The Subject Rep: Unsung Hero

Photo credit: Tricia Quek

As the last school term of the year draws to a close, let us have an insight into one of the least recognized student-held appointments in the school: the Subject Representative (a.k.a. “Subject Rep”).

In the words of a fellow student, the basic responsibilities of the Subject Rep can be summed up as follows:

“Subject reps are supposed to help their teachers with stuff, give out stuff, collect stuff and go for subject rep meetings (if there is one).” [1]

How does one get appointed to become a Subject Rep? The process is actually quite simple:

There will be different subject representatives chosen from the start of the year. One does not have to be good in the subject one is representative of. When the teacher asks for volunteers, just raise your hand if you feel you like that subject. Nobody will know each other during the first day of school, so be sure you’re going to be committed to your subject rep position and do a good job for the class.[1]

To the school management

Different schools interpret the role of the Subject Rep differently. While some schools (such as my present one) recognise the role of Subject Rep as a leadership position (by allowing Subject Reps to acknowledge their service in their testimonials), others might not do so.

The role of the Subject Rep is unique as it is a responsibility where you “learn-on-the-job”. Oftentimes, there is hardly any training provided for the Subject Rep and hardly any official recognition by the school community, in contrast with traditional leadership roles such as a Class Chairperson or a School Councillor.

The lack of a proper working process and support channel means that the Subject Rep is often left to his (or her) own devices to define the task at hand.

The Subject Rep is, by default, a representative of the class to the school management. Schools usually regard the Subject Reps as a reliable sample of the student population whom they can use to gauge the feedback of the students with regard to the academic programmes conducted for each subject through the annual Subject Rep Focus Group meetings.

Thus the Subject Rep actually has a direct stake in the academic journey of his peers, and (often unknowingly) a very real opportunity to influence school curriculum as well.

To the teachers

Based on my personal experience as a Subject Rep myself during my time in secondary education; the relationship shared between the Subject Teacher and the Subject Rep is oftentimes akin to that shared between a Commander and his (or her) Sergeant-Major.

Similar to a Sergeant-Major, the Subject Rep’s duty “is to explain the (teacher) to the (students) in language they can understand… he must realise that he is the man in the middle and must answer to the teacher if his orders are not properly carried out.” [2]

Indeed, the Subject Rep puts his own judgement of his teacher and the situation on the line every time. On certain instances, I have had to temper my teachers’ orders so as to make them seem more “presentable” to my peers.

Whilst most teachers tend to appoint a Subject Rep to assist them in managing lessons, not every teacher fully employs their Subject Reps. From my personal experience, I have witnessed situations where the lack of a cordial relationship between the teacher and the appointed Subject Rep results in the teacher choosing another student to act as the de facto Subject Rep instead.

To their peers

One of the charges levelled at the Subject rep is that of being the “Teacher’s Pet” since he is usually the first recipient of any news from the teacher, and is usually called upon by the teacher to play the inglorious role of assignment-collector.

Being in a position where he is usually the one to have first access to whatever educational resources the Subject Teacher may provide to the class, it is imperative that he conducts himself with integrity and impartiality. He must frequently remind himself to place the overall interests of the class as a priority.

By virtue of his appointment, the Subject Rep has a duty to help his peers redress doubts with the Subject Teacher on their behalf; and help them express their concerns to the Subject Teacher should they find it inconvenient to personally do so.

On a personal note

As a Subject Rep myself, I usually rely on a few key items to help me execute my tasks:

  • Cellphone- For storage of contact details of my classmates and the subject teacher; as well as to facilitate immediate communication between said teacher and  classmates
  • Personal Organiser with Stationery- To keep track of assigned tasks from both the subject teacher and my classmates
  • Relationships with key personnel (such as the school bookshop and photocopy shop operators)- To help expedite urgent tasks

The above list is not exhaustive, but I hope it provides a rudimentary guide to fresh Subject Reps who may be initially over (or under) whelmed by the tasks associated with this role.

My personal journey as a Subject Rep has not always been smooth-sailing. There have been instances where I have botched instructions and had to engage in service recovery efforts, sometimes literally at the expense of my classmates. However, with experience, I have managed to minimize the number of slip-ups, and have personally grown to appreciate the role for its responsibility and significance.

In my opinion, the job fulfilment from taking on this often thankless role stems from “a sense of accomplishment at having conducted such an important assignment with no disruptions…” [3] As a Subject Rep, I have also “…made new friends and learnt the importance of communicating well with others.” [3] – personal rewards whose value far exceeds that of material recognition.

In conclusion

The Subject Rep is there to look after the interests of both the Subject Teacher and his peers. His appointment, although often unrecognised, is significant as it reflects the confidence of the Subject Teacher, as well as the class in his ability to assume the responsibility of a communicator- he must not betray that sacred trust. He is arguably an unsung hero in the student body, who serves to help enhance the learning experience of his peers.

If you are ever chosen by your teacher to become a Subject Rep, do give it a shot, and help enrich your schooling experience; as well as those of your peers.

References:

[1] St. Nicholas Girls’ School (1). (2008). Subjects (and how to sleep discretely in class)- Subject Reps. Available: http://ultimategenuineguide.blogspot.sg/2008/12/subjects-and-how-to-sleep-discretely-in.html. Last accessed 18th Oct 2012.

[2] Begg, Robert B. (1966). The Sergeant Major. Available: http://www.4point2.org/sgtmajor.htm. Last accessed 18th Oct 2012.

[3] SEAB-ling Editorial Team. (2011). Wisdom from our CPEs. SEAB-ling. 14 (1), p2-p3.

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