Tag Archives: authority

Substitute Teachers

Our experience with substitute teachers varies widely. Sometimes our last interaction with substitute teachers was back in high school, when one entered our history or math classroom. (Note: these are the types that tend to chuckle over the memories of those experiences.) Some of us have been substitute teachers ourselves, which makes us appreciate the difficulty of settling down a classroom that is not used to accepting a substitute teacher’s authority.

Which brings me to my biggest question for this post: How responsible should a mainstream teacher be for the experience of his/her substitute teacher? In today’s public schools, a teacher need only email in a lesson plan or two (which may include spontaneous “study halls) and then allow the school to do the digging for the substitute teacher. Once I was a long-term substitute for a teacher on maternity leave who left very brief, vague outlines with little to no notes or suggestions other than–“you can use my files if you like.” Granted, there are good substitute teachers and there are bad substitute teachers. I have seen some substitutes spend an entire class period on the computer or putting on makeup while their students wander throughout the classroom. I have seen other substitutes that just yell at students the entire period. But, in my personal opinion, the success of a substitute teacher in the classroom really runs both ways.

Rule #1: The way you prepare your classroom for a substitute teacher really reflects on your commitment to your classes.

Is teaching just a “job” to you? Chances are that the only reason you’ve lasted in this profession is because somewhere down deep inside of you, there is a true and lasting commitment to the learning and social experiences of your students. And if this is the case, you need to keep in mind how much your students miss of that learning time when you fail to adequately prepare your class. My students are aware that my policy is an automatic detention if I hear any information about student disobedience, disrespect or out of control behavior while a substitute is in charge. While for myself I will take aside a student and question them, listening to their version of events, students know that I will not ask them questions, not accept explanations and that they will simply take the punishment as given. Sound harsh? Well, it certainly eliminates the possibility of the student trying to usurp the authority of the substitute by assuming that I will take his/her word over the teacher’s description of events. Students make an extra-special effort to treat the teacher with dignity, knowing that they will be held responsible for their actions with or without my presence in the classroom. Before I went on maternity leave, I communicated with my students about which substitute would be chosen, and even gave them some “transitioning” assignments that allowed them to thoughtfully anticipate the changes that they might experience. These types of activities are essential in making sure that a class does not take advantage of a substitute teacher in the classroom or cause transition conflicts for the substitute.

Rule #2: When you leave your substitute teacher in the dark, you should expect that they will not necessarily always make the best decisions about classroom management, lesson planning, student discipline or class organization. Not all substitutes are experienced classroom teachers. Also, even an experienced classroom teacher will benefit from knowing your procedures and teaching methods ahead of time. Not that they have to use every single method you use, but they should at least know what the students are used to and which procedures will help them feel comfortable in the transition. When you leave scanty lesson plans (a.k.a. “study hall”), you can expect that your substitute will have difficulty at some point controlling the noise level over a 40-minute class period. Before I went on maternity leave, I left detailed semester outlines not only of the content that needed to be taught, but also suggestions about which specific textbook items to use, ideas for activities/projects and files organized by month for each class. I also copied my USB items onto a USB for the long-term substitute, realizing the amount of work it takes to reinvent the wheel. Save your substitute time, and he/she will be more effective and likeable to your students. Allow your long-term sub to contact you via email or telephone for the first week, then let them go. By then you have done your job.

To summarize, in case I haven’t been clear enough, it really is the responsibility of the mainstream teacher to complete his/her professional duties with responsibility and recognition of the consequences of decisions made in regards to substitute teachers. If you have not shown enough professional respect for the substitute, the students will not show respect for the substitute either. It is not your job to teach the class for the substitute and remain in contact every second during a maternity leave. However, you should at the very least do your best to make the transition as easy as possible for both students and substitutes. This allows students to learn appropriate behavior toward authority and also earns you the respect of substitutes who will always want to sign up for your classes in the future.

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The Politics of Christian Schools

Let’s be honest here: Every school organization possesses its own political infrastructure. Whether you teach at a public school or a private school, levels of authority and governing bodies determine how the school operates. So, for example, when a teacher complains in frustration that a school is political, my answer to the complaint would be, “Well, of course it is!”

Any professional needs to work along the proper lines of authority. If a teacher experiences a problem due to lack of resources, contract complaints, policy adjustments or organizational structures, it is important for them to go to the source. If a project appears to be a project that warrants approval or permission, it is better to communicate and ask for that permission before charging ahead.

What does this mean for Christians? It means that relationships within the Christian school must be preserved at all costs. It means that for the Christian school teacher, gossip should be avoided about school board decisions, policy changes, and contract issues. It means ALWAYS, without fail, going to the source of the problem first instead of bringing all teacher-teacher relationship arguments to the principal’s table. It also means respecting the authority of your school and their decisions, regardless of whether you agree with their decision.

Does this mean that Christian school teachers handle school politics by acting like lambs? No! God has given us different gifts for a reason, and we work together toward common goals. If a decision is made that appears illogical, communicate with the principal in a respectful manner, explaining your perception of events and inviting the principal to give an explanation. Many times the situation has a perfectly reasonable explanation that the principal may realize should be communicated more clearly to the staff. If a fellow teacher does something that is clearly interfering with our own program or demonstrates a lack of attention to the exemplary role they are called to portray, it is within our own interests to gently confront that person one-on-one instead of bitterly talking about them in the teacher’s lounge.

Many times teachers are either afraid to teach a lesson plan because it may seem too controversial or they are subversive enough to teach it without respecting the lines of authority. In most cases, teachers can articulate their objectives and give clear, convincing reasons why their lesson plan is essential to the personal growth of the students. If those objectives were communicated to the principal, students and parents ahead of time, most worries would be assuaged and most complaints stifled. This will not happen all the time, but if feedback shows you that the topic may be inappropriate, listen to the voices of moderation and have enough good judgment to develop a new one.

As a Christian school teacher, you shouldn’t live your career in fear. You should, however, respect the wishes of parents and authorities and take the time for basic communication. Good relationships with parents and authorities create an atmosphere of trust eventually, after you have proven to them that you are willing to love and protect your students as if they were your own children. Censoring your class sessions or forcing content through without permission does the exact opposite.

Once, after two years of teaching experience, I rented a film to show to my 8th grade class. I had recalled the video as being an interesting literary film, and due to lack of time, I didn’t bother to search for content reviews. The result? A few days later, a really great Christian parent spoke with me about the sexual content in the film, which I had already noticed during the viewing was a little beyond the age appropriate level. Was my face red! You see, I should have known better. An experienced teacher cares about the opinions of others wtihin the community. If I had done my homework, and then sent home parental permission slips and informed my principal of my apologia, I would have made a better selection. Thankfully, due to the good relationship I had developed over the years, I was able to humble myself, apologize and accept the parent’s forgiveness. The parent was not bitter over the episode, but instead encouraged that I would take better precautions before showing films in class.

While looking at many news articles concerning teacher lawsuits, I am continually finding that ALL teaching professionals use a similar method, not just Christian teachers. Christian teachers do not have to spend their careers in frustration and feel censored. They just have to go about the right political methods and use good judgment. We should hold ourselves up to this responsibility as individuals even more than secular teaching school systems.

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