Dear Barbara ...
I've created the Dear Barbara column as a way for subs to get answers to questions about any subbing topic or suggestions that may help you solve a specific problem in substitute teaching.

If you'd like to submit a question, please click here and be sure to include your name and home town. Answers to the best questions will be published here.

How Can I Handle a Truly Difficult Student?

Dear Barbara,

Recently, I started subbing for a high school in a district I have been working in for nearly a year. My experience thus far has been pretty good and I do enjoy working there. The other day, I subbed for a ninth grade English class in which the teacher gave a lot of work. He even told me to write down the names of students who misbehave and to tell them that if their names are written down, they would get a zero in their grades. There was one student who refused to do the work at all. He was also rude and left the class without my permission. When I told him to do his work, he said, "How many times did you tell us to do our work and we're not doing it, don' t you get the message." Next, I told him that I was writing his name down for the regular teacher to see (and I even wrote the details). At my next period class, he made faces at me through the door window so I opened the door and asked the security guard assist me. While I was speaking to the security guard, he started making fun of the way I talk by mimicking everything I said. I did not respond to the teasing because I did not want to indulge it. The regular teacher was told everything and he stood by my side. I'm still bothered by this incident and I am wondering if there was anything I could have done better or differently. Am I taking this too personally? Thank you for your time.

Abby, New York

Dear Abby,

High School students can be extremely challenging. You stated that you have had good experiences at this high school up until now. So be assured that you are a capable and successful sub, or they wouldn't have invited you back.

The student in your ninth grade English class is a very troubled young man. I'm sure that if you were able to look at his record, you would find that he has emotional problems, and probably learning issues too. His behavior shows me that he is avoiding doing his work and trying to impress his friends at the same time. What better time to do this than when a sub is in the room!

You were correct in writing the details of the encounter to the regular teacher. I'm pleased that he backed you up. When the student made faces at you, you kept your cool. You didn't feed in to his teasing routine. If you had, the situation would have escalated.

There are plenty of negatives about subbing. But a positive aspect is that when you have a student like your ninth grader, you just have him for one day. The regular teacher has to face him five days a week!

Hold your head high and rise above this student's immature behavior. He has problems. It's not you and it's not personal. You dealt with him in a professional manner.


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