by Julie Engelhardt
Bonnie Ramirez has been a substitute teacher for the past two
years and has made the decision to work at only one school, Cerra Vista
Elementary located in Hollister, California. She made this choice because this
is where her daughters attend, which gives Bonnie the opportunity to keep her
work schedule the same as her daughters' school schedule. Following is a Q&A
with Bonnie which will give insight into her educational background, why she
decided to become a substitute, and what she has experienced as a substitute
JE: What is your
BR: I have my bachelors degree from San Jose
State (California). I studied sociology with a concentration in criminology and
a minor in administration of justice. I was a police dispatcher in San Jose for
10 years but left the field my older daughter began kindergarten.
JE: What other jobs have you
BR: I have held very few jobs! I worked at
Togos for two years while I was in high school, becoming assistant manager, and
I worked at Walgreens for eight years during and after college. Then I became a
police dispatcher for San Jose (CA). I loved that job!
JE: How do you feel that your educational
background, and the jobs you've held, have helped you as a substitute
BR: Educationally-speaking, I can't think of anything specifically that helps me
with subbing. But I do remember how I was treated by certain teachers and I try
to incorporate that--the teachers that helped me feel positive about myself and
helped me learn self-confidence. Unfortunately I had a few teachers through my
years that I also learned how NOT to treat students!! Believe it or not, I
use a lot of the skills I gained from police dispatching into subbing. First, I
know how to use my voice in a confident way (even when I'm not feeling confident
about what I'm doing). It sounds strange but it really makes a difference. I
describe it as 'pretending to be confident'. As a dispatcher I learned to keep
a "cool head" when things are getting stressful and I use that with subbing.
Also as a dispatcher you have to know how to take charge of a situation and that
skill comes in handy for substitute teaching. My other job--being a mom--has
really helped me with subbing. Too many skills learned with that job to name,
but they all come in handy with subbing!!!
JE: What types of interests or hobbies do you
BR: I LOVE to read and I share that fact with
all the kids. I try to encourage them to develop a love for reading. I have
also coached soccer and softball over the years so that helps when it comes to
JE: Does being a
parent help when it comes to being a substitute?
BR: YES!! And for so many reasons. I'll touch on a
few--first, you know how you would like your child treated by a teacher and/or
substitute teacher. You are use to being around kids so you have the patience
and understanding of a child's needs. You understand how important it is to
communicate with the parents when necessary. I could go on and
JE: What made you decide to
become a substitute teacher?
BR: Now that my kids are getting a little older, I
wanted to start earning an income again but wanted my work schedule to
coincide with my daughters' schedules.
JE: What are some of the positive aspects of being a
BR: Knowing you have made a difference and
helped a child; the hugs and high fives; getting through to the difficult kids
and helping make them feel good about themselves; the kids make me feel like a
'celebrity' when they see me! :)
JE: What are some of the frustrating aspects of being a
BR: It has only happened once to me but not
being left any type of subbing plans! Sometimes lack of respect by some
JE: What are some lessons
you've learned from being a substitute?
BR: It's really important to be firm.
Sometimes I feel like I'm being so strict but the kids respond really well. I
also think it's important to try to stick to what the teacher wants you to
do--don't change things unless you can't avoid it. The kids do best when they
stick to their routine.
JE: Have there ever been any embarrassing moments while working as a sub?
BR: Not yet!
JE: Have their
ever been any uncomfortable moments (like if subjects about religion, the
death penalty, sex, etc., came up out of the blue) that you've had to
handle, and how did you manage that?
BR: There have been a couple times where kids have
brought up questions about religion. I explained that everyone has different
beliefs so it would be best to direct their questions to their parents. They
were satisfied with that response. I recently dealt with a lock-down where we
had to deal with the uncomfortable situation of peeing in the garbage cans! I
set up a private space and explained to the class that we were in an unusual
situation so it was really important to not embarrass anyone by making comments,
etc. The kids handled it really well and were very
JE: What grades do you
teach, and which ones do you prefer working with, and why?
BR: I have worked in grades K-5.
I like them all for different reasons. The kinders are so small and cute! The
1st graders are learning to read and just seem to take off. Working with the
5th graders is fun because they are maturing and get my jokes!
I can't really
choose one grade over another....I guess it would depend on my
classrooms--tell me about some of those situations--and how you were able to
handle them. Have you ever had to call in the principal or VP to take care
of a class that was just absolutely out of control?
BR: I have never had to call in the principal or VP
but I don't have any problem sending a student to the office when necessary.
I've had bad days but the only day I had that I could say was a 'nightmare' was
when the teacher didn't leave lesson plans. It was in 5th grade so it's much
harder to just 'wing it'. Fortunately I called the other 5th grade teachers and
asked advice. I am really lucky in that I only stick to one school and I know
all the teachers really well so I am very comfortable asking for help and/or
JE: Maintaining order in the class..
what ground rules do you set down when you first get into a
BR: I kind of have a few games I play
with some of the classes. I may tell them that I have a few favorite classes
that I've subbed for and invite them to try to be better than the others (I
never use names or anything...I just like to challenge them to be good)
some classes, I may explain to them that I know their teacher well and what
his/her expectations are so show me what their teacher expects.
class I am new to, I start off the day by introducing myself and explaining that
I know it's a little different when you have a sub but I will try my best to
keep their day the same as normal but understand that my personality might be a
little different than their teachers personality. I am very encouraging and
tell them I'm happy to be in their room and excited to get to know them and I
KNOW we will have a good day together.
JE: Any other advice for subs, especially those
who are brand new to the profession?
BR: If you
don't like it at first, don't give up. Anything new can be challenging but you
may grow to love it. I hated my first day of subbing (I found out later that
the class I was in was pretty awful and the teacher wanted to quit because of
how bad they were!) Don't be afraid to ask other teachers or staff for help or
advice. Some of their tricks may work for you!
Julie Engelhardt is a freelance writer based in Northern California.