Substitute teachers: how to help your child adjust

Children can sometimes be upset if their original teacher is replaced, but complaining about the substitute teacher is not the answer

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 October, 2015, 9:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 26 October, 2015, 9:01pm

My Year 5 daughter has had a stand-in teacher for a few weeks because her regular teacher is off on long-term illness. My daughter has not settled well and says the teacher shouts a lot and the class is not fun. The parents have been given very little information about when the other teacher will return. Should I complain to the head?

The ideal situation in any child's school life is that their class teacher remains the same throughout the year. This enables consistent routines to be established and followed and provides opportunities to build a strong bond with pupils.

Organising and allocating the staffing of a school can be quite complex. If a teacher has to withdraw from a class for health or personal reasons, quality teachers can be difficult to find at short notice, especially if not being offered a permanent position. Having said that, there are high-quality and dedicated teachers around Hong Kong who are willing to fulfil short-term contracts.

Your daughter's situation is unfortunate, especially as the timeline you describe is uncertain and parents tend to become disgruntled if they are not being given full and frank information as to what is really happening. The principal will be well aware that parents feel concerned, but it will be hard for you to plan ahead at this stage. Rather than complain, you could ask if there is any further clarification regarding time scale. You may also take the opportunity to have a quiet word about your other concerns to ensure close monitoring of the situation.

A good school will always put the children's education first and try their utmost to give as much consistency and continuity to a class as possible. Senior managers can offer support and try to ensure good communication and high-quality planning between the teachers in the same year band, therefore giving support to the new, short-term teacher.

Your daughter is bound to have the usual anxieties about the transition from one teacher to another and this has the added complication of an unexpected last-minute change. However, most children are fairly adaptable and quickly get used to the personality and routines of their new teacher.

Teachers have different strengths and personal talents, which appeal to different students, but high on the list of the words describing a teacher's most important qualities are fun, firm and fascinating. A teacher's appropriate sense of humour and the establishment of good routines are also up there. Body language and a positive, engaged demeanour are essential for teachers in giving out the right message from the start as well as the setting of clear boundaries and expectations of work.

Many teachers these days believe positive behaviour management to be the most effective way of controlling and inspiring students. Research shows that children often perform better in academic tasks when in an upbeat and positive environment where they feel safe and positive praise is given when it is deserved. Frequent shouting by teachers turns off a child's thinking brain and turns on the emotional brain, which puts up learning barriers.

Try to help your daughter feel positive about this situation. Remind her that teachers are invariably stricter at the beginning of the year in order to set high expectations for levels of behaviour. Encourage her to get to know the new teacher and give her a chance.

Julie McGuire teaches at a local primary school