Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Of Good Subs and Bad

Last week I had the dreaded lurgy which is never fun, so I stayed home from school for one whole day. This is only the second day of this school year that I've missed due to illness, so you know I really wasn't feeling good. You might think missing so little school has to do with some strict sense of honor, but really it's not quite as noble as all that.

The worst part about being sick, aside from the obvious, is having a substitute teacher in charge of your classroom. Now I know that some people can quite cheerfully hand over their little darlings without a backward glance, but I am not one of those people. Are you surprised? I thought not. It is certainly part of my nature to dislike giving up control, but there is more to it than that.

My classes, as I've mentioned many times before, are not normal classes. My afternoon kids are exceptional young people who pretty much always do the right thing. However, having a sub stresses them out because it creates uncertainty. They REALLY want to know where they stand at all times. My morning block, on the other hand, has less emotional maturity than my seven year old niece. They just plain misbehave whenever they get the chance.

This is not to say that it's impossible to have a good experience with a sub. There are many good subs out there who do an excellent job of managing tough classes. In my experience, there are three kinds of subs to be had:

---Permissive subs just let the kids run wild. This makes the kids happy, but the work rarely gets done, and the other teachers in the school may become very grumpy. Also, your kids are NOT happy to see you when you get back. I hate this sub and try to avoid her (why is it usually a her?) at all costs.

---Authoritarian subs have their place, but they can be very harsh. The worst one I ever had threatened the kids with bodily harm, and they believed her. This sub gets the work done, but the kids end up shell-shocked. At least they are happy to see you when you get back. I try to avoid this kind of sub too.

---Authoritative subs are wonderful. They tend to be very grave and unflappable. They do not let kids get away with bad behavior, but they do not resort to yelling or threats. The kids do not like them, but they are not scared of them either. The kids are glad to see you after a day with this sub, but they don't need to spend half an hour telling you a tale of woe. I love this kind of sub, and will cheerfully make them cookies if it will encourage them to come.

I suppose, when it boils down to it, this is not really a tally of the different kinds of subs, but of the different approaches to discipline. You could also divide most parents into the same three categories. Can you guess which kind of parents my AM kids have? PM? Any guesses? Sign me up to be an authoritative parent some day. But I digress.

The sub I happened to get last week was of the authoritarian variety. According to my adult aide, she totally failed to teach the lesson, yelled at the kids for no reason, called them names, and then left the classroom five whole minutes before the end of the period. It took much soothing and cajoling to get them to calm down and get back to work this morning. No way am I EVER having that sub again. Could you pass me that bottle of hand sanitizer and an orange please?

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