Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Substitute Teaching: How to Work More Consistently

This post was initially going to be about what a person considering substitute teaching should know, but I think there is enough discussion about that all around the internet.  What you don’t see as often are specific substitute teaching tips that get right to the heart of our paychecks:  how to work more consistently.

Few jobs are as precarious as that of substitute teaching.  Essentially, we’re underpaid day laborers whose work depends entirely on a number of factors we can’t control.  Substitute teacher pay is hardly enough to make a living, and low pay is compounded by not working very much.  Holidays and breaks don’t offer any money, and with the economy the way it is, many people are turning to substituting, which creates more competition in each district.  Many districts are in such financial straights now that their laid off teachers have been injected into the substitute pool, which means that many subs will have their workload, and paychecks, dramatically decreased.

With that said, there are a few things we can all do to work as consistently as possible.  Even if all those these tips don’t apply to your situation, I think a few would help us out:

  •      Research school districts.  Deciding where to work is a huge factor for substitutes.  When applying, do as much research as possible about surrounding districts and how consistently you would be able to work there.  Call the administration building and ask questions, such as how many teacher absences they have per year and if laid-off teachers have priority in the sub pool.  Go to the district website and see how many schools the district has.  Large districts mean more work opportunities, but more competition as well.  Working in multiple districts is a good idea, especially if you are not working in very large districts.
  •      Place few limits on what you’re willing to do.  This is a big one, and there are several things to consider.  Most subs have a preference for particular grade levels.  If your workload has decreased, open up yourself to more opportunities by accepting assignments for grade levels you generally avoid.  This also applies to schools where you’ve had bad experiences, areas you’ve shunned (such as PE, music, or even paraprofessional jobs), and especially assignments placed the morning of a job.  Expand the boundaries of your comfort zone, and try to be as prepared as possible for any job.
  •       Be an exceptional sub.  This is obvious, but probably the most important thing on this list.  Even being a “good” sub is not enough these days.  Go above and beyond what you normally do, even if you already have a great reputation as a sub.  What could you do to be even better?  Doing a great job on the jobs you have increases your chances of the same teacher requesting you again.
  •   Network.  This is also important.  Be friendly to the secretary when you sign in, administrators and all staff members you meet.  Greet them with a smile and introduce yourself.  Eat and chat in the teacher’s lounge, which is a great place to get new jobs from other teachers.  Make others notice how great you are with students, such as when you lead a class down the hallway in a quiet, orderly fashion, or when students wave and greet you when you return to their schools.  This impresses other teachers!  They may keep you in mind and specifically request you for jobs, if they can.

I hope these tips are able to help at least a few subs out there.  This year, I’m looking forward to improving on a few of these fronts myself. ;-)

Note:  If last-minute assignments posted the morning of a job cause you trepidation (as they did for me!), fear not!  Coming soon is a list of Lifesavers that are hopefully a big help to substitutes who walk into a class and discover they have no lesson plans.


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