It’s 8:45 a.m. You have your substitute teaching assignment for the day and are staring at the lesson plan that was left for you. With so many thoughts rushing through your head, it’s hard to keep everything straight. You barely get through absorbing everything before the children start pouring off the buses and fill the hallways with chatter, excitement, and anticipation. Very, very soon, your classroom will be full and it’s all up to you to start the show.
Following a detailed lesson plan can be both helpful and overwhelming. While some children view a substitute as having the day off, there is usually one student in the class who is on your side. Your job, perhaps above all else, is to find this one student and make a connection with him or her. This is the student who can help tell you the sequence of events during the day. They tell you of their own volition where they left off in their workbooks, who gets to work on the computer and who goes to small reading groups. This person does not act out. They are typically eager to participate and don’t get drawn into poor group behavior by the other children.
What do you do when you find this one student? The first thing to do is to wait about ten or fifteen minutes to make sure this student is actually helpful and that it’s not just a momentary act of kindness. Next, engage this student fairly often. Ask them to participate. They will usually be more than happy to do so. Finally, give them a task that requires true responsibility on their part. This varies depending upon the grade. A fifth grader might be flattered if you ask them to tell you what they are learning in a discipline outside of their classroom, such as chorus. Showing an interest in something the students do that is extra-curricular or artistic tells them that you truly care about them as individuals. It gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment that an adult thinks highly of what they are achieving outside of regular academics. A first grade student, on the other hand, might be equally flattered if you gave them the task of cutting paper that can be distributed to everyone for a class project. Tell them they need to cut the paper carefully because this is something that everyone will use. This sense of responsibility, no matter how big or small, goes a long way in the classroom, particularly if you are only there for the day.
By building a bond with at least one student, you can slowly try to build a bond with the other students. If they see you can relate to at least one of them, they will hopefully see that you can relate to all of them. That will help the day go smoothly and work can get accomplished. This one student becomes your “go-to” student. Nerves run high when you sub. It helps to know that someone has your back. Who better than one of your students?
Have you ever encountered a “go-to” student in your class, whether as a substitute or permanent, full-time teacher? Leave your comments below and let us know!