Friday, January 11, 2008

Subs, Aides, Paraprofessionals

A former colleague of mine is now on maternity leave after the much-anticipated arrival of her daughter. My friend has been preparing her classroom, materials, and students for the long-term sub for months now, hoping that she and her students "get a good one." I'm keeping my fingers and toes crossed for her too.

For all of the wonderful substitute teachers, classroom aides, and paraprofessionals out there, thank you for all that you do. And thank you for all that you try to do.

I was raised "a teacher's kid," and was therefore privy to the inside track of public education from a very young age, but I still had to "do my time" as a substitute teacher before I was given the chance to teach my very own group of students. And Ladies and Gents, I never had it as difficult as many of you do simply because of my upbringing and exposure to the world of teachers, inservices, and educational training. I knew which substitute teachers my mother would request by name and why she would request them, and I knew why some substitute teachers had their names crossed off of sub-caller lists after their first visit to a school. I had my mental file cabinet full of tricks and could navigate the "Yay, it's just a SUB" minefield that miraculously appears whenever someone other than the classroom teacher enters a room.

Subs, aides, and para-professionals have to deal with so many issues when they step into another teacher's classroom. The biggest one being that they are not the regular classroom teacher. It's obvious for all to see, and the usual response from many students when a stranger enters the room is to assume all of the rules, limitations, allowances, and expectations of the classroom teacher were just thrown out the window. In response, many subs tend to choose one of several paths: they try to exactly follow whatever schedule or routine that has been left for them, attempting to don the costume, tone, mannerisms and authority of the teacher they are covering (while failing miserably on the classroom stage); they try to call down the thunder in their very best Viola Swamp impersonation, somehow failing to gain the compliance of the students as effectively as she; or they sit behind the desk, warming the teacher's seat and letting the students run the show for the day, merely looking up to check that no blood is left on the linoleum. But the exceptional substitute teachers, aides, and paras, are all able to leave a positive mark on our students, encouraging the academic learning process to continue to motor forward, and giving students some valuable social experiences as well.

Here are some of's recommendations for substitute teacher handbooks. I can't tell you how glad I am that I haven't come across a "Subbing for Dummies" book... or "Teaching for Dummies" for that matter.

As for my colleague's sub? Please do a good job. Enjoy your new students as much as she does. Laugh with them, sing with them, read to them, share with them, encourage them, listen to them, guide them, teach them.

No pressure.

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