Observation #1 on Subbing in Lebanon: Formal Evaluation & Professional Feedback

I received no formal or organized feedback from either teachers, students or administrators. Neither did I receive any formal training or orientation before I began work.

It should go without saying that at the least the school district should be providing some sort of orientation or training for substitutes new to the district, regardless of whether or not we have completed a teaching program. After all, I’m not talking about training in how to teach (or even ‘manage student behavior’), I’m talking about answering questions like “where are the staff bathrooms?” and “what’s this school’s policy on hall passes/bathroom breaks/food in the classroom/cell phones/disciplinary actions/verbal harassment/etc?” I learned most of that from the students I was supposed to be overseeing or from other teachers when I needed to know. Sometimes I just pretended until I could figure it out later, and sometimes I ignored the rules completely.

Granted, there was officially something in place – usually either a “sub notebook” to be provided by the teacher that contained info on bells schedules, evacuation routes, individualized student plans, allergy/medication warnings, etc., or something similar to be provided by the office – but it was weeks before I knew either of those existed, and I would estimate that I was provided with those things no more than 25% of the time. Often I would dig the notebook out myself when I got to the classroom only to find that it had not been updated with anything really useful (like who was deathly allergic to what).

The idea that anyone with the right paper qualifications can jump right into the classroom and survive be successful is not a good one. It reflects the almost-always-unspoken assumption (though I tried to vocalize it to both students and staff with varying degrees of cynicism and success) that substitutes are not there to ensure that students learn anything or otherwise progress with class curriculum, but that subs are there as babysitters (which is a whole separate post) or because state law mandates it (in the cases where there was an instructional assistant in the room, they were uniformly more qualified than I was to deal with the issues of the day).

I did plenty of actual/attempted teaching (especially in math, har) and plenty of babysitting – and over time, I began to think more highly of teachers who expected me to teach a lesson or otherwise arranged for students to spend their class time in something resembling a productive fashion. I know that sometimes it’s hard to figure something constructive out when one has to leave on short notice, but students know their time is being wasted the entirety of the lesson plan is either a video or loads of questions from the book (especially when those things only happen with subs).

Anyway, back to the lack of preparation…. while I think it shouldn’t even be negotiable that new substitutes get some sort of orientation (the relative benefits and consequences being pretty evident), I understand that selling the idea of an exit interview or formal evaluation isn’t so straightforward.

Formal Evaluation: This has benefits for both the school and the substitute. For the sub, it is professional feedback – and since many subs are aspiring teachers, I would hope that a chance to get such feedback would be seen as a good thing. For the school, it demonstrates professionalism and a serious concern for the well-being of students (i.e. that the district is actually interested in getting and retaining good subs – and even helping them improve over time). Also, this can be done when a sub leaves the district (assuming they announce their departure) or at the end of the academic year – say as part of the process of having subs renew their intent to work in the district in the next year.

Exit Interview: Again, this can be filed under ‘professional development’ on the part of both the district and the substitute. For me, having taken no education classes (ever!), it would have provided some feedback as to how I did, or at least a chance – desirably – to talk to an education professional about what I did in the classroom, what worked, what didn’t, etc. From the district’s point of view, it allows the district to get feedback on what their schools and classrooms look like from the outside – especially if the sub in question has training to be a teacher.

I know the counter-argument here is something like “but subs aren’t there on a day-to-day basis, so what could they possibly know about my school/classroom/situation?”

That’s just wrong – first of all, some subs are there quite often. Second, did I mention that the point is to get an outsider’s perspective? I’m not suggesting giving undue weight to the outsider – merely that the more perspectives that have input into a situation the better.

Anyway, I wonder if other districts (maybe in larger urban areas?) have anything like this in place. I think it would be a good idea if Lebanon looked into instituting something along these lines.

Informal Feedback

Speaking of feedback…. I did get informal feedback that came in two related varieties. The first was from students: Either they liked me or they didn’t (and often had no qualms about telling me to my face which one it was and why). The second was from teachers (and the occasional non-teaching staff member) and it almost always went something like this: “The students seemed to like you, so you must be doing something right.”

While both were gratifying, neither really got at whether or not I was any good as a substitute teacher, at least not completely – and I say that because I observed that students are more likely to work for an authority figure they like than one they lack respect for.

I realized pretty early on that one reason I never got more formal feedback is that I was almost never observed by anyone over 18 years old – so who would be qualified to give me professional feedback?

While the autonomy was fun, I’m not sure it is the best way to go about things, especially from the perspective of a parent: “You mean my kid is in a classroom with some random person with a BA in an unrelated subject?! How is this person even qualified to teach my kid?!

I always sort of waited for that moment to arrive, it never did…. for better or worse.

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One Comment on “Observation #1 on Subbing in Lebanon: Formal Evaluation & Professional Feedback”

  1. Jen Says:

    Here’s the reason why you’re not getting any of these things you’re wanting from subbing in Lebanon (orientation, evaluation, interview): the district is not looking for teachers, they’re specifically looking for babysitters. By accepting anyone with a bachelor’s degree and a clean background check, they’re setting their expectations and giving the subs an insight into what to expect as well. And that is: Just show up and don’t hurt anyone.

    I’m not sure your observation about most subs wanting to be teachers is correct, and I hope that it isn’t.
    To be honest, if someone is interested in being a teacher I would suggest that subbing is not the most effective way to test the waters. First off, even in a positive subbing environment, you’re just thrown into unknown situations on a daily basis, which is not at all what a well-run classroom looks like. Secondly, you’re not going to get the kind of interactions with students that you would get after long-term fostering of rules, roles, and relationships. And lastly, no one is there to observe/assess/assist you.

    Which brings us to another issue: how can you expect much in the way of useful feedback (specifically, as it relates to your teaching, and not the results or the attitudes of your students) when no one is there to watch you? There’s no mentoring in subbing, and I’m not sure that there should be, because I don’t really see that as the purpose of subbing. If you are exploring a career in teaching, take a practicum course or just volunteer in a classroom with a teacher you like/look up to.


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