Hi new teacher! This is not exactly a disciplinary post like the last few, although the wrong sub plans can create all sorts of disciplinary challenges. So can the wrong sub.
You want to have a relaxing professional development. You don’t want to come back to parent calls, paperwork and planning consequences. Those free-for-all days cause trouble even if nothing exactly triggered steps on the disciplinary ladder. Kids who sat next to their bestie all day may decide to push the limits when you come back, for example.
Here is the sub piece that you need to understand: Especially at first, every time you go out, you are playing sub poker. The deck probably contains aces, deuces, wildcards and everything in-between. Easier districts may have selected a fairly reliable sub pool, but tougher districts often end up accepting candidates whose main qualification is “willing to work in a middle school with few resources in the bottom 2% of state test scores where the police only come every few weeks.” Is that your school? If it is, thank you for having taken a demanding position in a place where your compassion and perseverance are desperately needed.
It helps to understand how the sub system works. Depending on where you teach, the system can differ but many districts now are using online services. You post your absence for the sub pool to see. A sub who wants to work sees that absence and clicks on some version of an accept button. Voila! You have a sub.
If you are lucky, that sub can teach. If you are lucky, that sub will teach. If you are lucky, that sub will not be bringing her own personal handouts or guitar to your classroom. At worst, your sub may carry a bundle of silent prejudices, quiet put-downs some kids will sense. I just worked with one who was receiving direct communications from the Lord. She seemed competent, and she had that classroom management piece down, but she also reminded me how little we know about these strangers who enter our classrooms.
Here are a few tips for those sub plans:
- Leave extra and even extra, extra work. You might be tempted to leave one reading and a related worksheet that would take you and your classes a full class period. But you would take the time to teach the contents of the reading, and go over sections with students. The sub may just instruct students to pass out the papers and sit down at your desk to text her friends. Seriously. It happens. Even if the sub walks around the room, he or she may not interact much with students. You want students to be occupied for the entire period. So leave assignments two and three for when students are done with their first task. Or leave specific instructions for where they can go on their devices when they are done.
- I personally suggest avoiding device-dependent lesson plans. Things go wrong. Then subs without passwords and/or tech chops have to figure out what to do. Many subs are retired teachers. Not all of them are conversant with the latest Google Doc Google Classroom Google World life in their old schools. Also those kids who want to go to their lockers for earbuds or chargers become one more complication as students try to test sub limits. Can the ten of us who are all suddenly having bathroom emergencies please all go to the bathroom at once? But it’s an emergency!
- Paper is your friend, except for the part where you have to grade that huge stack of papers. For one thing, paper assignments keep your students off devices. That sub who sits down at your desk? She’s not watching what is happening on student devices. She should be, but woulda, coulda, shouda… Sub plans that allow the sub to say, “please close your Chromebooks” help ensure that inappropriate behavior does not become an issue for you when you return to school. I suggest leaving instructions that students are not to use electronics while you are absent, unless you know you can trust those classes and you have a natural reason to use devices, such as a project due within the next few days.
- Keep it simple. Don’t expect the sub to be able to do your routine unless you leave extremely-detailed instructions — which is fine, but tough to do. You probably don’t realize all the little things you are including in your morning routine. If you want to note them all down and prepare your lesson plan as you go through a day, well, your sub will probably be impressed and happy to see how well you planned.
- Avoid group activities. Even if you can write down all your groups and how they function, they will probably not function as well for a sub, unless that sub works in your classroom regularly. The sub most likely does not know your students and that’s the main problem. When Jon decides to go work with another group, because his friend Eric is in that group, the sub won’t know, not at first. Jon may take advantage of the situation. All your little tools to keep groups in line may be unfamiliar to the sub as well. The “strikes” you give for off-task behavior? The sub may not know to give those “strikes” and kids may not take a sub’s strikes seriously anyway.
- If you do have a strong reason to group, spell out expectations for group behavior in advance of your absence. I’d recommend doing this more than once. Any group arrangements should be practiced if possible so students know exactly where to go.
- The easiest plan is an appropriate, useful reading for all with a set of questions related to that reading. Too long will be better than too short. You might group quietly by having different readings for different groups. Some class compositions truly are not meant for any version of whole-group instruction.
- Did the sub do a great job? Hunt that sub down! Put him or her on your preferred list. Get a phone number. The more you can avoid random placements, the better.
- Praise your sub, too. Tell the administration what a great job that sub did. Like teachers, subs too often do not get enough credit for excellent work.