Saturday, December 17, 2011

planning for (and being) a substitute

Tis the season for nasty colds and stomach bugs. And that means sub plans. Second semester of my first year of teaching, I was teaching 7th grade Spanish I part time in a middle school. To make ends meet, I did a lot of subbing in the school. When teachers in the building had appointments or meetings and needed to miss an hour or two, I'd fill in. When I showed up for my first day on the job, the secretary asked if I would be willing to sub for F&CS (I wasn't sure what that was, as Family and Consumer Science was Home Ec back in my day), and being the willing and excited new teacher, I said absolutely.

It was the first day of the 6th graders' cooking unit. They were to make baked apples. Apparently, the group had gone over the recipe for several days, watched a demonstration, and today they were to do it themselves. So, I went over the recipe one more time and let them loose. When I look over at one group's table, I see a 6th grader, holding the apple IN HIS HAND, using the serrated knife to cut it. After yelling "Freeze!!" and providing some reteaching of how to cut an apple (on a cutting board!), there were few other mishaps. No one lost a finger, but I think I lost a few years of my life in the scare it gave me.

This was, perhaps, not the wisest lesson activity to leave for a substitute. In my year of subbing for everything from 8th grade algebra, to 6th grade PE, to band, to tech ed, I learned a lot about myself as a teacher, as well as some helpful dos and don'ts when leaving sub plans. Here's some advice for planning for and being an effective substitute.

You probably had to create a substitute folder at the start of the school year to give to the secretary for those emergency situations when you're gone and it is unplanned. And likely what is in it is no longer helpful. Now is a great time to review the folder you made at the beginning of the year.

Some key forms/info to have readily available (on top of your desk and labeled or attached to lesson plans is best):
  • seating charts
  • key contacts (main office, attendance, nurse, as well as the nearby teachers)
  • evacuation plans for fire drills, lockdown procedures, tornado plans 
  • a master list of the weekly pull-out schedule (i.e. which students leave when and where do they go?)
One thing that can really help you out if you need to leave sub plans is have a set, typed description of the routines for the room. All that hard work you've done to have a predictable routine for the students? That will pay off big time when you have a sub. Some day you have a few minutes to spare (ha!), sit down and type out those routines in detail. Then keep this file handy to attach to any specific sub plans.

Speaking of lesson plans, think about what will be reasonable for someone else to accomplish. You might think twice before leaving a complicated lab or baking project, but keep kids working on the content of the class. When kids are bored, they are more likely to be antsy.

Another helpful thing to do is assign a substitute helper in your class. Maybe it's a rotating job for your students, but this can be really helpful in ensuring that the day goes smoothly. Have kids take over the attendance, lunch count, etc and then that can just continue when you're gone.

And one other thing - have pens, pencils, bandaids, hall/nurse passes, and paper clips readily accessible. I got in the habit of always carrying these things with me when I would sub, because it was amazing how often I'd go into a classroom and couldn't find a single thing to write with! 

For those of you that are doing the substitute teaching, here are a few additional resources:

There is a professional organization for substitute teachers: The National Substitute Teachers Alliance. I don't know a lot about the organization, but if you are currently or plan to sub it might be worth looking into. You can also find more resources to help substitute teachers here.

EducationWorld has some helpful articles. There's one with some general substitute teaching advice, several mini-lesson plan ideas, and some suggestions for games.

As a sub in the building, it can go a long way to introduce yourself to the teachers in classrooms near you. If you make a good impression, they are likely to request you as a sub. And it can help you out if you get into a bind with something throughout the day. Eat lunch in the lounge and meet the other teachers. This is a great opportunity to network. Stop in and introduce yourself to the principal. If interested in the school as a place of potential employment, see if there are opportunities to volunteer, teach after-school classes, or other ways to get involved. Go to PTA meetings. Do whatever you can to show that you are interested in the school community.

Classroom teachers know that there are issues every day. So don't feel compelled to write at the bottom of the sub plan, "Everything was great! No problems!!" Teachers want to be able to follow up on what happened when they are gone, so leaving them with a detailed note about what was accomplished, who was helpful, who needed extra redirection, and what didn't get done. Teachers will really appreciate the extra time.

A final plea from teachers leaving their room to a sub: do the best you can to follow the plans. We all know that some days despite best efforts, things just aren't going to happen they way you planned. But it is frustrating to come back from being gone to find out that the students watched "Shrek" and "Cars" and didn't accomplish anything in the careful sub plans that were left. This doesn't mean that if the day is a disaster that you should just keep plugging away. Part of being a good teacher and sub is being flexible. But when teachers leave plans, they are hoping that a solid effort will go into following them.

What other advice do you have for planning for or being a substitute teacher?


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