Why Substitutes Should Have the Chance to Teach

When you were in grade school, did you have a favorite substitute teacher? Someone who was just so captivating, they kept your attention more so than your real teacher?

I remember my favorite substitute teacher – Mrs. Laduke. She handed out Jolly Ranchers to students (much to the chagrin of dentists worldwide) which made her quite popular. And we typically didn’t watch movies with Mrs. Laduke. She actually taught us something.

Substitutes are teachers, too.

I learned a lot from my substitute teachers. And I think the best part was when they actually veered off course and talked about their own life stories, their own lessons, and imparted wisdom on all of us.

Now, curriculum is strict – it’s often set in stone with little deviation possible. That’s unfortunate because you can learn so much from someone else who comes into the classroom.

And I think that’s why there’s been a movement to call substitutes “guest teachers”. It’s spot on – that is what they are. They’re not a guest speaker, but a guest teacher.

And we should give them a chance to do so. Here’s 5 reasons why:

1. They have their own stories

I put this one on the list because it reminded me of one particular substitute experience in 5th grade. His name was Mr. Mullen. He was a World War 2 veteran. One morning he brought a musket to class – a social studies class, mind you – and talked about his experience in the war. We were all psyched. I had him a few weeks later in a math class. He turned the math problems into WW2 context – it was fascinating. See, teachers have their own stories to share. Their own lives make for engaging (and teachable) content.

2. They enjoy teaching

Why would someone take a job substitute teaching? Do you think it’s for the pay? No way. It’s because they love to teach, they enjoy working with students, and well, it’s something to do during the day. So, let them teach. Let them do more than just show a movie. Let them put their own spin on your lesson plans. Sounds a little risky, but it’s a nice change of pace.

3. It’s a break for students to learn something else

Speaking of a change of pace, substitute teachers are a great break from their regular teacher. That’s not to say their teacher is boring or less engaging. It’s just nice to have someone else stand-up in front of the class for once. And it may be a whole new teaching style, too. Shake things up by giving the students someone and something else to focus on – and who knows, they may learn something valuable.

4. Increase credibility and skills

There are some substitute teachers out there who should be full-time teachers – they are that good. And you probably know some of them. Being a substitute increases your credibility in the school system and helps develop skills they may not be as strong in. This means they’re able to better their public speaking, handling rowdy students etc. — all experiences they can talk about should they be choosing to pursue a more permanent position elsewhere.

5. Makes it fun

Substitute teachers are fun – just like Mr. Mullen in 5th grade or Mrs. Laduke throughout middle and high school. Not only were they fun substitutes, but they got the class engaged regardless of topic.

Many of these reasons are simply going to be plowed over by the common core standards set to be enacted soon. On one hand, I support the standardization of learning, but on the other hand, I believe it hurts the authenticity, originality, and storytelling substitute teachers offer a classroom.

What do you think? What’s your experience with substitute teachers? Are they as valuable as I think they are? Let me know in the comments below.