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Substitute teaching requires special skills

Don Haven '69

(Note: The following column by alumnus Don Haven ’69 was originally published in the Granville (Ohio) Sentinel and is being republished in The Bridge Online with the writer’s permission. A La Porte City, Iowa, native, Haven graduated with a BA in economics and English at UIU. He served in the U.S. Navy for 29 years, retiring as a captain. As an educator, Haven taught UIU continuing education correspondence courses for several years in the ‘90s. He also taught AP U.S. history, economics and English at Granville High School.)

I have embarked upon a third career, after the military and full time teaching, as a substitute teacher.

But wait, you are thinking, isn’t that just an extension of your teaching career? No it is not. To the uninformed, I guess that would be you, substitute teaching has little in common with actual teaching.

The substitute teacher requires skills, resourcefulness, and tenacity that in the classroom teacher remain largely untapped. But it can be very rewarding and excellent training for becoming a regular teacher if that is one of your career goals. If you are a good sub, you will make a great teacher.

Becoming a substitute teacher is relatively straight forward. To sub in Granville, you must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution (a degree from Upper Iowa University would be excellent but graduation from lessor institutions is also acceptable.)

You must fill out a regular employment application found on line which will be submitted to the school board. Once approved, you will be given a “Substitute Employee Handbook”. Read it carefully and adhere to it religiously! Once you are on the list, you will get robo calls on a regular basis asking you to accept or decline a specific position in a specific building.

The benefits of subbing are many. You don’t have to prepare lesson plans or grade papers. You will learn something you didn’t know even if you are covering a subject you thought you knew.

If you have children in the same building, it is an excellent opportunity to observe them without their knowledge and gather intelligence for use against them at a later date. And you will see firsthand the excellent work our underpaid and underappreciated teachers engage in on a daily basis. Finally, you will get to enjoy hearing the hilarious comments about the administration in the teacher’s lunchroom.

But subbing is not for the faint of heart. Students view the sub the same way an orca views an injured seal pup. They gather around the teacher’s desk in the same way a group of hungry jackals circle a crippled zebra that has been isolated from the herd. Or act like a mama grizzly bear looks upon a lone hiker who has stopped along the trail to feed Oreos to the mama’s cubs. Always remember students are basically animals that have not yet been fully domesticated.

The three rules I was taught as a novice teacher remain helpful for the sub: 1. Never turn your back on the students. 2. Do not eat anything a student offers you. 3. Don’t smile before Christmas, or at all in your case.

Student behavior towards the sub falls into several predictable categories. First is the distractor. The first time I subbed, some kid asked me if I had ever been in the Navy. Before I knew it, the class was almost over. Another type frequently encountered is the manipulator. She will try to convince you that the regular teacher allows her to go to the library every day to work on “a special project.” Finally, you will have the challenger. This student will indicate that since you are “only” a sub, he is not subject to your instruction.

Usually a subtle reminder that you are still on parole and that if anything happens to one of the students you fear your murder conviction will be reinstated and you will have to go back to jail will suffice. But feel free to be creative. If you have the time and the inclination, join us on the sub list. I think you will find it interesting. You know I’m right.

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