How to Prepare for Substitute Teaching

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Substitute teaching can be taxing, with its varied and inconsistent scheduling. New locations, new children, new lesson plans, and new expectations every morning can be draining.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle. As a substitute teacher, not much is inside your circle of influence, but you are at the center of it. Taking care of yourself is absolutely the most important thing you can do to succeed at substitute teaching. First, stay fit. If you cannot exercise in the morning because you are waiting by the phone, exercise in the evening, stopping by the gym on the way home or walking around the neighborhood with your spouse after dinner. Second, eat well. Meal planning and preparing food in advance is crucial for this step. Over the weekend, make several meals, doubling or even tripling the recipe and freeze single portion sizes in Tupperware in the freezer for you to take to work as lunches.

Use your crockpot: stick a roast or chicken breasts with Asian or Mexican spices and a can of diced tomatoes and you have dinner ready when you come home. Third, get at least eight hours of sleep every night. Change is one of the most exhausting circumstances an individual can face; you face continual change every day. Let your body recover each night. Last, look good. For women especially, the way you look influences your mood. When you dress in a power suit, you feel powerful. When you dress in a skirt, you feel feminine. If you have uniform requirements like lanyards and badge holders, personalize them with a beaded lanyard or decorative badge holder.

Embrace the change. Some personality types are naturally more flexible than others, but even if you prefer structure and organization, you can choose to focus on the positive elements rather than the negative elements of substitute teaching. You have the opportunity to reach a greater number of children every day than other teachers. You have a greater challenge because you do not have an established rapport with the students, but as a newcomer you may be able to reach them in ways their teacher was not. Always keep a lesson plan for each grade prepared in case the teacher does not have one ready when you arrive. Since you get to decide what to cover that day, you can talk about things that you like and get the students excited about subjects they may not have covered previously.

Remember to stay organized, keeping your important documents and ID on lanyards and badge holders so that you can show security you belong and are a staff member in case they ask. You might look into buying an attractive beaded lanyard that matches most of your outfits.

At all times, remember that teaching is your calling, not just an occupation. You got into teaching because you love learning and sharing your knowledge with others. Do not get frustrated! As Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.”


How to Play Nice and Still Win the Game

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Every office has its politics, and schools are no exception. In fact, it’s often more challenging because of the variety and complexity of the relationships (parents, students, administrators, parents, school boards, unions, federal and state regulators, community and media) and the substitution of consensus for accountability in many instances.

First, it is important to keep your head out of the sand. Most teachers get into education because they desire to help people and to assist their students fulfill dreams, but that does not mean they cannot be territorial and petty. Be alert to the possibility of saboteurs in your department. Most of us dislike gossip on principle, but keeping your ears open may help you identify social landmines in advance.

Second, develop your professional network. Build relationships with potential antagonists. Give gifts, like beaded lanyards, to the office secretaries. If you are introverted, this suggestion may sound disconcerting, but make a point of eating lunch in the lounge as opposed to at your desk. As you develop friendships across the board, you are (1) multiplying your “ears” so that you can find out as soon as possible any rumors that may start about you, and (2) protecting your back, by developing a rapport with individuals who will champion for you should rumors begin. And taking this step will help you to build good working relationships; and that’s what you really want.

Third, have a plan. When office politics get into full swing, knowing your options for response can be invaluable. Check out Timothy Johnson’s post where he offers the following methods for resolving the matter:

1) Direct confrontation, with witnesses. Schedule a time to confront the individual in person with trusted witnesses there to support you. But beware of passive-aggressive retaliation!

2) Conditional assistance: Make it clear that you would like to help, but you fear possible negative backlash; this option will demonstrate to outsiders how the saboteur’s behavior is hurtful to the entire school body, not just you personally.

3) Documentation trump card: If the slander or conspiracy is in written form, keep a record. If overheard, make a note of the time and date and exact verbiage.

4) Maintain your own character: Do not lower your personal standards of decency. Remain above board in all areas of your behavior; for example, keep your ID in a badge holder so that you can maintain the school’s rules at all times.

5) Divide and conquer: Meet with your adversaries one-on-one and see if you can bring them over to your side in the matter. Do something nice for them, like giving them a beaded lanyard, or an ID badge holders with their favorite sports team. Identify their goals and see if you can help them achieve those ends through less destructive means.

Fourth, have a supportive personal network. Recognize that your identity is not defined by what happens at work. Expand your personal interests and remain in close contact with friends and family. Then, whatever happens at the office can stay at the office. And, in the worst case, they can help you identify new opportunities for employment if your office becomes excessively toxic.