I sub for a middle school where the students show little respect for the teacher and I feel powerless. They come into the classroom and swear, chew gum, and disrupt the class. What can I do?
This is a great question. Discipline is hard enough when you are in charge and you have time to set up your own plans. If I was in your situation, I would handle it in one of two ways:
1) I would accept that this kind of behavior was the norm at this school and then decide to either continue subbing there, knowing that this kind of thing occurs, or, if it bothered me, I would not go back.
2) My more likely approach would be to investigate the discipline procedures for the school and the teachers that I was subbing for, if possible. I would want to be familiar with the usual consequences that would result for the students who engaged in the kind of behavior that you described. This is especially important if you plan to work on a regular basis at the school.
A general rule for successful discipline is to be as prepared as possible. Plan on being stoic and unemotional and you will greatly improve your chances of success. As a substitute teacher, you are still the person in charge. Act that way. Do not tolerate any disrespect and be clear with your expectations.
For minor issues, give one warning and then have students sign their names on a piece of paper if they break the rule again. In extreme situations, be prepared to get assistance from nearby teachers or administrators. In most cases, however, you can achieve a somewhat orderly classroom by being serious and clear.