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September 30, 2011

The Life of a Substitute Teacher

Written By: Carolyn Brown
Category: Career Path
X Life of a Substitute Teacher

Life of a Substitute Teacher

Flexibility is the name of the game. What’s the game? Substitute teaching. A few years ago, I was looking at a divorce and in need of a job. I loved being a mom volunteer in my daughters’ classrooms, and I already had my degree, so I took a test & fulfilled some district requirements, and soon began subbing. After four years, I earned my teaching credential while attending classes evenings and weekends. Then, after three years of full-time teaching, I was laid off and now I’m in my second year back as a substitute. I have had a crazy journey, and it’s not over yet!

My Journey as a Substitute Teacher

I have taught in some unusual settings over the years. Some long-term jobs have found me teaching in a room used as storage, a backstage area, a portable in the middle of a playground, a brand-new classroom, a classroom emptied of nearly everything including furniture due to renovation, and in a room occupied by two classes while another portable was set up. Twice I’ve started the year with a group of children, only to have to pack up and move elsewhere due to low enrollment. I’ve job-shared, too.

I’ve found a wide variety of sub plans in the classrooms where I’ve worked a day or two. Some are four scripted pages of small type. At the opposite end of the spectrum, I once filled in for a teacher who was on campus and returned hourly with a torn scrap of paper and a page number for the upcoming subject. I’m always glad to see a 1-2 page bulleted plan with an additional page with rules and procedures. I’m always amazed at classrooms that don’t have a recess/lunch schedule and school intercom roster posted.

I do have a few special days of subbing that I will always treasure. I got to serve pie and sing silly songs at Thanksgiving time one year. We measured the Mayflower, too. I had permission to play a teacher’s guitar and share from a classroom joke book at another school. I’ve worn my pumpkin costume a few times at the end of October. I’ve painted watercolors and folded origami when only a few students remained after a power outage or snowstorm. And once, my favorite day of all, I subbed in one daughter’s class on the day they were to make Ice Cream in a Bag with their buddies, my other daughter’s class.

My children are in high school now, in a separate district, so they don’t have to worry about me showing up to teach their middle school math class any more. But I have grown to enjoy the unpredictability of my days and the fun of meeting new children all the time. Although I long for the day when I am next on our district’s Rehire List, and I can empty the contents of my garage back into my own classroom, I will miss the wonderful surprises that are a part of substitute teaching.

 

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  • Whitney
    February 7, 2011

    I’ve been a full-time substitute since I’ve graduated. Unfortunately, the time I graduated was the time everyone was being laid off. I too have found the lesson plans a teacher leaves can vary greatly. One teacher left me seven typed pages. The teacher told me how to do everything from the time the students walked in the door. I didn’t even have time to read through the whole booklet before the students arrived. Then on the other side of the spectrum, I had a teacher that just wrote, “11:00 – Math” and that was it. I had to figure out what that meant. While subbing allows me to build relationships with more students and faculty, I do long for the day that I can have my own class and write my own sub plans.

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  • Laura D
    February 6, 2011

    I’ve done some subbing and for the most part loved it. Lots of valuable experiences.

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  • Justin Nacarato
    February 5, 2011

    My second day of student teaching was with a sub. It was this past Thursday. The school had snow days on Tuesday and Wednesday, so it was an experience for both of us. I give substitutes a lot of credit. I think substitute teaching provides opportunities for PD with each new classroom. Hat tip to you and all the other great substitutes!

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  • Cheryl
    February 2, 2011

    I love hearing your stories of being a sub! I have never been a sub, but as a teacher, you give some valuable insight to a very hard job. I always appreciate a sub that really puts love into the job!

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  • Amy Kelly
    February 2, 2011

    After college before I got my full time teaching job I subbed for about three months. The experience of subbing is the reason I leave detailed lesson plans for the whole day. I also include a list of which students go with which interventionists/special services throughout the day. I hate being out of the class but at least I know that the plans are there for them to follow!

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  • Christin Frank
    February 2, 2011

    Being a sub is a hard job, and you can’t really appreciate them fully unless you’re walked in their shoes. Thanks to all the substitutes out there that give it their all on the spur of the moment…we couldn’t do our job without you!

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  • Jenny Lobmeyer
    February 2, 2011

    There should be a “Substitute Appreciation Day”, because we certainly value our subs! Before teaching full-time, I was a sub for 12 years and learned so much from the children and teachers. It can be a tough job adapting to a new environment every day and a little unsettling to face the “unknown”. I most admire those who don’t see themselves as “babysitters”, but actually try to bring a positive impact to the children who cross their path that day.

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  • Crystal F.
    February 2, 2011

    I really enjoyed this article. It gave me ideas for leaving sub plans. I am a new teacher and the ideas that Carolyn has. If the absence is planned, I plan to leave the bulleted pages for the sub, but I always have a backup in the sub folder.

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  • Pam
    February 2, 2011

    I love my subs! I have always tried to leave plenty of extras for my subs because it is always so hard to predict how long any given activity might last. Also there are always the kids who finish in a flash and want to know ‘what do I do now?’ Another thing I do is leave gift sacks for subs in my closet. In them are a note that says ‘Thanks for popping in!’ It includes a bag of microwave popcorn, and money for the pop machine. My class knows where the bags are, and my assistant on the job chart knows to get a bag from the closet. My subs have enjoyed the surprise!

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  • Michelle
    February 2, 2011

    Thanks for the insight from the substitute’s perspective! It was both fun and enlightening. In my district, a great sub is highly valued! There are only a few of those subs that are requested over and over again because of their ability to manage a classroom and carry out lessons on short notice. A big thank you to those great substitute teachers out there! We appreciate you!!

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  • Belinda
    February 2, 2011

    Having spent three years subbing while I pursued my teaching certificate, I have a great appreciation for the substitutes that fill in for me now. It’s a tough and often thankless job, but so very important! What would we do without the folks who cover for us when we can’t be at school!

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  • Kristin
    February 2, 2011

    I’m impressed with what a positive attitude all of you have about subbing! I got my degree last year and have been subbing ever since. I’m signed up in multiple districts and I’ve subbed in all grades from K-8. I’ve found that for me, it’s much harder to sub in the lower grades (K-2 or 3). There are some days I sign up for jobs dreading the phrase I know I’m going to hear: “Our teacher does it like this”. I know I have to have flexibility but that phrase just drives me nuts for some reason. I have, however, had some positive experiences. And at least I can say that I’ve learned some things I would or wouldn’t want to do in my own classroom. I take notes for myself when I see things I like and also when I find things that I would have wanted included in sub plans. I think overall it is an important experience for teachers to have to help them plan better for subs in their own classrooms.

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  • Debbie
    February 2, 2011

    I started out substituting after I got my degree and, now that I am a teacher, I never forget what hard work it really is to go from grade to grade and teacher to teacher.I try to always leave my sub very precise directions but also tell them to try something new if they think it will work and actually have picked up some great ideas from them so take advantage of your subs and the great ideas they come up with! Thanks to all of the substitutes…teachers couldn’t do it without you~!

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  • Carrie
    February 2, 2011

    I am a new mom, so having sub plans is a must-have in my room. Great ideas on the posting schedules and rosters. I always leave them in my plans, but not up in my room at all times.

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  • Colleen Furlong
    February 2, 2011

    been there done that…subbed for 5 years before getting my permanent jobbed. Because of my subbing experience I leave very detailed plans, and also a class picture so the sub can put names and faces together, eliminating the guess work. Our district also has an evaluation form for the sub to fill out, saying what was good/bad about the plans left!

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  • Jeannie Carpenter
    February 2, 2011

    Wow what an amazing journey you have had substituting. After obtaining my teaching certificate I too was a substitute teacher awaiting a full time position. What an experience. I believe it is important for substitute teachers to be experienced and trained. As a kindergarten teacher who is fortunate enough to work in a school district that allows you to have some say in who subs in your class, I always choose an experienced substitute who has the reputation of being organized, structured and has good management skills. I have much respect for you and other substitute teachers who step in an step up to the challenges of being in such diversified environments on a daily basis. Thank you!

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  • Courtney Y.
    February 2, 2011

    This is a great article! I loved the excitement of subbing! I would get nervous because I wasn’t sure what I was going to walk in to but it was always great to get to know a whole new group of kids. I used to keep a notebook and write down ideas that I liked from each classroom I was in. It really helped me this year when I finally had my own classroom and I had a lot of ideas to go off of!

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  • Lori O.
    February 2, 2011

    Subs are special people. Flexible, creative, and willing to work in any situation. Thank you to all the subs who are out there! One thing I do to make a subs day easier is to have pictures of the students on a list for roll. It is one thing my subs have loved.

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  • Maureen
    February 2, 2011

    I believe the teachers who leave the best sub plans are the ones who have experienced being a sub. My husband and I both subbed and there’s nothing like the feeling of walking into an unfamiliar room to little or no plans. Every room is different with a wide range of rules and routines. Before you criticize what the sub did, take a look at your plans through their eyes and see how much you took for granted and didn’t write down.

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  • Michelle
    February 2, 2011

    I started out as a sub before becoming a full time teacher. I hope that because of that I am able to leave better plans. It was a fun experience to be able to see so many different classrooms before I took my own. I hope your own classroom again is a reality this next school year.

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  • Chris
    February 2, 2011

    I have never subbed, and wonder if I ever could. I love the predictability of my own class.

    Unless it’s a planned leave, our subs are called at the last minute and arrive just about the same time the kids do. They have to immediately be in charge while at the same time find the lesson plans, learn the routine particulars of that class, and teach the lessons, all without any advanced prep time.

    I recently heard a teacher bash his sub, but I say kuddos to the subs, even if the day didn’t go as I would have liked. At least it allowed me the opportunity to stay home while sick in bed or released me to attend a much needed professional development.

    Thank you, subs everywhere, for being flexible and willing to take on unknown and new challenges every day!

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  • Christine
    February 2, 2011

    So many of my friends are subbing now (we’re class of ’09) and they’ve told me so many of their experiences. Flexibility is most definitely the name of the game.

    I’m a third grade teacher and I very much am into making sure that my sub has detailed plans (including a roster of the students with their school ID photo) but of course allowing for flexibility of that particular sub’s personality, as well as the needs of the class for the day.

    Luckily, I haven’t been out this year so it hasn’t been necessary. But I have them prepared if the need ever arises.

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  • Loren McIntyre
    February 2, 2011

    Thanks for the tip on the 1-2 page bulleted list! My sub folder is pages long with very detailed procedures, and now that I think about it, I wouldn’t want to read all of that while trying to wrangle up a new group of kiddos!

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  • Jennifer Coleman
    February 2, 2011

    Wonderful story. I know as a sub things can sometimes get frustrating. Everything from not enough regarding a lesson to the kids acting up. But as you know the good far outweigh the bad and because we love to teach we deal with it all.

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  • Rachel M.
    February 2, 2011

    I believe all teachers should return to subbing at some point. I was a substitute teacher after college for a short time until I found a job. After teaching for 10 years I left to be home with my son. When he entered Kindergarten I went back to subbing. Now that I am in my own classroom again, I have the memory of being a substitute teacher clearly in my head. I try to remember all I wanted/needed as a sub as I prepare for one to be in my classroom. I think the poster did a great job of accurately describing the adventure of being a substitute. There are some lows, but also some fun highs. 🙂

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  • Karin Weber
    February 2, 2011

    I received my dual certification in Elem Ed/Spec Ed in 2008. I have been searching for a full-time teaching position for three years. While I wait for the opportunity to have my own classroom, for which I have plenty of supplies, I have been working as a substitute teacher. I’ve had 3 long-term substitute positions, but the majority of my subbing is day to day. I have subbed for teachers who wrote very detailed sub plans and for teachers who have barely written anything. I, too, love the excitement of meeting new students all the time. I enjoy when teachers continue to call on me to sub for their class because the students want me back. Until I receive the blessing of my own classroom, the job of being a substitute still gets me in classrooms around wonderful boys and girls…and very this I’m very thankful!

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  • Tara Lorson
    February 2, 2011

    When you stated, ” I will miss the wonderful surprises that are a part of substitute teaching,” I truly felt your words. As a sub, that was one of the most difficult yet endearing parts of the job. Spending a few years as a substitute myself before obtaining my current position, I see those years as the foundation of who I am as a teacher. Without that developing the ability to be flexible and creative, traits that flourished in me as a sub, I wouldn’t be as successful in my teaching position as I feel I have become.

    There are so many subs that I am around within my school who despise their position as a sub. I think those that are able to see the job for what it is and take from it the gifts it offers, will in the end be better teachers for it.

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  • Darcy heath
    February 2, 2011

    After completing my student teaching I had the opportunity to sub for a few months. I think it helps me to be a better teacher when I need a sub because I know what I found to be helpful and what annoyed me! One thing that I think all teachers should leave is information on class room management. What is it that you use to get their attention, keep them quiet, and reward/discipline them. That is the one thing that was missing in almost every classroom I substituted in!

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  • Kim Short
    February 2, 2011

    Great article from the perspective of a substitute teacher! One thing especially stands out. I always have pretty straightforward lesson plans, but do not include rules and procedures. I intend to do that now! Carolyn sounds like a great sub and I know districts are in need of qualified, good people to do this job!

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  • Karla
    February 2, 2011

    I have always been lucky enough to only sub for the teacher that I was an paraprofessional for so I knew the routines. Now that I have my own classroom, I dread being gone and am lucky to have an awesome paraprofessional to take my place if I have to be. Ms. Brown brings up a couple things that I don’t think we as teachers think to leave for our subs. The list for the phone; many of our subs don’t even know how to use the new phone system let alone know the numbers to call if they need help. Also, with having a tiered lunch time at our elementary, if they sub in one classroom, it may not be the same for another. Great stories and help too. Thank you.

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  • Teresa Miller
    February 2, 2011

    After almost 28 years of teaching I can relate to a lot of what
    Carolyn had to share. Although I’ve not yet been a substitute teacher or lost my job, I’ve moved classrooms, changed job titles, and had lots of interesting experiences! One year I taught kindergarten in a mobile unit that, like Carolyn told about, was in the middle of the playground. To make it more interesting it rained for almost the first two weeks of school. Later one of the teachers told me that for entertainment her class would stand at the window and watch the kindergarteners come in to the building for lunch. They would roar with laughter as each child would jump into every mud puddle between the two buildings. Fun times. Teaching is truly an adventure!

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  • Lacie Duffel
    February 2, 2011

    I am glad someone else out there loves subbing! I have been working as a sub for just about six months and love it. I find myself excited to go into new classrooms and work with new students. It is the most challening job I have ever had but one of the most rewarding. My favorite moments are when you return to a school but for a different class and see students you have previously worked with. I like when they get excited and hug you and wave. I feel like those students took something away from our day or time together.

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  • Donna Edwards
    February 2, 2011

    It’s always interesting and nice to hear from “the other side”! I can only speak for myself but even when I’m out, I’m thinking about what is happening in my classroom. Brandi, you have a positive attitude about what can, at times, be a difficult situation. Keep up the good work!

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  • Ann Marie
    February 2, 2011

    As a classroom teacher, it is very difficult to plan for the sub. Many times we don’t know who is coming,and if they have any experience. I always try to plan activities that are no fail. Also, I always try to tell my students ahead of time if I know I am going to be out so they know what to expect. I am sure it is a challenge for both teacher and sub!

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  • Sarah C
    February 2, 2011

    It’s interesting to hear her perspective on this. I know a few people who would rather substitute than get a full time teaching job because they don’t have all the responsibility of planning lessons, grading papers, meeting with parents, etc.

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  • Kelsey
    February 2, 2011

    I value my subs that are so wonderful with my students. I appreciate their flexibility and their willingness to do my plans as written. My favorite sub experience was a high school psychology class. It was out of my element from my typical classes I had taught but we had a great conversation and one student went to the principal and said it was the best psych class she had ever had.

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  • Georgia
    February 2, 2011

    I have worked as a full time sub since my son, who will soon turn 21, was in first grade. I can relate to many of Carolyn’s experiences and could write a book of my own as well. Having been on both sides, I agree that detailed plans are best to have if possible.

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  • Debbie
    February 2, 2011

    I, too, found positives in subbing. Being in my daughters’ clases, was great. I loved sharing some of those memories with them as well. I will say, I prefer my own classroom. I’ve been pink-slipped 3 times in the last 4 years and another one is probably coming this year. I can’t wait for the day when I can feel safe about my job!

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  • Jennifer Green
    February 2, 2011

    I can relate to Carolyn, as I was laid off 2 years ago and have been subbing ever since. My experiences have not been as crazy as hers, but there are days I do treasure. Recently I accepted a Title 1 job in a wonderful district and a building that I love working at. Hoping it leads to bigger and better things. I hope Carolyn too can find a job soon. 🙂

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