contributed by Samantha Saumell
As a substitute teacher entering a new classroom, trying to navigate and adapt, the most important thing you can do is build a strong connection with students. Some people may think this is crazy.
“You are only with them for a short amount of time. Why bother? Just make sure they are working.”
However, just because you aren’t there for a long time doesn’t mean you can’t make an impact. You never know when a student may need help the most. Although it may not be easy, in the end, it will be worth it. Form a bond that will never fade away.
How can I build a connection as a substitute teacher?
Well, it all starts the second students walk into the classroom. It may be easy to spend that time getting everything ready for the day, but instead, you should be at the door greeting each student as they enter the classroom. As each student enters, greet them with a “hello,” “good morning” or even say, “I am so happy you are here.” This shows students that each of them matters.
According to the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments, greeting students in the morning can help build a connection between teacher and student. It allows students to know that they are important to you (par 1). When students walk in, and the first thing they feel is that the teacher in the room cares it can make all the difference.
Showing students that you care will help them to feel comfortable and safe. Without the feeling of safety, learning can never happen. The authors of “Classroom Greetings: More than a Simple Hello” emphasize that “[a] greeting says, ‘I see you, I welcome you, and I want to know more about you.’” (p. 2). Students deserve to feel that they are important. When they think you want to know more about them it helps them to feel proud of who they are.
Even though it may not be your classroom, taking 5-10 minutes to hold a morning meeting can really help set the tone for the day. Morning Meetings help to “…build a safe and encouraging environment where community, trust and respect flourish” (Allen-Hughes, p. 4). When students walk in and see a new adult in the room, they may feel a sudden sense of anxiety. It can be difficult for students to deal with change. Taking ti
me to dive into a responsive classroom approach, such as a morning meeting, can help lower the anxiety that students may be feeling. To begin the meeting, introduce yourself to students and tell them why you are there. Then, set a list of expectations for the day so that students know what is expected of them.
For example, some expectations may be to follow directions, be respectful, stay on task, and even have fun. After discussing expectations, check in with students and make sure they clearly understand what you are saying. Next, have students go around and say their names. Having students introduce themselves to you helps them to see that you just don’t view them as another student in the class. Instead, you care and really want to get to know them. Take this time to learn how to correctly pronounce each student’s name. Students will see that you care, and this can make all the difference.
Once you get to know all of their names, ask them questions that will help to break the ice. These questions can allow you to learn more about each child while also showing them that you are generally interested in getting to know more about them. Questions can be about anything. For example, what is one goal you accomplished so far this year? What is something you can’t wait to do this summer? What is your favorite season? If you had $1,000,000 what would you buy? What is your favorite subject? Through this activity “…human core needs of wanting to have fun and wanting to feel significant are met” (Allen-Hughes, p. 14). Substitute teachers have the privilege of getting to work with so many students, which is why they should do whatever it takes to make the biggest impact they can.
Classroom Management #1
A third key way to build strong relationships with students is through your management approach. According to the Responsive Classroom Approach, teachers should use reinforcing, reminding, and redirecting language. Paula Denton emphasizes that “[l]anguage- our words, tone of voice and pacing – is one of the most powerful tools available to teachers” (par. 1). When talking with students, teachers should keep the three R’s in mind.
Scenario: A student is supposed to be working on a writing assignment, but instead, they are playing with a toy they found in their desk.
Calling them out in front of the whole class for being off task risks the chance of embarrassing them. This also ruins any shot you had at building a trusting relationship. Instead, you can use redirecting language.
Redirecting: “Put the toy away and continue your writing.”
Reminding: “Think about what your task is right now.”
As the student gets back on task, you may use reinforcing language: “You remembered to start your essay with an introduction paragraph.”
Using this type of language helps to keep students on task while also eliminating the idea that they need your approval.
Classroom Management #2
As a substitute teacher, always remember that there may be a reason a student is struggling to follow your directions. Instead of quickly jumping to give a student a consequence, take a minute and ask the child if everything is okay. You never know if there is something deeper going on. Taking that moment to check in with the student says, “I am here for you” and “I care.”
Substitute teachers may bounce around from class to class, but never forget that when you are standing there in front of a room filled with children, you are their teacher. You have the power to build a lasting connection with a student that they will never forget.
This privilege is one that should not be taken lightly. Every student deserves to feel important and cared for.
Featured image attribution CC Use Alike via Flickr Tulane Public Relations