What do we do when we’re called out of the classroom? When illness attacks or someone in our family needs us near, whom do we call to cover our teaching responsibilities? When we’re lucky enough to attend a professional training or workshop, how do we keep our daily instruction on pace? We call a substitute teacher, a super-sub, of course!
No matter how we call them to the rescue, these colleagues are brave and responsible enough to take over the important teaching and learning in our classroom in our absence. Most often, we don’t see these super-subs when they’re covering in our classrooms, but we sure notice them when they’re subbing next door or down the hallway, working with students we share. Our connections with substitutes are often invisible, guided by written lesson plans and notes on a desktop, but their work is very visible and important to every student.
To learn about “subbing,” I thought it would be helpful to check in with a former teaching colleague who is now a highly-regarded, successful substitute—and particularly to acknowledge the importance of these super-heroes over the last pandemic years.
I was curious to find out what subbing in a classroom looks, sounds, and feels like these days. Here’s what one “Super-Sub” had to say:
Teaching Channel: What’s your background in education and what led you to substitute teaching?
Super-Sub: I taught 36 years in a public school – two years in 5th grade and 34 years in 1st grade. I’ve subbed now for five years, doing mainly long-term assignments. That means I’ve been teaching 41 years! I started subbing because I missed building relationships with kids and contributing to their lives – and I wanted another source of income!
TC: What do you appreciate most when you cover for someone else’s classroom on any given day?
Super-Sub:I really love organized and complete lesson plans with extra flexibility allowed to be creative and shift plans if I have an art project or writing activity to liven up the learning.
TC: What are your favorite substitute assignments?
Super-Sub: Going back to the classrooms where I have had long-term positions; it’s fun to see those same kids and be rewarded with hugs and stories about their lives.
TC: What’s one challenge you face when you cover for someone else’s classroom on any given day?
Super-Sub: When you don’t know the students, it’s challenging to determine the best way to handle individual student behavior needs. Individual personalities require different methods of interaction and discipline – without knowing what makes a student tick, my choices could escalate a behavior.
TC:From your perspective as a substitute teacher – what advice would you give to a building administrator?
Super-Sub:Please be friendly and show appreciation to the sub for being there. Be supportive, especially when high needs students are present in the classroom. I always appreciate being asked if there’s anything I need or anything they could do for me so I can support students better. Sadly, sometimes this doesn’t happen.
TC: If you could give advice – from your perspective as a substitute teacher – what would you say to the classroom teacher?
Super-Sub: Organized lesson plans are the key to success! Also, a heads-up about individual students who might need extra connections and a special greeting to build rapport right away in the morning.
TC: How do you use technology as a substitute teacher?
Super-Sub: Document cameras and Smartboards, although older technology, are helpful tools in any classroom. Chromebooks and iPads are often available, and I could use more training with these. Most subs need more training to incorporate technology – using tools and apps correctly in the classroom. Lack of equipment can also be an issue, as well as understanding all routines and proper usage within different classrooms.
TC: What delights you about classrooms today?
Super-Sub: The kids are still the highlight of my days – to share life through the eyes of a child is always an adventure!
TC: What concerns you about classrooms today?
Super-Sub: There can be a lack of respect for guest teachers, who may not have any viable consequences for student misbehaviors. Also, it feels like we no longer teach to the whole child and consider what is developmentally appropriate for young learners. Standards and testing have become more important. The time to socialize and learn through play isn’t a priority and creating an atmosphere that fosters the love of learning has gone by the wayside. The rigor of kindergarten has created stress for students who are not ready to master the standards. This can send a message of failure before a child’s school experience even starts. Teachers should be allowed to be creative and deliver content in a way that promotes excitement and fun!
TC: Do you have a substitute teacher story you can share with other educators to make them smile?
Super-Sub: After three weeks in a second-grade classroom for a teacher on maternity leave, one student asked, “When is Mrs. M. coming back?” I said, “Not for another 7 weeks.” The student replied, “It takes that long to have a baby?”
It’s clear that this Super-Sub is doing great work — students and teachers are working and learning together, and that is the goal for every day in every classroom! Now that we’ve checked in with one Super-Sub, we hope this inspires us all to thank a substitute teacher tomorrow!
Super-Subs, we honor your work and send our gratitude for answering the calls to classrooms across the country every single day of the school year but especially over the last years as we all managed the COVID-19 pandemic. We appreciate you!
If you’re a Super-Sub looking to be even better at what you do or to become a Super-Sub yourself, we recommend exploring Teaching Channel’s EQUIP Program: Specialized Training for Substitute Teachers!