Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Substitute Teaching: Practical & Effective Teacher Training

Substitute Teaching: Practical & Effective Teacher Training

What constitute effective teacher training and retraining?  More classwork?  Seminars?  In-services?  I was trained and certified to be a middle school and high school math and biological science teacher many years ago.  Cuts in education at the time I graduated meant very few openings.  I substituted for a semester but found a full time research position through a friend.  Consequently, I have never had "my own class".

STEM 2009 The Red Bin Brigade 
Fast forward 20 years and I am back in the schools substitute teaching.  This time I did it by choice.  Being a mother was still my first priority and subbing in the same district where they attended school allowed me the opportunity to learn more about the district.  I wanted to be close to the boys and have a flexible schedule.

At first, I hated being in the elementary classrooms.  I was trained for middle school and high school.  First graders scared me.  The first time I was in a first grade classroom, I wanted to never be in an elementary class again.  It was Mrs. Zeller's class and it was predominantly girls that year.  It was also early in the year so they were really just "glorified Kindergartners" .  I didn't know how to handle all the drama and the switching from topic to topic. Phonic about killed me.  Recess duty, I was terrified someone would get hurt.

Nothing in my teacher training prepared me for this experience.  My experiences at the high school and middle school were better but I was still a less than stellar teacher.  I knew all the textbook knowledge.  Math, biology, genetics, anthropology, history, literature.  You name it and I have had an interest in it at one time or another and studied it, either in school or on my own.  All my factual knowledge and teacher training didn't really prepare me for the realities of being in a classroom.

Eventually, I decided that I wanted to continue substitute teaching and become a better teacher.  I watched the other teachers.  I learned from each classroom as I subbed.  I tried to take the best of each teacher I observed and use it.  Miss Barnes, 3rd grade, has students raise their pencils so she knows they are ready for another spelling word during a test.  South School teachers use a "quiet coyote" sign to quiet the class.   Mrs. Naugle, special education, taught me more than I can summarize in one sentence or even ten.

Substitute teaching changes the perspective of the teacher. 
Change your Perspective. 
Change your Attitude.  
Change the Outcome. 

Students often comment that I can explain things better than the regular teacher.  Sometimes it is just because they stopped listening to the regular teacher.  Other times, I think, the regular teachers teach the same thing so many times that they forget what it is like to not know the material inside and out.  I am usually not as well versed in the topics and can relate to the students.  I am not suggesting that the teacher should be less knowledgeable.  Rather, being placed in a classroom where I don't have all the answers reminds me what it is like to be the learner.

Districts should use substitute teaching as a prerequisite to a full time position.  Student teaching is good training but it does not compare with being thrown into a classroom at a moments notice and having to "wing-it" through material and discipline students you may or may not know.  It is hard work and it hones the skills of the teacher.  With student teaching, the ultimate responsibility of the classroom still rest with the regular teacher.  When I am subbing, the students' safety and education for that day are my sole responsibility.

This would be effective retraining also.  Instead of boring and expensive teacher in-services, have teachers switch classes.  To be effective, all teachers would not switch on the same day.  Too much confusion would result.  I also would recommend high school teachers substitute in elementary classes and elementary teachers work in high schools for a day.  Doing this would expand the teachers' understanding of students in ways a lecturer never can.  High school teachers think elementary school teachers have it easy and elementary school teachers think the opposite.  Walking a day in another teacher's shoes would help understand the other teacher's job and importance.

Solutions and ways to improve can be very simple and inexpensive.  This is one idea that would not cost the district a dime.  It would not mean a day away from the classroom.  It would not mean an early release for students so teachers can train.  It would be more interesting and engaging than a seminar.

Would teachers like this idea?  Probably not.  In fact, they would probably hate it and fight it tooth and nail.  It would, however, greatly benefit the teachers, the students and the districts.

Substitute teaching as a training tool would be very effective and  simple!