For some, substitute teaching is a career choice. But for the majority of candidates, it is often a necessary gateway to a teaching contract. Either way, it’s a great way to sharpen your skills.
Substitute teaching gets a bad rap in my opinion. Sure, it has its challenges. Students will test you; you may not have instructions from the regular teacher; you may spend your morning with senior French students who won’t speak to you and your afternoon with first graders who will hug you and give you a tour of their school supplies; your day may follow an arduous path. But a good teacher, substitute or not, understands that there is always something valuable to be learned from experience, good or otherwise. If you make the most of it, see it for the adventure that it is and glean as much as you can from each assignment, you’ll soon have more tricks in your bag than you’ll ever be able to use, and you’ll work your way into that contract before you know it. The most memorable days are the strangest ones and I promise, they will inform you for the rest of your career. Accept the mission, follow the tips in this and the next blog entry, and jump into the adventure!
I solicited information from the field including principals, teachers and Human Resource Directors who make final hiring decisions. I asked them to share their best advice for substitute teachers who are eager to score that teaching contract. You should know that without hesitation, they took the time to respond to my inquiry, even while in the throes of preparing for a new school year. They really do want you to know how to rise to the top and they are willing to share with you how to be the teacher they want to hire. I wasn’t surprised to see common themes emerge.
- Be on time and do not leave early. Every single respondent said this. Most of them listed it as the first item on their list. Two of them typed the second part, “do not leave early,” in SHOUTY CAPITAL LETTERS. This is good news; it’s a no-brainer that could help you rise to the top of the list sooner than apparently a large portion of the competition. The reason is obvious; this is a job. There is a professional expectation to see the job through. If you have finished all of your duties, you have some options. Subscribing to the adage, “Leave it in better condition than when you arrived,” do a thorough cleaning of the classroom, being careful not to move things around. Teachers don’t always have the time to do this, and they’ll appreciate that the bookshelves are straightened up, classroom supplies are put away and tempura paints are wiped off of the walls. Another option is to check in with the teacher next door, letting them know that you have that extra half an hour and are available to help with a small tasks or two. You’ll gain some points.
- Leave a note, leave a note, and please...leave a detailed note. Teachers have some understandable anxiety about relinquishing their classroom to someone else. It’s important for them to know what happened while they were away. All of it; good or bad. Don’t leave anything out. At some point in your career, you will be the one entrusting your classroom to a potential stranger. Won’t you want to know everything that did and didn’t happen? Include positive comments about how the day went; tasks that were not covered and why (it’s okay if you weren’t able to get to everything but it’s important for them to know); discipline issues, if any, especially those that involved an administrator; and anything else you would like for them to know. The classroom teacher will appreciate being fully informed as they return. If you have made your own business cards with your substitute teacher information (recommended), attach it to the note. (Tip: Magnet business cards can be helpful. Teachers often put these on their white boards so they don’t get lost and they can call on you when they need you.) If you do your job well, they will call you back. It is common practice for districts to pull from their substitute teacher pool first when they make permanent hiring decisions.
- Don’t be a stranger. Introduce yourself to the school secretary and the building principal. If it’s not your first time in the building and you have already introduced yourself, be sure to say hello anyway as you arrive. If you miss them in your initial check-in that day, make sure you find a moment at some point to say hello. This is not only professional, it’s an opportunity. If the principal is in, say something like, “I am going to be in Mrs. Jones’ 3rd grade class today and I would love to have you stop by if you can.” That’s right; invite him/her to see you in action. During lunch, don’t stay in your classroom. Eat in the staff/faculty lounge and introduce yourself. Be visible and friendly. You may just walk out of there with more requests, which leads to recognition and visibility when jobs become available. Work it!
Stay tuned for more tips next week and remember - have FUN! I double-dog dare you.
Cathy Stephens, Director
Office of Educational Certification & Career Services
The opinions expressed in Career Corner are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.