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Jennifer Bonnett Subbing is about a lot more than just teaching

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Jennifer Bonnett

Posted: Wednesday, August 3, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 7:30 am, Wed Aug 3, 2011.

I arrived at the district office last Wednesday alongside 13 prospective substitutes about 15 minutes before orientation began.

For the most part, you could tell they were job-seekers of some sort, carting professional-looking binders and holding pens in their hands.

The 11 women and two men took their seats in a tiny conference room where a whiteboard greeted them. Mr. Young had written in his name in substitute teacher fashion.

This is where Neil Young, the district director of personnel, would tell them everything they needed to know once they were approved to work as subs in the Lodi Unified School District. Many of his tips are common sense:

  • Know where you are going before you ever get the call to teach. The district stretches from the Delta to the foothills, and encompasses more communities than just Lodi and North Stockton.

Maps are available online, so check them out. Even print a few.

  • Arrive early to not only be prepared to teach, but to meet your peers and find the restroom.
  • Keep an emergency backpack or briefcase close at hand. Make sure it's filled with enough pens or pencils for 30 students plus worksheets for various grade levels to keep students busy while you're reviewing any directives left by the teacher.

However, there are going to be times when the teacher did not have time to leave a lesson plan — like if he or she got sick in the middle of the night — and you may have to rely on teacher peers or even students to find out what to teach.

That's the hardest thing substitute Elisabeth Newman Hensel has had to deal with.

Or sometimes they leave complicated lesson plans she can't follow, she said.

"I can usually figure it out, but sometimes there is literally nothing for me when I enter the classroom. In that case, I will do a writing assignment with the kids, or allow them to have a study period," she said.

The most likely times to get calls for temporary work aren't surprising, as Mondays and Fridays are the days most sick calls come in, Young said.

He also took time to discuss discipline issues, teacher responsibilities and classroom management. Some of the orientation participants nodded their heads in understanding.

There are going to be times when you might have to break up a fist fight or send a student to the principal's office. Be ready for anything.

And don't become one of them. That means staying off your cellphone or texting, which can give the wrong impression about who's in charge.

Additionally, Young said high school students have been known to ask substitutes a lot of personal questions and even request to be your friend on Facebook.

He also admits that as a substitute teacher, he used teenage slang with hopes of looking cool. Don't.

Phrases like "clowning with me" or "hating on" what someone is doing aren't really appropriate for subs.

But (mostly) gone are the days of pranks like placing whoopie cushions on the sub's chair, as the district has a zero-tolerance policy regarding classroom visitors.

Although he doesn't survey prospective subs, Young said their reasons for seeking temporary work differ greatly.

At Wednesday's orientation, there was at least one retired teacher, a retired nurse looking for a different career with better hours, and new mothers wanting to earn supplemental income while balancing family life. Still others are looking to test-drive teaching before deciding whether to earn a credential and dive in full-time.

If you like the pattern of getting called early in the morning and going to a different site on an given day, market yourself, Young said.

Print up your own business cards and leave them not only for the teacher you filled in for, but the school's secretary. Next time a sub is needed in a pinch when a teacher goes home sick or has to leave for an emergency in the middle of the day, your name will come up and your services requested.

"If this is the career field you want to get into, this is the best way to get your foot in the door," Young said, adding that the state's economic downturn, which has affected layoffs, will turn around.

In the meantime, I'll stick with reporting — at least I can text on my cellphone whenever I want.

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com.

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