Substitute Teaching: Learning on the Job

by Gina Plaitakis

Subs are underpaid and unappreciated, but the experience gained can be valuable for a teacher-to-be.

I substitute taught this past spring. It’s been a real learning experience for me. I got to witness a number of other substitutes and I have come to notice a few types of people doing this line of work.

The first group are other people such as moms like myself who are genuinely interested in becoming teachers and are considering going back to school or doing the alternate route. Substitute teaching is giving them experience as well as a small paycheck. Another group are people who have already retired from whatever line of work they were doing professionally. Now they are subbing to supplement their retirement. Some I’ve met are retired teachers.

The third group are people who are out of work and simply looking for a paycheck. Now I know that the economy is bad and a lot of people are desperate, but I don’t think our children should suffer as a result. I have seen some substitutes who really don’t belong in the classroom. They obviously don’t care about the students. One day I shared a classroom with another substitute because the class required a teacher and an aide. It was a third-grade class and the kids were a nice bunch. They were working on a writing assignment and the classroom was pretty quiet until we all heard snoring! The other substitute had fallen asleep. He should have been walking around and helping the students.

What upsets me most about the people who just want a paycheck is that they are preventing other substitutes who really want to teach from getting subbing jobs. Many school districts post their substitute jobs online so it’s literally first come first serve. Whoever finds the subbing jobs online first gets them. A number of teachers have complained about the system because they can’t get the people they want to sub for them. Parents have complained because they say that the students are suffering.


I've been observing teachers, aides, paraprofessionals, student teachers and other subs. I have been amazed by some of their teaching methods. When you observe a good teacher, it’s obvious. The students are happy, having fun, cooperative and listening. There’s a nice play back and forth between teacher and students. The classroom is pleasant to be in and learning is fun. I’ve also observed some not so pleasant classrooms and I think I know what doesn’t belong in the classroom, anger. So far I have only subbed in the elementary schools so I can't speak for middle school or high school. In my experience, I think anger is totally inappropriate and should never be used for disciplining elementary school children. I watched one teacher take a child who was acting up a little and elevate that child's behavior to completely out of control. The kid ended up being sent to the principal's office in the end. I think that it could have been avoided if it had been handled differently. As a parent, I know that I certainly do not want my child being screamed at by another adult.

One method I learned to use to get the kids attention (and again this is elementary school) is to clap out a rhythm. The kids all instantly respond by clapping it back to me. Some classes have told me that it's fun. What it does is get their attention and I don't have to raise my voice. I try to have fun with them and keep whatever lesson we’re doing interesting by engaging everyone. I give them each a turn to read the lesson or answer a question, etc. I let them know that I’m an art teacher and if we get all our work done, we can do an art project or I’ll read to them. Kids love it when you read books to them. Another thing I do is move around the classroom, continually checking on each child.

It’s easier to substitute a class the second time around. The first time is always the most difficult but if you are real and have fun, the kids seem to respond well. I’ve had a lot of good experiences even when I only got to sub the class one time. Some kids need more help then others but all children need and deserve encouragement, praise and compassion.

by Gina Plaitakis | Thursday, June 25, 2009 | Career Change, Becoming an Art Teacher, Becoming an Art Teacher, Dream Careers, Dream Careers

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