A Sub is More than a Delicious Sandwich

Here I am again…  It’s 2:30 and my class has just left for the day.  What’s even better, perhaps, is that it’s Friday afternoon.  A whole weekend awaits until it’s back to school, making another first impression, meeting a new group of students, deciphering a different teacher’s plans, maneuvering around the school building, trying my best to follow whatever the Common Core has in store for me, eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a unique group of teachers, and [on those really rough days!] just surviving till the dismissal bell rings.

Sounds overwhelming?  Nah…

It’s just another day in the life of a substitute teacher.

Honestly, I love my job.  I feel very fortunate to be able to practice my craft on a daily basis with various groups of children in a wide variety of school buildings in the districts that surround my home.  I get to delve into my classroom management strategies (sometimes they work, sometimes things go a bit haywire).  I’m able to network with other educational professionals; principals, teachers, secretaries, custodial staff, professional development providers.  And trust me, there is never a dull moment!

Three things I’ve learned while subbing have included:

  1. Never take yourself too seriously.  If you can’t laugh at your own blunders, teaching might not be the career for you.  If you can’t admit that sometimes you don’t know the answer or sometimes you did misread that word, then you’re in for a long and tiring ride, my friend.  Nobody has all of the answers 100% of the time.  It’s just the way it goes.  If you make a mistake, admit it and move on.  I’ve found it’s best to maintain humility in this career.  I used to be embarrassed and even sometimes angry when kids corrected me.  I would try to talk myself out of the fact that I did indeed make a mistake because I assumed that if they sensed weakness, they would never take me seriously.  So instead of admitting I didn’t know, I’d try to gloss over the situation and move on.  But do you know what happened when I started admitting that I didn’t always know the answer or if I said I would look up the answer to their question during my prep period?  I earned much more respect and credibility as a fellow human being.  I made the kids feel as if we were in this learning thing together rather than in some sort of dictatorship.  And it’s a whole lot better that way.
  2. Always be learning.  I think that one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that I’m not always the one who is teaching.  It might say “Per Diem Teacher” on my pay stubs, but I am just as much of a “Per Diem Learner” as I am a teacher.  I learn so much from the students I work with, the staff I work alongside, and the content I’m teaching.  Some days the things I learn are about human nature and relationships.  Other days, I learn a new game the kids are playing or a TV show that’s all the rage.  I learn random facts about the universe or an animal I never thought much about.  I learn things about my community and the people who live in it.  It would honestly be eerie if I felt as if I wasn’t learning at least one new thing every day.  So when you’re in a classroom, open your eyes and ears and soak in the knowledge and experience.  You’ll never know when it’ll come in handy (even if it’s just while you’re watching Jeopardy with your husband…  He’ll be so impressed!).  
  3. Be prepared for surprises.  Seems like an oxymoron of a statement, doesn’t it?  How can you prepare for something that is a surprise?  But it’s personally one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn.  I am a planner.  I always have been and I plan to be probably always will be.  So no matter how early I arrive in a classroom and try to setup my day and have everything plotted out, I’ve learned that things are always coming up and changing throughout the day.  It’s a dynamic profession, teaching, and when you’re working with so many different people and personalities, you’re bound to have a few hiccups here and there.  A student needs to leave early, an assembly gets cancelled at the last minute, or you’re moved from one assignment to another and end up teaching Pre-Calc when you thought you were teaching fourth graders.  It happens.  Don’t freak out when it does.  Just roll with the punches and do the best you can in the position you’re in.  I’ve learned how to think on my feet, pull lessons out of midair, and think of quick fixes to numerous problems that have presented themselves.
So there you have it.  I might not have all the answers and I might not always know what’s coming next, but what I do know is…  I’ll always be trying my best.  

Katrina Martin

Katrina Martin is the owner of Katrina's Resources and a B-6 certified teacher in New York State. She specializes in elementary education and curriculum development. You can read her blog at KatrinasResources.com or view her educational resources on TeachersPayTeachers.com.

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