in silence. I moved around the room a lot, gave verbal warnings, hovered silently nearby offending students, wrote down names for the teacher, and even took a student aside for an individual talk. Despite it all, disruption escalated and I felt like I was going crazy trying to monitor and be everywhere at once.
The problems eased after sixth period. Study hall was a reprieve and I had a chance to try out the tic-tac-toe menu with some students who claimed they had no work to do. Overall, my biggest lesson that day was that I have to figure out how to revamp my classroom management system so that it will be appropriate and effective for MS and HS students. My classroom management system relies on connections, but in the case of subbing for new classes each time, there are no prior connections and relationships to rely on and build up on.
I think that’s what makes subbing so terrifying. You’re thrown into unknown territory, with no prior knowledge of the students and what makes them tick. It is very hard to maintain classroom management when students don’t care about the verbal warnings or repercussions and when a sub is expected to deal on his or her own. Clearly, I have to re-evaluate how and figure out what I need to do to make a more effective and appropriate system for classroom management in MS and HS school levels.
Other valuable lessons I picked up on my first day of subbing:
- Subbing is 98% classroom management, 2% instruction. Follow the teacher’s directions, improvise if must, and above all else keep the disruptions to a minimum. I may be a teacher, but it is not my classroom and trying to do things my way will only hurt my ego.
- I must reconsider my rewards system. I would have been laughed at if I pulled out the picture books or stickers. I need to capitalize more on time and peer relationships.
- I’m chucking half of my sub-pack. There is no need for me to lug everything around that I end up not using anyway. My essentials: my sub-binder, extra pens and pencils, stapler, staples, paper clips, markers, masking tape, a stopwatch, antibacterial hand-wipes, food, a water bottle, and something to read during planning periods. Flat shoes and emergency clothes can stay in the trunk of my car.
- I must remember to do attendance out loud before introductions, and if there are seated charts provided, I should warn everyone that I’ll mark students absent if they’re not where they should be or are not responding to the correct names. If I had done this instead of relying on a helper yesterday, I probably would’ve set a stronger tone at the beginning.
- I must remember to reconstruct the tic-tac-toe menu from 4×4 grid to a 3×3 grid, or consider also using a 2-5-8 menu. Extra time is very limited so I should look at activities that take no longer than 5-8 minutes individually to complete.
- Even though it was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day and I had my ego badly bruised, I made it through my first day alive. What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger for the next round. At least now I know what to realistically expect if I happen to be called in to sub again.
PS. Thanks @edonlin, @stardiverr, @barbaraday, and @dsyzdek for the encouraging cheer-up tweets!