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Tools for Substitutes


There are two different perspectives to consider when applying Tools for Teaching to the job of substitute teaching. The first is when you are about to have a substitute. The second is when you are about to be a substitute. Our treatment of substitute teaching will, therefore, have two parts:


  1. Your preparation for having a substitute

  2. What to do when you are the substitute.


Having a Substitute:

The primary concern for teachers who are implementing Tools for Teaching is that the substitute might mess it up. The most vulnerable part of the program in this regard is Responsibility Training.


  • Even when you do not tell the substitute about Responsibility Training, the students often do. You may return to find huge bonuses posted on the board.

  • If you tell the substitute about Responsibility Training, they often get it wrong due to the complexity of the program. Most worrisome is the use of time loss. Without training to the contrary, most people equate discipline with punishment. Consequently, an untrained sub who is being hassled by the students may reach for the penalty clause in desperation in order to “put the lid on.” You may return to find enough penalty time posted to destroy PAT for the week.


The most failsafe approach for dealing with a substitute is to give him or her a simplified “bonus only” version of the program. Substitutes may reward the students with PAT, but they may not penalize them.


Here is an example. Tell the teacher to rate each class period using the following scale:


0.     Highly uncooperative

1.     Somewhat rowdy, but not oppositional

2.     Fairly well behaved with a few short-comings

3.     Cooperative and well behaved


Have the substitute post these numbers at the end of each class period. The substitute will tell the students that all of the numbers will be added to PAT as bonus minutes when you return. This simple procedure will help an effective sub, but, of course, it cannot save an ineffective sub.


Being a Substitute:

When you are the substitute, you must be in charge from the moment you enter the classroom. This does not mean that you act like a drill sergeant. Rather, it means that you have a plan, and you begin to implement the plan as you enter the classroom. Students can read tentative body language “a mile away,” and they know whether or not they can “sink the sub” before you begin to speak.


Introduce yourself in a warm but crisp fashion and begin an activity – immediately. Do not expect a lesson plan to be left by the other teacher, and do not ask the students what they are supposed to be doing today. Do not worry about the other teacher’s rules or procedures since they will probably be unknown to you.


Rather, “hit the ground running.” Announce your expectations and start your activity. That activity should be enjoyable and somewhat subject related. Your opening words might sound something like this:


“Good morning. I am Miss Seymour, and today I am your substitute. We will be following my rules today which are simple – pay attention and do your best work. For starters I will divide the room into two teams down this aisle. You are the captain of this team, and you are the captain of that team. The first thing I want you to do is…”


If you are in the classroom before the students arrive, quickly arrange the furniture so you can “work the crowd” and meet the students at the door with Bell Work (see Tools for Teaching Chapter 11). Teachers who substitute frequently should have folders of high-interest lessons. Elementary teacher should have folders for math, language arts and social studies for different grade levels. High school teachers should have a range of options in their subject area.


PAT activities serve beautifully as high-interest lessons. Teachers who build a PAT Bank as part of training soon learn that there is no real difference between a PAT activity and a good, high interest Say, See, Do lesson. Developing a PAT Bank simply expands teachers’ understanding of how to make learning fun. For PAT ideas, check the PAT Bank on this website.


As for the rest of Tools for Teaching, don’t introduce it, just do it. You will work the crowd and set limits as a simple extension of who you are. Your “ace in the hole” for discipline management is always Say, See, Do Teaching. Get them active. Keep them busy with input-output, input-output, input-output. Give them a VIP even if you have to construct it step-by-step as you give input. Then, use Praise, Prompt and Leave as you monitor their work.


Finally, if you wish to develop your classroom management skills and cannot attend a Tools for Teaching workshop, get the Ebook and download the Study Group Activity Guide from this web site. The Study Guide contains prompt-by-prompt protocols for each of the training exercises contained in the workshop. You can practice the skills with your spouse or a friend in your own living room.


Stories from Substitutes

Gail from Hawaii

I subbed a class that was supposed to be very difficult.  I visited the school the week before to observe four different teachers. One of them was using Tools for Teaching. I could see exactly what part of the program she was using and why it worked. The other three teachers used “scold and threaten” as their method. I got the classroom of one of those three.


I used the skills I learned from Dr. Jones’ – working the crowd, the regal turn as part of Limit Setting, and “camping out” in one instance. I also had some awesome bell work set up. The kids were angels and said they wished I were their regular teacher!


Vicki from New York state

I walked into the classroom, introduced myself, and immediately started a ten minute PAT. Then I said, “If you want more of this, let’s get our work done.” They got the message, and I had a great day.


Peg from Florida

I have a Bell Work activity that works like a charm when I have the same classroom for several days. It is a captivating story that is divided into sections, each of which ends in a cliff-hanger. I pass out copies of that day’s installment and tell the students to provide punctuation for the story as they read it.


Denise from California

I subbed for RSP today – English, grades 9 and 10. (Students are referred to RSP – Resource Specialist Program – by an IEP team for having learning and behavior disabilities.) The regular teacher warned me that it would be rough even though there are only about twelve kids in each class.


I started them off with a “gift” of three minutes of PAT and let them work for more by staying on task. Since they seemed to have no attention span at all, I let them earn a minute of PAT for each five minutes on task. They were able to accrue an average of 8 minutes of PAT over each 50-minute class period which they spent at the end of the period. They really did get a lot of work done!


The class had a full time instructional aide, and she was in complete shock. She said that she had never seen this group of kids so well behaved for anybody. Considering that I am a substitute, she felt that I had done some kind of magic on them. I showed her your book and explained that is was nothing but good, solid teaching practice. She was speechless, really. I felt good coming home from a day of subbing. Imagine that.


Training for Substitutes

The investment that school districts make in developing a pool of well-trained substitutes varies greatly. Many districts seem to have no plan apart from finding a warm body at the last minute. Other districts are systematic and proactive. Here are some examples of the latter.


Ron Nash, Virginia Beach School District, Virginia Beach, VA

We call our substitute teachers guest teachers. We are trying to take the edge off of the unfortunate connotation that “sub” has picked up over the years. It’s a subtle change, maybe, but most of the guest teachers seem to like it.


We offer several resources for our guest teachers. We allow them to use the online education journal collection called ProQuest, the Professional Collection – something we subscribe to for the whole school division. We also maintain a library just for guest teachers. They may check out books (Fred’s is one of them.) for three weeks, at which point we ask them to return the book(s) through the interoffice mail system.


In terms of training, our office (Office of Organizational Development) provides one day of mandatory training before guest teachers can go into the classroom. We concentrate on interpersonal skills, classroom management (Fred is a big part of that), logistics and professionalism. It is very interactive and taps into the knowledge, experience and wisdom of our veteran teachers.


Our Office of Organizational Development also offers two-hour seminars twice each month during the school year. The seminars deal with topics such as Everyday Math (a program used in our elementary schools that is unfamiliar to today’s adults), instructional strategies, outlines of specific subject-area programs (curriculum scope and sequence), and, of course, classroom management.


These two-hour seminars are offered on weekday evenings, and average attendance has been 15-20. The Fred Jones seminar fills up quickly. Guest teachers do not get paid to attend these seminars. They attend for the best of motives… to help our students by becoming more knowledgeable and more efficient in the classroom.


Two of our instructors are long-term substitutes at the high school who went through your training. They bring a lot of first-hand experience to the seminar and are great at answering “nuts and bolts” questions.


Sonia Hawkins, Houston Middle School, Houston, TX

The seminar went wonderfully! At the beginning I told the substitutes that the skills I was about to teach them would eliminate “annoying behavior” – not only from their students, but also from their own children, spouses, and family members!


I found a clip on United Streaming that showed student misbehavior ending in the teacher going bonkers and throwing several kids out of class. We discussed who won and who lost and how it made the teacher feel.  I then showed them Chapter 7 of Tools for Teaching– Calm is Strength. We practiced remaining calm in the face of provocation (“the turn”) just as you did in the workshop. I also talked to them about Working the Crowd (We have substitutes who bring a newspaper or a book to read while substituting!).


The seminar lasted about an hour. Before they left I held up Fred's book and referred them to your web site. After the training 5 or 6 people came up to me to ask more questions because they are long-term substitutes. Others emailed the personnel department to tell them that it was the best training they had had all year long.


I am the only teacher who has spoken out for substitute staff development in the nine years that I have been here. Thanks for letting me use your program and your book to help these people! You guys have a great program. I only wish I had known about it 20 years ago.

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