I have been employed as a substitute teacher for the past nine years; It is my chosen profession. Working as a substitute teacher, as with any profession, has its pros and cons. For example: pro- you have a behind-the-scene look at the mechanics of a school district and how it affects the teaching/learning process of the student body; con- you have the behind-the-scene look BUT no input on school policies; pro- you have the option of working as many days (or as less days) as you chose; con- no job security, no benefits, no union (in most cases). I have compiled a list of don’ts that you should do to survive as a substitute teacher:
- DON’T LOOK INTO THE LIGHT- School districts have a pool of substitute teachers to draw from for maximum coverage of anticipated absences. In order to maintain an abundance of substitutes, the human resource department dazzles us with the possibility of permanent positions. I have heard so many times by the Superintendent of Human Resources during the annual conference, “Keep in mind that subbing is an audition for a permanent job.” Actually, they already know who they are going to hire (surprise-it’s usually not a sub) but for legal reasons must post job openings and conduct painstaking interviews. Case in point, a fellow sub was obsessively pursued by the superintendent to apply for an available job. Against her better judgment, she finally agreed. The time and date were set. After the interview, she went home, checked her mailbox, and found… a rejection letter. So, DO realize that the light at the end of the tunnel is very dim.
- DON’T EXPECT (TEACHER’S) BENEFITS TO EXTEND TO YOU- The unbreakable teacher’s contract- “so let it be written, so shall it be done.” Teacher’s do not deviate from what’s written in their contracts. Their contracts dictate what they will do, period. Whatever they won’t do, guess who does it? In this district, according to their contracts, teachers do not instruct more than five periods day; that leaves three free periods for them to have “meetings” and “planning”. What if there is a shortage of coverage one day? Do you think as educators they would cover a colleague’s class? No, they wouldn’t. As a substitute teacher, on many occasions, I have had 10- period days as well as having my lunch interrupted to provide coverage while fellow teachers “meet” in the lounge. So, DO expect long, hard days ahead.
- DON’T BECOME A VILLAGER- Modern day society is bombarded with the phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child”. This common phrase has infiltrated the school system so much that there are now four R’s: Reading, (W)Riting, (A)Rithmetic, and Raising other people’s children. Sometimes the fundamental R’s of education take a back seat to the new R,”raising people’s children” with district initiatives that sometimes backfires. So, DO remember the importance of churning out emerging adults with at least a basic education for the prospect of employment.
- DON’T PAY ATTENTION TO THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN- Substitute teachers are given a false sense of security and support by the assumed power that be. The man (woman) behind the curtain assures us of the help needed for our day’s journey. They often state how they understand the difficulties of being a substitute teacher, and they and their staff are here for us with assistance; they’re just a phone call away…until. It is expected that there are going to be students who will test the boundaries, even become disruptive and disrespectful. One day I had a student threaten me with physical violence in the classroom I was subbing in. This student was in my personal space with her tirade. I walked away and called security to have her removed from the classroom. Once she was removed from the class, I went on with lesson, in peace. Ten minutes later, this student came back into the classroom. I asked her what was she doing back in here. She responded, “They told me to go back to class. They don’t want to be looking at me.” What!? Needless to say, the peace was gone but I was unscathed. So, DO know that you are on your own.
- DON’T EXPECT TO BE TREATED AS AN EQUAL- Always keep in mind: There is “us”, and there is “them” and never shall the two mix. “Us” refers to subs; “them” refers to contracted and/or tenured teachers.Regardless of the fact that you have the same education as they do, the same certification as they do, the same rules/regulations/restrictions/repercussions as they do, you are NOT in the club. It can be an unpleasant feelings when they remind you of this. One day, a student was so disruptive that the ruckus extended out into the hallway. I could hear several teachers already out in the hall trying to assist, so I went out into the hall to help. I suggested the student sit in my room until things calm down. Sometimes it helps to separate the student and teacher for awhile. I was told, “Oh, dear, YOU don’t make enough money to deal with this.” So, DO establish and maintain a professional relationship with fellow substitute teachers.