This morning Ms. Paula, the substitute teacher coordinator at the school where I work the most, told me that one of the reasons she uses me so much is because I am always at school long before the first bell rings. I didn’t tell him that I’m usually a basket case until I have the teacher’s homework on my hands and I feel confident that I understand what the teacher wants and that I can do what they ask of me. As soon as I finish, I can relax a bit. What surprises me, and also Ms. Paula, are the subs that show up two minutes before the bell rings and hope to have a successful day. Common sense alone should dictate that you will need some time to prepare for the day ahead and that has certainly been borne out in my experience.
However, there is something you will feel pressured to do that will ultimately not be the best for you. On my first day of substitution, I was given a map of the school with the classroom I would be working in in a circle, a sheet that showed me what hours and what grades I would be teaching, and an attendance sheet for each class. I asked them when they needed the assistance and they said they had to send it to the main office as soon as possible after class started. For weeks, maybe months, I diligently took on the role as soon as I could ring the bell until I found out I was making a big mistake. While it may be true that the main office wants it early, that doesn’t mean it has to be the first thing to do. Let me explain.
Your first and most important priority at the beginning of each class is get students to focus on homework. If you are early, you will have had a chance to read the teacher’s directions and post the assignment on the board. That means that as soon as students enter your class, you can point them to the board and ask them to start.
Do this first and you will see that the rest of the hour runs smoothly. Why? If you wait until the bell rings to take attendance, students will know that work cannot begin until you have finished taking attendance. The longer they can delay it, and they can be very creative in this regard, the longer they can delay their work. On the other hand, if they are already working, attendance is often nothing more than asking one of the students to tell you who is missing. By resisting my initial instinct to take on a role right away, I end up doing it a lot faster than I would if I had tried to do it the way most new subs do.
There are variations on this. Sometimes it is important to know where each person is sitting, so in those cases I will make a seating chart and walk around the room asking each student their name, marking it on the chart as I do. It only takes a moment for them to tell me and then they go back to work. The seating chart can also be helpful if your school has a fire drill. Typically, if that happens, students are expected to leave school in an orderly manner, meet at an agreed upon location, and then you are expected to take on a role. If you’ve already sent the position to the office, you’re out of luck … unless you have your seating chart handy.
Save yourself the hassle by resisting the temptation to accept attendance like other newbies (Bueller? Bueller? Ferris Bueller?) And get your students to work ASAP; even before the bell rings if you can. It will tell them that you are a professional more than anything else you can do.