Go from So-So to Super!

Hi and welcome back to Attentionology of K – 5 Teachers!

Parents need sitters; teachers need subs (substitute teachers)…on call to care for their children or students when circumstances require time away from home or school.

Kim Hopkins, a substitute teacher, standing in an elementary school gym office

Kim Hopkins, a substitute teacher, standing in an elementary school gym office

Meet Kim Hopkins, shown in my blog pic here.

Kim subbed for the P.E. (physical education) teacher at a school where I recently taught.

I asked Kim if she liked substitute teaching.

Her reply – the best part is the flexible schedule. Said Kim, “It suits me because I have two children of my own and I like to get home in the afternoon to be available to them.”

Ever served as a substitute teacher? As a popular American comedian once said in similar grammatically incorrect words…Often, “they don’t get NO (or at least, very little) RESPECT!” 

I’ve noticed over time that the first words that “regular” staff members offer to school visitors, usually in a teacher’s lounge (a common meeting place), isn’t “Hello! What’s your name? Can I help you?” It’s “Who are you subbing for?” If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been first assumed to be a substitute teacher at schools where I’ve worked as a writer-in-residence, I’d be rich!

Has your experience been like mine – subs sometimes seem to lack their own identity at school, at least in others’ eyes? This dilemma can make it difficult for subs to catch anyone’s attention, let alone go from so-so to super by exceeding expectations for their “performance” in class.

Maybe some subs like life this way because “low-profile” does have some benefits; but maybe not.

How can substitute teachers make on-the-job days go from so-so to super, benefiting not only themselves but also the students they reach and are charged to teach? Answer: Pack portable attentionology tools and tricks! 

Read on and remember – catchy portable resources work for anyone seeking to keeps kids on task…

1) Rocks – Tuck a pack of small decorative landscaping rocks in your school bag (recommended for students in grades 3 – 5).

When you first write your name on the board in the class where you’re subbing, tap the board with marker or chalk and tell the kids to remember your name.

Announce that you have a surprise for “rock-solid” students – those who pay attention during study time – before the end of the day or period.

Just before dismissal, walk around the room and pass out one decorative rock to each deserving kid. Tell each one that you appreciate his or her “rock-solid” school work with you.

On the day I talked with Kim Hopkins, the sub shown in the blog pic above, she was planning to use another cool (but less portable)

Kim Hopkins demonstrates rock climbing in a physical education class for kids

Kim Hopkins demonstrates rock climbing in a physical education class for kids.

attentionology tool in her P.E. classes – a rock climbing wall (shown in my blog pic here).

Safety rules and liability coverage in place, it would be awesome to have access to an eye-catching ready-to-climb wall in any instructional setting.

Teachers could use such a resource to:

  • promote physical fitness.
  • help students develop critical thinking skills, figuring out the best climbing route.
  • build self-confidence in kids.
  • motivate children, using climbing time as a reward.

Teachers can also use rock climbing walls that can be installed in instructional settings to inspire interest in exploration. Google rock climbing walls and mountain climbing for information and virtual travel sites.

2) Giant Letters – Slip a giant letter E (or the correct letter in your alphabet) into your school bag. When you introduce yourself as the substitute teacher for the day whip out your giant letter E, like you see

"Does this big E stand for E - A - S - Y?  No!"

“Does this big E stand for E – A – S – Y? No!”

me doing in my blog pic here.

Hold up the E for all to see; ask the class to guess what E stands for, adding, “Is E for E-A-S-Y?” “Say NO – NO – NO!” “E is for E-F-F-O-R-T!”

Note how totally focused the class is on you.

Close your “giant letter E presentation,”  by announcing your expectations for the day, saying, “Please don’t think for a minute that because you have a substitute teacher for the day, effort is on vacation. I’m counting on good work so that I can give a good report to __________________” (the teacher you’re subbing for).

3) Small Puppets and Stuffed Animals – Wrap a little hand puppet or soft toy, like the little lamb you see in my blog pic here,

A little lamb can be a substitute teacher's best friend!

A little lamb can be a substitute teacher’s best friend!

in a piece of fabric or inside a book for the early grades to take to school.

Young children (grades pre – K – 2) especially love stuffed animals and puppets, and they’ll be delighted with you when you tell them that you’ve brought a “little animal friend” along for the time you’re going to be the class’ substitute teacher.

You can lead into teaching time and score BIG motivation for listening and learning by telling the class that your “friend” is taking “a nap” – something young children easily understand – and suggest that you all get some good work done – the math lesson, reading, etc. that the teacher you’re subbing for has left with her/his instructions before “meeting” your “friend.” Call the toy animal by an endearing name, like “Sunshine.”

It’s common knowledge that young children find security with familiar people, places and schedules in school. Having a substitute teacher breaks their regular pattern. Watch kids in early grades quickly warm up to you when you tell them that you’d really appreciate them helping your “friend, Sunshine,” feel comfortable in class by speaking nicely to the little animal when it “wakes up” from its nap.

Score more classroom management success with this trick. Young kids will gladly keep their voices down if a little animal is “sleeping” nearby, pretend or not.

Bottom line…of course subs need to follow the guidelines spelled out by the teachers that have hired them, but there’s no rule saying that substitute teachers can’t bring their own strategies to school.

Subs can enrich class time for themselves and their students by using portable attentionology tools and tricks to make school days go from so-so to super!

Remember, you don’t need to be a magician to work magic in any instructional setting!

Talk with you again soon,

Barbara ♥ The Lovable Poet


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Posted in Attentionology for K-5 Teachers
Barbara Cleary has been serving as a resource to hundreds of educators for more than 25 years. An award-winning writer, producer, teacher, and trainer, Barbara’s focus is on offering easy, fun tools and tricks that support K-5 curricula and assist teachers with classroom management.
Quick tips for common classroom conundrums: K-5
Situation: Young students are getting noisy while you’re trying to teach.

Solution: Hold up "Listen Star," a toy magic wand that you’ve designated to be a cue for quiet. Tell the class, "When you see our friend, 'Listen Star' dance across the classroom sky, that’s your signal to HUSH for a moment."

Related Posts: Let "Listen Star" Work Magic for You