How 1 Substitute Teacher Can Make You a Better Instructor

In my experience, making a small shift in thinking can make a big difference. For example, I assign outside reading to my students. They choose a novel, they read it, then they do a brief write up. The goal of the assignment is to get students to try reading different new books and see that maybe they could enjoy this wonderful pastime.. Alas, many of my students are lazy and wait until the last minute, which means they cheat. I have found that if I take them to the school library every two weeks and make them publicly sign up for their book title four weeks in advance of the due date, they do a lot more reading on their own. There. Two small changes made a big difference.

As an English teacher, there are many practices I have in the classroom that are efficiency and productivity killers. I have caught myself committing a fair share of these over the years, but I know there are many more that I have missed. I wish there was a way to catch them, like a having a fellow teacher observe me. Not an administrator, not a site coach, but a peer whom I trust. The problem is that person would most likely be teaching at the same time I would be. Can this dilemma be solved? 

I have a proposal to make a small change, with the thought that it could lead to big gains:

Your district allows you to spend up to 2 sick days a year on a substitute teacher to cover a peer to observe your teaching and provide you feedback.

Really. Think about it. What if you could have your teacher friend, who is skilled in an area where you think you may have a lack, give you some real-time pointers? This would be between you and this individual. Let’s keep the principal out of it. Let’s keep the site coach out of it. Just you and the person you trust.

If districts were to adopt this proposal, I see five benefits for teachers and the district they work in:

1. No Additional Money Spent on Professional Development. This doesn’t cost either party money they weren’t willing to spend already. It’s not a training that would go through school site council. No additional purchase orders need to be created. It would simply be Teacher A funding Teacher B’s substitute so that Teacher B can observe Teacher A and give input. Yes, there is a time cost, but it removes the financial burden and allows teachers to tap into a resource not currently available.

2. Little Impact on the School Calendar. This only requires that both teachers agree on a day. They wouldn’t have to run it past anyone in the district or at the school site. They would just need to make sure that they were not scheduling it for a day that would conflict with anything important on the district calendar. Additionally, only one of the two teachers is out of the classroom, while instruction is happening in the other.

3. Trust Created Between All Parties. Making this practice a reality would show tremendous trust extended from the district to its teachers. The district would be signaling that it trusts the teachers to manage their own competencies and allow them to learn from one another. Also, if teachers were given the opportunity, that would foster deeper trust from teacher-to-teacher. This would have the potential to let trust in one another swell up in ways that would lead to more and more people working together in unforced collaboration, which could lead to those times of mandatory collaboration becoming more productive as well.

4. More of an Investment for the Teacher. If the teacher, on his own, decides that he needs someone to give him feedback, that shows self-awareness that any district would want in its teachers. Then if that teacher took the next step to invite someone competent in to observer and offer feedback, that shows this teacher is willing to take steps to improve. Then if the teacher is willing to risk one of his sick days on the practice, this signals that he is really invested in his own improvement, a signal that any district would want to receive from its teachers.

5. Develops the Capacity of the Helping Teacher. If a struggling teacher reaches out to a competent teacher for help, and the district is facilitating this connection by paying for the competent teacher’s substitute, this allows the competent teacher to develop even more competency. It gives that teacher the ability to build a new set of skills in coaching a peer.

This practice has the potential to increase the overall competence of the district. It teachers struggling in a certain area of their practice shore up their deficiencies in a trusting relationship with a peer. It also helps teachers who have high competency gain new competency. If you think about it, this is what we ask students to do when we have them complete group work. We hope they sharpen one another in multiple ways, making the classroom competency increase all around. What if teachers could do it too?

What do you think? Good idea? Bad? Would your district go for this? I invite you to share your opinions in the comment section. And, please, share with a friend through one of the social media buttons below.

2 thoughts on “How 1 Substitute Teacher Can Make You a Better Instructor”

  1. I like the idea, in principle. Any system that makes peer to peer coaching easier and more productive is a bonus, I think. The problem is that when teachers use their sick time for not being sick it puts them in danger of not having the days available when they need them. Logically, I understand that the days should be available for whatever teachers need them for privately or professionally, but I do not think districts, at least not mine, would go for it. However, I think that your points about the benefits of peer to peer coaching cannot be overstated. I have no idea how to overcome the district/contract hurdle, but perhaps pairs or triads of teachers could work together to carve out 1hr of observation a few times a week. It would be better than not. Another good post, Make Them Master It!

    Liked by 1 person

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