Tag Archive | Substitute Teaching

No Degree Necessary

It was inevitable that when the state of Connecticut proposed a bill no longer requiring substitute teachers to hold a degree that it would pass.  It was announced this morning that yes, in deed, substitute teachers can enter a classroom without having a degree.  
I can understand a couple of arguments for doing this.  My state has been losing jobs at an alarming rate over the last five – ten years and they have been finding more and more creative ways to create them.  This may certainly create jobs because in the last three years those in the business field who have gotten laid off often go to a temp service and sign up to be a substitute teacher.  I know because they have been in my classroom.  
Another reason for no longer requiring a degree could be to fill much needed substitute teacher slots.  There are many days in my school and schools around the state when there are not enough substitute teachers available.  This often means that tutorial staff or paraprofessional support needs to get pulled from their necessary duties and put into a classroom for the day.
I can understand it.  But I don’t like it.  This devalues the teaching profession.  Would we ever have someone without the necessary degrees or education to stand in for a lawyer or doctor?  I am going to take a gamble here and say NO.  And there is good reason for it.  I have written before about my grave concerns about ill – equipped substitute teachers.  If someone with a degree is ill – equipped to deal with these daily intricacies of classroom life, then how will someone without a degree?  I will concede that you don’t necessary need a degree or education to do a variety of things well, including education.  But honestly, this is the exception. 

So here is my hope.  It is my hope that teaching colleges in Connecticut and those on the Connecticut border take notice of this bill.  It is my hope that in this bill they will see opportunity for their teacher candidates.  Encouraging them to become substitute teachers.  I see this as an excellent opportunity for teacher candidates to get practical classroom experience.  They will be able to see a variety of teaching styles, classroom designs, and build a repertoire of lesson ideas.

While this is not ideal in the sense the teacher candidates would not have a mentor in these situations.  I also see potential for this.  What if teaching colleges and school districts became a bit more like a clinical experience?  So a college would be linked to a few school districts where their candidates could go to become substitute teachers.  But, they would be assigned a mentor who would help them navigate any problems that occur while substitute teaching.  This of course would change the meaning of teacher preparation, but that’s okay.  

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A Plea to Substitute Teachers

I am writing, with concern, about the quality of substitute teachers that are being provided to our school systems.  It is evident that the substitutes provided are ill – equipped to work with elementary and primary age children.  They lack an understanding of children, learning, and classroom management.

Learning in the twenty-first century is quite different from learning in the twentieth century. Twenty-first century learning means that children will be required to work cooperatively.  It also means that they will be required to share ideas, include everyone in the group, and share materials.  At times this may mean that there will be disagreements.  The children at many elementary schools have been taught strategies to deal with this including time-out,  calming strategies, and conflict resolution.  Because they are children they may need to be reminded to use these strategies.  It can be difficult listening to children disagree, but it is empowering for them to resolve disagreements on their own.  

A calm voice is necessary when working children in elementary and primary schools.  I have heard numerous substitutes scream and/or yell at the students.  They scream at the children for things such as in-completion of work, talking to a classmate, not paying attention, and getting out of their seat.  While I understand that all children (and adults) engage in misbehavior, screaming is an inappropriate way to respond to it.  This also includes demanding a child be removed from a classroom for a minor misbehavior such as silliness, calling out, or getting out of their seat. More appropriate strategies to stop misbehavior would include:
  • speaking only when all children are silent.
  • looking at the child/group of children who are engaging in misbehavior.
  • calmly saying a child’s name.
  • calmly reminding what needs to be done. “Pencils are for writing.”
  • asking what needs to be done, or how something should be used.  “What does Writer’s Workshop look like?”
  • redirecting the child/children back to the task at hand.  “Read your book.”
  • reinforcing what the children (individually and as a group) are doing well.  “I noticed everyone quickly put away the math materials.”
  • issuing a consequence.  Separate chatty children.  Take away a material when it is being misused.  Use time-out so the children can regain their self-control because time-out is a strategy, not a punishment.
Human beings in general, but children especially respond poorly to threats and punishment.

Elementary and primary – aged children require a constant, interactive presence in the classroom.  Most substitute teachers do not do this.  I have seen many substitutes sit at the teacher’s desk and shout directives from the chair.  Some sit and read the newspaper and others stand in a corner drinking their cup of coffee while the children are supposedly working. This type of adult behavior creates problems in any classroom: an increase in noise level and behavior problems, decrease in amount and quality of completed student work.  If substitute teachers were to walk around the classroom, and possibly talk to the students about what they are doing, many of these things could be avoided and create a calmer learning environment. When children see an adult is actively monitoring and/or interested in their learning they feel as if what is being done with the substitute is of value and thus pay more attention to it.

Lastly, because of misbehaviors that arise due to the lack of classroom management many substitute teachers consequently conduct themselves unethically as they divulge information regarding specific children.  They speak negatively to school staff members about the children; stating that they would never substitute again for them.  They state how rude, disrespectful, and undisciplined particular children are.  If a substitute teacher feels compelled to make statements such as these, it should be communicated to the principal or classroom teacher.  

I appreciate the time and effort substitute teachers employ when standing in for a classroom teacher.  However, it would be beneficial for them as well as the children for them to be armed with more current and positive forms of classroom management and twenty-first century learning.