Experiences as a Substitute

While seeking permanent employment as a librarian or archivist, I have been serving as a substitute teacher and substitute library aide at my local school district.  Why?  First, I do enjoy it.  Second, it provides valuable experience.  Third, it allows ample time to work on job applications.  Fourth, it provides the flexibility to help my nearly eighty-year old grandparents who are not in great health and can no longer drive.  Fifth, well, its kind of the only option around home.  Most places cite my masters degree as a reason they won’t hire me, either because they know I’d leave if offered a job in my field or because I’m vastly overqualified.

In years past, I substitute taught on school breaks and it was exclusively with the middle school (grades 6-8).  On these days, one of two things was the usual occurrence.  One is that the day would be used to give a test or long quiz.  The other involved the teacher leaving a film or documentary to watch.  Occasionally, I would be left with a worksheet packet to hand out.  In the first and last case, I could walk around and help as needed.  With the films, I would ask a few questions about it at the end of class to ensure they paid attention.

This past fall, I substitute taught mostly at the elementary (preschool-2) and intermediate schools (3-5), though I did spend a few days as a substitute library aide.  With the younger grades, the teachers are more proactive with their subs. They left behind lesson plans, complete with worksheets, books, etc.   Thus, I would spend the time helping the students to learn or review concepts. I could even provide helpful tips, creative examples, and, time permitting, read them extra books.  This is much more fun!  Plus, if I was lucky, the kids would send me home with some drawings!

Classroom scenes in Washington, D.C. public schools: general classroom scenes, 1st Division

“Classroom scenes in Washington, D.C. public schools: general classroom scenes, 1st Division” from the Library of Congress. Dated approximately 1890-1900.

For the majority of the past six weeks I served as the substitute library aide at the middle school.*  The regular aide’s mother had been very ill and the aide requested me as her sub during  her mother’s final days.  The library aide not only knew my educational background, but has known me since I began attending the school in kindergarten.  While she had been in a few days, I was at the school more often than not.  While I may be called to fill this position again, my long term role ended Friday.

So what does serving as a substitute library aide entail?  Every morning I opened the library at 7:15 a.m., just as the buses began to arrive.  During the course of the day, I handled circulation and shelving duties and kept a watchful eye on students who come to the library to read or work on assignments.  I answered questions about library material and student assignments.  I also provided technical assistance to the ever-probablamtic computer lab, printer, and Accelerated Reader program.  When needed, I repaired books or helped prepare material for circulation.  At the end of the day (approximately 2:45 p.m.), I closed the library.  This involved straightening up, one last shelf check, and powering down the lab.  As you can see, I essentially ran an entire library without assistance.

There are also the nice, but unexpected, duties.  A few weeks ago, a teacher and her classes used the library computer lab for a research project and the students were struggling to find resources on the open web (the school does not subscribe to any databases).  I offered to show the students some tricks and it turned into two nearly hour-long impromptu information literacy instruction sessions.  Not only did I teach them search strategies, but I also pointed them to useful websites and relevant topical sources and taught the students to evaluate resources.  They gladly followed along and provided sample topics to use.   More recently, I had a student who was out sick for a few weeks frequent the library so he can catch-up on his work.  Once, he had trouble deciding a topic for his English project and I helped him brainstorm ideas.  Later, I helped him properly format his paper.  It felt great to be this useful to the students!  These situations reminded me of how I loved helping patrons when I still held my assistantship at Ellis Library.

Being at the school that long meant I had the opportunity to get to know some of the students.  I had a dozen or so regulars that came to the library everyday.  I quickly learned their names and could look up their library records without asking for the needed information (there are no library cards).  I also noticed their reading trends and let them know if something of interest came in.  This, plus the fact I always asked how they are and reminded them to have a great day, pleased them.  After all, happy students are repeat patrons!

While I hope to not spend the rest of my life substituting, I plan to enjoy it while I can.  It allows me to be useful and gain experience that will help me in my planned career.

Have you ever substitute taught at a school?  If so, what were you’re experiences like?  Similar?  Different?

*The district has four buildings, one librarian, and two library aides.


2 thoughts on “Experiences as a Substitute

  1. Pingback: Substitutes Are the Most Flexible People You’ll Find | Amy's Scrap Bag: A Blog About Libraries, Archives, and History

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