Jim Stewart Allen is a standup comedian from Tacoma, Washington. He has also been a substitute teacher for the past three years and loves it. As a part of our Why Would Anyone Want to Become a Teacher? series, we asked Jim a few questions to try to figure out why he does what he does.
Hey Jim! I’m curious: WHAT MAKES A GOOD SUBSTITUTE TEACHER?
That’s a good question. Well, a bad sub just gets nothing done. An average sub will get most done but makes no impact on the rest of the year. A great sub will come in, get everything done at the bare minimum, and can establish their presence in a quick amount of time so that the students are super engaged. A great sub will be requested back simply because the next day the kids told their teacher that they had an excellent day.
SO, HOW EXACTLY DO YOU ESTABLISH YOUR STYLE WHEN YOU’RE ONLY IN A CLASSROOM FOR A SHORT PERIOD OF TIME?
I have a lot of tricks to establish myself, and that’s important because you sometimes don’t have second chances with a class. I read the room and determine how the class culture is so that I can make it work. A great sub will make sure that:
- The kids have a great day. This needs no explanation.
- They get all of the work done. When I started subbing I could only manage to get students to complete around 70 percent of their work (it’s actually very difficult). Now it’s 100 percent.
- A note is left for the teacher. Convey that you actually got to know this class and that you enjoyed your day. Be honest. Don’t sugar coat it, but keep positive. It might have been bad because you’re just a guest teacher. But, when you’re a great sub, you have to look at yourself and ask yourself what you may have done wrong.
- When the teacher gets back, their room exactly the same as when they left. If the kids are talking about the sub and all of the work got done, that was a great day.
WHAT IS SOMETHING PEOPLE DON’T KNOW ABOUT SUBBING?
Teachers don’t know much about subbing in general.
Preparation: They all have completely different ways that they leave plans for substitutes. Some teachers leave me bullet points: do this first, this next, and so on. Others will be very detailed and specific. I’ve had both types for the same school and grade. Which do I prefer? I like the bullet points. This is what you want me to do and I get it done in the way that’s best for my teaching style. I understand when teachers want their class to be taught in a specific way, but I prefer the freedom of bullets.
The right sub matters: If you take the time to get the right subs, the kids will get to know them and it will make it so that the substitute is more in the mix. When new substitutes do an activity in a different way from the classroom teacher, kids will always say “oh you’re doing it the wrong way.” The ideal situation for the sub is that the kids know that you are their teacher’s choice and that you is trusted to get the job done.
Teachers can choose their own subs. Teachers know me and have me as “their guy.” It’s such a relief for them, because they can relax knowing that things are going to be okay. Teaching is stressful, because even when you’re sick you have to make up lesson plans. If you can find a sub that can make it work no matter what, you’re golden.
WHAT IS ONE TIP YOU WOULD GIVE CLASSROOM TEACHERS?
Take 5 minutes to prime your students about the substitute teacher. Remind them that:
- Your substitute will be a different person than your regular teacher
- Things will be changed a little, but that’s okay.
- Let’s make sure you’re being respectful.
- At the end of the day, your substitute teacher is doing the same things I’m doing: trying to get you guys to learn.
This would make it a lot easier for me. Make the kids comfortable and have high expectations for them and the day that you are off. Try to use your substitute as new life in the classroom – they can invigorate the class.
If you think your substitute did a good job, find them in the database. Collect their number and Facebook and ask them to come back!
Thank you so much, Jim, for the interview and all you do for students and teachers!
Yeah, this was fun! There’s so much more I have to say about this that I’ll have to contribute an article!
PART OF THE SERIES, WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO BECOME A TEACHER?