Substitute Teachers and Respect: An Ongoing Struggle

A couple of months ago, a classmate of mine published a post here on our website about the future of substitute teachers. Over the past few weeks, I have been thinking more and more about the place of substitute teachers in the fabric of the public school system and the challenges they face daily. Similarly, I have also been thinking about the future of substitute teachers and the steps future educators and students alike should be taking in order to create the environment of camaraderie and respect that is conducive for learning that should exist even when a teacher isn’t in the classroom.

In 2016, The Atlantic published “Pity the Substitute Teacher.” The opening paragraph is a great example of the perception of substitute teaching and the overall challenges substitute teachers are faced with:

Substitute teaching has to be education’s toughest job. I’m a veteran teacher, and I won’t do it; it’s just too hard. The role magnifies the profession’s biggest challenges—the low pay, the insufficient time to plan, the ordeals of classroom management—into an experience that borders on soul-crushing. At the same time, the job drains teaching of its chief joy: sustained, meaningful relationships with students. Yet in 2014, some 623,000 Americans answered school districts’ early-morning calls to take on this daunting task.”

Think back to your own substitute teacher experiences. How engaged were they? How engaged were you and your peers? Was respect ever an issue?

If you were in classrooms similar to mine, engagement tended to vary on the substitute teacher side and was typically nonexistent on the student side – and respect was ALWAYS an issue.

The lack of respect that often comes with being a substitute teacher definitely should not come as a shock to anyone. It has become such a widely accepted aspect of the education experience that many people dedicate their time and energy into creating resources for substitutes to learn how deal with disrespect and how to assert themselves in the classroom. For example, a few years ago, Randy Ertll published “Substitute Teachers Deserve More Respect” on the Huffington Post blog that shares the experiences of one substitute teacher. Books such as “From Survive to Thrive are dedicated towards giving substitute teachers tips on how to earn respect from their students.

Substitute teachers also are now sharing tips online for other substitutes to read and implement in their everyday lives. As this substitute teacher shares in their blog post “How to Earn Respect as a Substitute Teacher,” top tips to garner respect include arriving early to the classroom, learning the names of the students in the classroom, coming prepared for any situation (i.e. bringing fun worksheets for students to do and a change of clothes in case physical activities are expected), and being firm and fair in the treatment of students.

Students from a New York public high school’s newspaper published a piece on respect for public school teachers that sheds light on the attitudes held by many students (both in and beyond their school) when a substitute teacher is in the classroom:

“I think [students] want attention and want to show the other students in the class. They want control of the situation whereas when the teachers are here, they can’t get that control,” added Ms. Nu when asked what she thought was the reason for this behavior.

The prevalence of this behavior extends far beyond the Jericho community. There are even a few Facebook groups out there called, “Taking Advantage of Substitute Teachers.” Collectively these groups which have accumulated over 15,000 members, boast taglines such as, “Have you ever had a substitute teacher who was just hopeless?”

To summarize: respect is a HUGE issue surrounding substitute teaching.

So, what steps can educators take to create an environment of respect that will last when they leave the classroom?

We Are Teachers published a post on their blog that offers great insight on that question. The first tip the writers share is this: “First, understand that having a positive classroom culture can eliminate a LOT of the problems with students misbehaving for substitutes.” Other tips include reviewing procedures and policies with students the day before the substitute will be arriving, letting students get a preview of the assignments they will be receiving from the substitute, having a reward system in place for good behavior, and possibly enlisting the help of a veteran teacher to check in on the classroom the day the substitute will be there.

What other tips can you think of to help make the transition easier for a substitute teacher when take over the classroom?


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