Travails of the substitute teacher

Manaswini Sridhar

Teaching your own students is at times testing enough. Substituting for a class has its own uncomfortable zones. Are there any pointers to make this experience a little more comfortable?

We all get used to our students and become complacent because we have been labeled either friendly, demanding, or stern. When going to a new class that has not experienced our teaching first-hand (we may have been talked about and giggled over!) we should be in a frame of mind to do something new and yes, outperform. That should be our outlook when we set out to be substitute teacher for the day/class.

Where possible, get a picture of the nature of the class you are going to contend with, and the number of students you will be teaching. Maybe you could find out the names of the distracters and the troublemakers in the class. Stroke these students positively by involving them in tasks such as distributing hand outs, fetching that extra marker or chalk, or even asking them questions about what their teacher has been doing. This will raise their self-esteem and they will be sure to remain quiet. Learn to discern the students who are likely to support you in the first few minutes of your class; these are the students who will bolster your confidence level when you fumble!

Ask students to write down their names on a large sheet of paper in bold letters and display it on their tables or pin it on their shirts. If you know the names of your students, and call out their names every time you have a question, they are more likely to pay attention and less prone to make trouble. When students remain anonymous, they are more confident about ruffling the teacher and creating commotion in class. Take advantage of the fact that most students are alarmed when they hear their names mentioned in class!

Be acquainted with what the class teacher has been teaching at that particular point of time. If you have access to this information, you should be able to carry on with the teacher’s work without much ado. This will make it easy for the students, the teacher you are substituting for, and you! Go back to what has been already done, providing them with additional examples. For instance, if the teacher has been doing addition using two digit numbers, make doubly sure whether they have been introduced to the concept of carry over. If you rush into details that have not been taught by the teacher, you will find yourself facing a baffled and anxious lot of students resisting your inputs and teaching. Work out a lot of sums on the board; ask around to find out whether the students have understood. You have the luxury of time, unlike the class teacher.

Once this has been done, make sure that the students do something interesting, and something more fun. Divide the class into two teams. Let a student from team A write an addition sum on the board. Call out the name of a student from team B and get him to do the sum. Get both the teams to compete against each other. This has many benefits. It will get students to think of mathematical problems and incite them to solve the problem as quickly as possible. It will also enable you to have an interactive class – something that children love.

So look on substitute teaching as an interesting challenge, and before you know it, you will have the class eating out of your hand!

The author is a teacher educator and language trainer based in Chennai. She can be reached at [email protected].

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