You had to be there. The Principal led me to the classroom, looked around for nonexistent plans for a few seconds, saw some worksheets on desks, and said, “You can do these.” Then he quickly walked away, leaving me with no idea where my still nonexistent students happened to be located. I ran down a few fellow kindergarten teachers to tell me where to find my minions and leapt into action.
I guess this column is about what to do when you are on your own:
- Find fellow teachers of your subject or grade. Tell them the nature of your crisis. I’ve never had anyone refuse to help.
- Ask younger kids for help. Have them tell you their routine.
- Tell the kids that you may have to do things a little differently than their teacher. Especially if “calendar” requires software you cannot access, you are going to have to think on your feet.
- It’s best to stick to the routine if it’s working, but bail if it’s not working. Is “read aloud” going badly? Too many minions who are not sitting criss-cross applesauce? That regular teacher has routines and reinforcement strategies. Maybe she is using clothespins and red or green lights. Maybe the kids get strikes. You can try clothespins and strikes. You should remove disruptive elements from the crowd and sit them in less problematic places. But all those strategies tend to work more seamlessly for the man or woman the kids actually know. So if you keep having to dive out of the story for behavior management, go to Plan B. Make it individual silent reading time in our seats instead. Or make it math time. Sing a math song. Teach the kids a math song.
- Learn a few useful songs if you sing. Singing can bridge some challenging gaps in plan and in behavior. Young kids mostly love to sing.
- I know a read-aloud strategy that tends to work for me. If you can adapt books on the fly, you can usually hold onto your audience. The kids probably all know the most popular books in their class. But once you add in the aliens in their tall, brown, chocolate spaceship and describe their landing in Whoville, everybody will be listening.
- With older kids, start with the standards on the board nearby if you have them. Start with fellow teachers. If you are lucky, you will have a few minutes before the madness begins. Don’t be afraid to ask the office to make you a bunch of copies of the worksheets the other seventh grade math teacher was planning to use. Assuming your classes are somewhat in sync, well, you have to hand out something.
- Move fast. You hope to find the lesson plans that accidentally got hidden under a stack of papers. If those plans somehow don’t exist, you must find that teacher on the team who is teaching what you should be teaching. Especially if you are shaky on the subject you expect to teach, you will need written work for reinforcement that will prevent wasting even a small chunk of your students’ school year.
- If you end up absolutely up the creek, with no help from admin and no other teachers teaching your subject, teach anyway. I usually go to economics, student loans, the latte effect and other useful money matters. That tends to hold the attention of older students, who need to know how student loans work anyway. I find it’s a lot less stressful to share useful knowledge than to let a bunch of adolescents loose without any firm plan or expectations. With younger kids, I work on literacy.
From the Blue Room: Good luck and have a great week!