Face to Face With the Students [Substitute Survival]

face-to-face-300x225[This post is part of a series on Substitute Survival]

You know where you are. You have a general idea how the day’s schedule is to progress. You’ve just picked up your children from their designated morning wrangling area. Now what?

Of course you already know to introduce yourself and let the students know that you’ll be filling in for their regular teacher while they attend to whatever they are attending to. But beyond that, what do you need to establish with the students before beginning your day?

One thing that you need to know (and it’s an almost universal truth): students will behave differently for a substitute teacher than they will for their regular teacher, especially if you are a new substitute teacher. This is not to say that every student will be climbing up the walls and screaming profanity, but there will invariably be some subtleties to their daily routines which will be ignored. Students may chit chat during what would normally be silent work time. Students may line up differently than they normally do. If a routine is very important, the teacher will note that in the materials they have left for you. Try not to get too lost in the minutiae of their daily routine. However…

To curtail potential rule breaking and to assert your authority (albeit temporary) in the classroom, it does not hurt to let the students know that you intend to see all work left for them completed and that any behavior that distracts from this goal will be met with consequences. For younger grades (K-3), loss of playtime or other privileges may be the most appropriate punishment. For middle grades (4-6), writing sentences may be appropriate. For upper grades and secondary (7-12), an office referral or after-school detention may be the best choice. Neighboring teachers will be able to give you the best insight into which punishments are most commonly used or which ones tend to be most effective.

I prefer to avoid punishments if at all possible and instead offer a small reward to encourage proper behavior. This can be something small like a piece of candy or a little extra time at recess. I only resort to punishments when recognition of proper behavior and incentives fail to work.

The most important thing to remember is to always maintain your composure, even if the students are testing your limits. Do your best to keep the class on task and on schedule, and do not hesitate to call on neighboring teachers to assist in any situation you find challenging.

[This post is part of a series on Substitute Survival]

Your First Call [Substitute Survival]

ringing-phone[This post is part of a series on Substitute Survival]

It’s 6 a.m. You have one eye half-opened. You finally find your ringing phone with one flailing arm. “Hello?” you croak.

You’ve just received your first call. What do you do? What do you need to know now, and what can wait until you arrive at the school? The most important thing is to wake yourself up immediately and find something to write with. You may be given a lot of information, especially if this will be your first subbing engagement, and you don’t want to have to call the secretary back.

Here’s a quick list of things you need to know before your first subbing engagement at a new school:

  • The dress code for teachers
  • The appropriate parking area for substitutes
  • The time you need to report to the office
  • What grade level you will be working with
  • Whether or not the teacher has left lesson plans for you

If you received an early morning call, you will likely have enough time to arrive a little early. I highly recommend arriving at least 30 minutes early to a new school so that you will have some time to locate the materials you will need for the day and familiarize yourself with the layout of the school. This is a great time to locate the emergency exit plans as well. Most schools perform at least two fire drills each month, so there is a 9-10% chance that one will occur on the day that you are there.

Take some time to read over any notes or plans that the teacher has left for you, scan the list of names on the attendance roster, look over any seating charts, and generally get comfortable with the layout of the room. Also take a moment to introduce yourself to your neighbor teachers. They are often a great resource for information on specific routines or procedures that the students follow.

Students are incredibly perceptive, and the more at ease you are, the more professional you will appear to them.

[This post is part of a series on Substitute Survival]

When Will I Be Called? [Substitute Survival]

impatience-300x183[This post is part of a series on Substitute Survival]

So you’ve made your way onto the rotation lists for substitute teachers at the various schools in your district. Now what? Wait for your first call. The amount of time you wait depends on how many substitute teachers there are in your district and how willing the support staff are to call you (based on how comfortable they are with you — first impressions are key!). Your wait time can also depend on how large your district is, i.e. smaller schools with smaller staffs generally have fewer sick days taken and therefore host fewer opportunities to sub.

Whenever I experienced a lull in calls or had sporadic unscheduled days, I took it upon myself to call the secretaries at my selected schools to see if they needed any subs. I very rarely made a call that didn’t result in either an immediate scheduling or one the following day. They may not have something the moment you call, but if a time-off request hits their desk the following morning, guess who is fresh on their mind? A little proactivity can go a long way.

While you may hope that you will be able to schedule your subbing dates ahead of time, the reality is that many are scheduled at 6:30 am of the day you are needed. Whether you are subbing for the extra income or to get a foot in the door to become a teacher, it is best to make yourself as available as possible. Knowing that you can be counted on to answer your phone in the wee hours of the morning is a big feather in your cap with the support staff who make the calls.

With that in mind, make sure that your phone ringer is turned up on all school nights! If you are a bit of a deep sleeper like myself and your phone has the capability, you should consider creating a contact group in which you will save all of the school phone numbers (and secretaries’ home/cell numbers as you learn them). Assign this group (or each individual contact if you’re not into the whole ‘brevity’ thing) a special [read: loud!] ringtone.

A loud ringtone, a proactive attitude, and a little perseverance will have you in a classroom before you know it!

[This post is part of a series on Substitute Survival]

Getting Started [Substitute Survival]

classroom-300x200[This post is part of a series on Substitute Survival]

So you want to start substitute teaching? The first thing you will need to do is contact your local board of education. Contact information for your local school board may be found through your county or city government’s website. Alternatively, if you know someone already employed for the school system in which you wish to substitute, you could ask him or her for a referral to the appropriate contact person. Policies on hiring substitute teachers vary greatly from state to state and district to district. Please use the below information as a guideline only. The following may be prerequisites to becoming a substitute teacher:

  • Possession of a high school diploma or equivalent certificate
  • Attendance at a substitute teaching orientation class
  • Passing a content knowledge or school policies test
  • Completion of a pre-employment physical and/or drug screening

After you complete all necessary steps to become certified as a substitute teacher in your district, it would be wise to contact each school individually to let them know you are available to substitute for them. If possible, try to introduce yourself in person at each school. It is always nice to meet the principal, but the principal is rarely the person who schedules substitute teachers. This task is usually delegated to a secretary, bookkeeper, or other administrative assistant. These folks are the gatekeepers to your subbing opportunities, so making a good impression with them can mean the difference between frequent calls or no calls. Have something professional to leave behind with your name, contact phone number, and email address so they can have it handy when they need it. A resume is a bit too formal, and a scrap of paper is a bit too informal. A business card is just right. You can print some at home, at your local office supply store, or order some very inexpensive professional cards from VistaPrint.

[This post is part of a series on Substitute Survival]

Corn Days 1989 or “I Changed One Clown’s Life Forever”

Know of any children who are scared of clowns? How about clowns that are scared of children?

October 14, 1989. Main Street in Carmi, Illinois is busy with excitement. The 2nd weekend in October marks the conclusion of Carmi’s annual fall festival, Corn Days. Throughout the week, there are livestock showings, talent shows, musical performances, carnival rides, and Friday night two lucky high schoolers will be named the Corn King and Queen. Saturday is the most fun though. Saturday begins with games and activities specifically for kids. The carnies run the rides all day. The big show, the parade, is what everyone looks forward to. For me that means watching all of the area marching bands showcasing their routines in front of the grandstand, giggling at the Shriners in their goofy little cars, and catching candy from the many cars and floats that will be part of the lineup. Read more

My Literacy Philosophy

This was written for my CUED 6340 class at Tech.

The ability to fluently speak, read, write, and comprehend language is without question, the most important skill for academic success. Literacy undergirds not only every academic subject but most aspects of daily life, and one cannot be expected to fully succeed without the ability to interpret the information with which they are presented.

Literacy can be shaped from the moment a child is aware of their surroundings. It is crucial then that children are exposed to visual and audio stimuli frequently. Unfortunately, what was once the reading of a book to a child has devolved into the playback of television programs. Actively-involved family members are a crucial fragment in the development of life’s most important skill. Read more

Did you know…?

  • Slugs are gastropod molluscs and are descended from snails. Over time, the necessity of the shell was reduced in some species to become either nonexistent, small and unnoticeable, or internal.
  • Slugs are vile creatures that will destroy a garden or other beautiful plants in your yard.
  • Slugs, though composed primarily of water, will not pop, no matter how long you hold a lighter to them.
  • The mucous slugs produce to protect their disgusting insides turns to the consistency of rubber cement when a flame is applied. Mass extermination of slugs with fire could produce the world’s next great adhesive. (100% organic!)
  • Salt does not immediately kill a slug but causes it to die in slow, torturing agony. This method should be used whenever salt is available. Keep small restaurant packets in your pocket for such occasions.
  • People who defend the disgustingness of slugs hate freedom, kittens, apple pie, and everything you hold sacred.
  • Slugs were invented by Satan as a way to add disgustingness to the planet Earth.
  • Destroy slugs whenever you see them. Animals that depend on slugs for food are not doing a good enough job and must be forced to expand their menu.
  • If you are an invertebrate biologist with a raging one for slugs, do not speak to me. Unfriend me.

Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD [cute, huh?]) Act

I received a notice from Bank of America today in regards to changes to my account that will be going into effect in February of the coming year as a result of recent cutely-named and intentionally-backronymed legislation. I didn’t follow this piece of legislation as it went through Congress, but from the lay wording in this letter, I am disgusted by how our government is supporting the poor personal financial habits of American consumers.

Everybody would like some relief. Sure. It’d be great, but one shouldn’t depend on it.

Here are some of the tenets of the CARD Act as quoted from my letter from Bank of America that I am disgusted with. Read more

Meeting Howie Mandel for a Late Dinner

Photo: elle.com

Photo: elle.com

It was 10:30pm Pacific time.

I had one new voicemail. I knew why. The wireless service near my family’s restaurant was terrible. I stepped outside to get enough bars to find out what couldn’t wait until morning.

“Corey, this is Howie Mandel. I was so impressed to hear about your last performance that I wanted to invite you to dinner with me this evening in San Francisco at La Paz.”

With my jaw still partially dropped, I went back inside to deliver the news to my dad. He was sitting on a stool near the front counter, and he could tell I was awestruck.

Before he could even ask what had me in such a daze, I blurted out, “Howie Mandel just invited me to dinner at La Paz!”

“Tonight?” my dad replied, not reciprocating my excitement as I had anticipated. “It’s a little late for dinner.” Read more

Combatting our Culture of Crass Conspicuous Consumption


I love looking through all of the direct mail that I receive. I have stand-alone DSL now instead of Charter Cable internet (which saves me about $20 per month on my internet bill.) So, direct mail does have the potential to reach an appropriate target audience. I recently received the above mailer advertising a credit card called Venue whose tagline is “Making luxury affordable.” Read more