Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Establishing Alpha Status

One of the most common questions I get when I tell people I'm a substitute teacher is "man, how do you walk into a room and let the kids know you're in charge?" This is probably because a) they remember all the subs they ran ragged and b) I'm blonde and kinda baby-faced so the cards seem stacked against me when it comes to alpha status.

This is a really complicated question because every classroom is different. Different age levels, school cultures, and individual teachers' classroom style all create a different environment. Also, things you have no control over like season/weather, school politics, or the circumstances of the teacher's absence all play a role.

So, some thoughts at being at the front of the wolf pack...

1. I don't really try and establish total alpha status. It's pretty impossible for kids of any age or background to implicitly trust and obey a stranger. It's more about establishing repoire rather than dominance. I set up a "don't bother me I won't bother you"-ness type thing instead. This is not to say that I sit at the desk and read a magazine and hope they don't burn the room down. I'm still going to give the assignment, teach what needs to be taught, and hold them accountable for productivity and behavior. However, I'm going to make it very clear that as long as the work gets done, as long as everyone is happy, I'm not going to micromanage them. The script might go something like "hey guys, the assignment is on the board. You might find it easier to answer the questions if you use the glossary in the back - let me know if you need help with that. You can work by yourself or in pairs, as long as it doesn't get too loud in here."

That brings me to
2. Give kids reasonable options. This is true for parenting and regular classroom management, so why more subs don't do it is beyond me. My favorites are the "alone or in buddies" option above, or "when you are done, you can read, write, or draw." These are 3 quiet, productive, individual tasks that the student can interpret a few ways - they can get some homework done, or they can do something they like such as reading a magazine, drawing cartoons, or even writing a note to friends (which is a dying art, by the way, thanks to texting and facebook.) Sometimes amazing things happen like kids spontaneously making "get well soon" cards for their teacher. Other options include "you can do the work here or in the office," or "you can work nicely with your neighbors or sit alone at that table over there." It's important to let them know that either one is okay with you, especially if you accidentally give them an option that the regular teacher uses as a punishment (such as the 'sit alone at that table' choice.) I might say "I'd rather you sat at that table and got the work done than for you to get in trouble for fighting with the other kids."

3. Learn their names! If only just a few. I really like it when schools have a badge system for students, but that is pretty rare. One trick I use is right when I give them an assignment, I remind them to put their names at the top and wait while they do that before giving out more instructions. If I have a problem with a kid, I can walk over, glance at their paper, and say "John, could you keep your voice down while the other kids work? Thanks."

4. Say please and thank you. Treat them like people. Again, teaching/parenting 101, but something that gets left by the wayside if you panic and think you have to establish authoritarian rule.

5. Name Drop. "Mrs. S asked me to come in today while she is at a district meeting. We thought it would be fun to do some peer editing on your essays." If kids know that you know their teacher, it eliminates that "Lord of the Flies" chaos that can take over if kids think they have no accountability for their behavior that day. It also sets up more of the "guest teacher" status than "just a sub." This only works if it is true, by the way, so get to know your teachers.

6. If you try and pretend that you are all-powerful and infallible, the illusion will be crushed the second you get something wrong. If you let kids know that you are kind and flexible, you can convince them to work with you. It's still good to be firm and in-control, though. One thing I like to do is if there is something that I am not sure about (what happens when the schedule says "SSR," for example,) I will ask individual kids quietly and get a consensus. So, during work time, I'll crouch next to a kid's chair and ask "hey, at SSR does everyone have to read or can they do homework?" I'll go on to another kid, ask the same question, then tack on "do you sit in your assigned seat or can some kids sit on the floor or by a friend?" After a few surveys I'll get a good idea for the normal procedure, and at SSR I can confidently say "OK, time for SSR! Get out a reading book or homework, but please stay in your regular seat."

This usually sets up enough repoire to last the period. But ...

7. When all else fails, don't be afraid to bring in the big guns. I firmly believe that school administration is ultimately responsible for the culture and discipline in a school and if I find kids are rude, misbehaving, or being dangerous I do not hesitate to call them in to do their jobs. When in doubt, just think how much more they get paid than you!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Flying colors!

I passed!! The math test is behind me, with a whopping 198/200! I have sent the paperwork to update my license to the state, but with their track record I probably won't be endorsed to teach middle school math in time for the school year to start. So, I'm still looking for art OR math jobs as Labor Day draws near...

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Summer starts .... NOW

So, just as yahoo starts using alphabet magnets on it's homepage and Old Navy runs school uniform ads, my summer actually starts! Yes, the temp job ended and I'm not taking on another one (I swear I can not work for more than a week without freaking out!)

So, ideas for adventures ???