Give Your Sub a Break

Give Your Sub a Break

Recognize the challenges of being a substitute teacher

Kelsey Ichikawa    | Staff Writer

It’s a typical day when you enter your sixth period class, and lo and behold, someone who is conspicuously not your teacher inhabits the room.

It’s rare to have a sub with whom students are genuinely pleased and enjoy class.  In most cases, a sub is merely seen as a temporary, nondescript placeholder to stave off total chaos until the official teacher reclaims the throne.  If a sub does gain an actual reputation, more often than not it’s a negative one.

For many of us, we don’t give much thought to the stranger who takes authority for 50 minutes.  We don’t consider just how inherently difficult the role of substitute teacher is.

There are several basic options for a sub to address a high school class:

1)      Be chill and lenient. In a symbiotic philosophy, you let the students do their thing, and they let you do yours.  This response is unlikely to incur either resentment or respect from students.  The problem is that class time productivity plummets to zero for most, and the period morphs into a breeding ground for socialization, smart phones, and other evils considered intolerable by the regular teacher.  Yet if you attempt to reestablish authority, the class will likely flout your wishes because first impressions last.

2)      Be strict.  Demonstrate up front that you are not to be trifled with or taken advantage of.  Call out students who request the bathroom pass, enforce silence during worktime, follow the teacher’s written directions to the T. While this is an efficacious safeguard against #1’s unruliness, you gain a reputation as a martinet.  Students may behave, but behind your back they gripe about your “tyranny.”

3)      Be active and try to legitimately teach.  However, you don’t know the teacher’s ordinary routine. You can bet the students will call you out every time you deviate from the norm. Even if you are knowledgeable about the subject, your instruction is often discredited because you are not the official teacher.

The bottom line is that there’s no easy way for subs to handle a class.  They’re confronting an entirely new sea of faces almost every time, meaning they are automatically at a disadvantage.  It takes any teacher days of interaction to build enough mutual respect to properly manage a horde of hormonal teenagers, and a sub rarely gets that chance.  Us students are on home turf, while the sub is not.  Would it be so hard to display greater empathy and do what we can to reduce the hassle for subs?  Help them take attendance.  Don’t make crass comments behind their back.  Try actually completing those book problems they assigned.  Don’t request to frequent the bathroom five times.  Keep the noise level reasonable.  I’m not saying we have to be goody two shoes, but we should be kinder, because substitute teachers do have a tough job, even if it doesn’t seem like it.