You might want to have perfect attendance as a teacher this year, but at some point you will have a sub. It might not be an illness, it could be an emergency of some type, an unexpected meeting you are called to attend or a professional development opportunity. It will be a much easier transition for students if they are prepared in advance.
Preparing the Students
Don’t keep Secrets
If I know in advance a substitute will be taking over the class, I let the students know. This will save the confusion and discussion about where I am, who the guest teacher is, why I am out of class, etc. It also takes the spontaneity out of the situation. It seems more like business and less like a party opportunity.
Hopefully having a guest teacher will occur after students have learned routines and procedures. It is important that students have certain routines established to make absences less stressful.
Such routines and procedures will include how to enter the classroom, get the necessary supplies and assignment for the day, check the board for the agenda and be ready to start the warm-up when the bell rings. If students understand how to do this beginning of class procedure, the guest teacher will have a much easier day.
Students should know where some supplies are stored and which areas of the classroom are off limits (if any). Students should also understand that when a guest teacher is present they are to be on their best behavior.
Students should have practiced the end of class routines on turning in papers, how to put away supplies and exit the classroom in an orderly manner.
I let students know that the sub will be leaving a note about behavior, and will score the class out of 5 points. My expectations are that all my classes will achieve a score of at least a 4. See the Feedback Form below.
Preparing the Substitute
In my district, we may not have direct contact with the sub. Lesson plans are left for the sub with a secretary. However, those plans are general outlines for the day and may not be comprehensive.
Understand that your substitute teacher may not be a specialist in your area. As a math teacher, I cannot assume that any guest teacher will have a credential in math and be able to teach a detailed lesson for my class. It has happened, but when it does, it is a bonus.
You lesson should be an activity that builds on a previous lesson. This is not the time to spring new material on students. Think review type activities or extension activities. It is also a great idea to use activities where students can work together either in small groups or in pairs.
Be very specific about what is to be done. Example: Period 2 is working on calculating midpoint formula in the coordinate plane. In addition to the worksheet, they may need additional graph paper and rulers. Those items are available in a basket on the work table.
I have seen sub plans left by other teachers. Leaving a sticky note about pages in the book to cover is not sufficient and not professional.
The product, whether it is a project, worksheet or notes should be collected by the sub at the end of the period. Even if it is not complete, students should all turn in whatever they have worked on. This ensures that students are focused on the task.
Plan some extra “bonus” activity for students that finish early. This could be something as simple as a word search or logic puzzle. Since I teach Geometry, students love to do origami.
Emergency Lesson Plans
Sometimes teachers may be called out of class with just a few minutes of notice. It helps to have some emergency lesson plans available and prepared. This could be some sort of practice that the students could review. Make any necessary copies and prepare the substitute lesson plan for the files. Once you use, make another set for the next “emergency”.
A sub binder provides additional information to any guest teacher and remains in the classroom. It gives anyone in your class additional information about procedures and policies for your class and for the school.
Included in the Sub Binder
Seating Charts (current)
Extension numbers: Highlight Admin, Security, Secretaries, Health Office, Counselors, name and extension for the teacher in the room next door.
Map of school
Emergency routes marked on map in case of fire
School emergency procedures such as where class meets during emergencies, lock down procedures, where emergency supplies are stored
Quick checklists of student Rules
Ending of class routines.
Location of supplies (batteries for calculators, extra pencils, markers for the whiteboard, etc). I like to make a special box of supplies for sub needs so my cabinets are not searched in vain.
Any student health issues.
I do not include IEPs in the folder. First, a guest teacher will not have time to read detailed information and second, that information should not be freely available where students can see it. But you could include students who are allowed to leave the class to attend the learning center or to work with a language aide.
I leave the sub the feedback form with the lesson plan so they can let me know how well students behaved during class. I am not looking for names of students who have been a problem (had a lot of those notes). I am more interested in how the majority of students behaved and how our routines worked when I am not present.
I do not use the substitute’s note to punish any student or class, even if it was a disappointing day. I also do not use the form to offer rewards to a class. The goal is to improve my routines and lesson planning when I am not in the class. My expectation is that they always have good behavior.
I hope this has been helpful in planning for a substitute. Right now, several of my colleagues are pregnant and another is at home with Covid. Emergencies happen and we need to be prepared. The forms I have shared are available on PowerPoint so you can adapt them to your own class. You could download that file here.
I would love to hear if you have any additional preparations. Leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.