One of the biggest hurdles for the substitute teacher is, not knowing the names of the students you encounter each day. Breaks in the natural flow occur from not being able to call out a name to address a behavior instantly. The best sub plans will name 3-4 students who can be relied on to give useful information; some even go so far as to give strategies for certain kids – at independent reading, ‘A. will still talk, but as long as he doesn't bother anyone, it’s OK.’ Or, ‘G. must go to go to the bathroom with D. or the assistant. M and R. may not go together.’ Clearly what shouldn't happen is when, hearing which class you've got, someone says: “Oh poor you! Look out for B., he’ll take advantage all day!” Or worse. Teachers, labeling children day to day or year to year is a grave breach of privacy. Especially on the cellphone or on public transportation!!
That said – the first names the sub is going to learn will indeed be those of kids who have visible control issues – dart about, touch too much, in everyone’s business, louder than the rest. Learn those names and save yourself a lot of trouble later! Often tables have the names taped down to them, or the math and writing folders have names, which help a lot.
Especially in the Early Childhood grades, it’s pointless to try and explain that learning everyone’s name isn't going to happen instantly. Children have every right to assume they are unique and distinct enough to be instantly recognizable by name! Wrong names are an affront – “What? You mixed me up with her? We’re not even a bit alike – in fact I don’t even play with her!” Saying that they are easily the 200th new child you've met already this month is not helpful, kind or relevant – that’s not their problem, it’s yours!
The impact of a substitute varies from place to place, and the reasons aren't always obvious. Here are some examples:
- Disorientation and loss of a predictable constant (their teacher) – some tears; some defiance; the clinginess.
- Insecurity because they don’t feel protected by the routine and familiarity – they are unknown.
- They are afraid the teacher will get it all wrong, and try valiantly to coach her – “No, no, you have to use the pointer!” “My table is Blue Rhombus, not Blue!”
- They take advantage of the freedom from an oppressive or punitive setting by giving completely wrong information to the substitute: “We always have free play after recess!” “Yes, we can change our books during math time!” (This only works if there are no plans.)
- Acting up and misbehaving; not listening – “I don’t have to listen to you, who are you anyway? I’ll never see you again.”
- A succession of subs, for whatever reason, leads to feelings of abandonment, worthlessness, and low self esteem. (See slide) I had to explain to that abandoned class that the reason their last teacher left was not because she couldn't stand them, but because working in the same class more than 29 days would entitle her to go on the payroll with benefits, so they moved her on the 29th day. Naturally that hadn't occurred to them. Brutal budget decisions! Who cares?
Even an experienced teacher feels insecure in a brand new setting, lacking her moorings. Where’s the bathroom? Do you need a key? Which is our exit in a Fire Drill? Does this school allow talking in hallways? Using the water fountains? Where’s the Gym, the Art room?
- Finally, when the randomness of substitutes is extrapolated to the closure of entire schools which anchored their communities, all of these issues are writ large.
Generally teachers will go to extremes NOT to be absent, but it will happen. Nowadays many assignments are coming in due to training days, conferences, planning meetings. There is so much new information to provide to staff that dealing with the kids becomes secondary. How do you align to the Common Core? How can you possibly assess your children without three days training on the new automated protocols and data gathering instruments? The fact that being in the classroom assessing them instantaneously every day has worked effectively in the past matters not.
But for the sub, it’s boom time!