As a new teacher, you will need a break every once in a while. Your district probably gives you ten sick days, and you may be ill a few times during the year. There also may be instances where you are required to attend your district’s new teacher training. Whatever the case, you will need to utilize a substitute teacher to fill in for you on the days you are gone. Many new teachers got their start as substitutes, so they know how important it is to prepare a good lesson for the substitute. For those of you who don’t know…here are some things you can do to make the substitute’s day a LOT easier:
*Make sure to have WAY more work available than the students can complete in a class period. My Grandma used to say “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” This is true…just ask any substitute teacher who tries to control a class that doesn’t have enough to do.
*Make sure your assignment is “solo work”…not “group work”. Tell the sub that your kids will try the old “Mrs. Taylor always lets us work in groups” trick. Repeat yourself several times that students are NOT to work in groups. It is a recipe for disaster. Another tip: Don’t use this opportunity to try out an experimental new lesson that has the potential to flop. One year, my friend (who was a Social Studies teacher) gave his substitute a “States & Capitals Bingo” activity to use while he took a day off. He had special bingo cards made out, and a can of old dry beans for students to use as bingo chips. The substitute spent the day getting pelted by beans that the students threw at her during the bingo games. Witnesses reported seeing the sub crying as she walked to her car after school. Your district has a hard enough time finding enough substitute teachers…don’t put them in situations where they can be mistreated!
*Put together an accurate seating chart (if you don’t already have one), with phonetic spellings under the names so that the substitute won’t mispronounce them.
*Give detailed instructions about what to distribute to the students, when or if the assignment should be picked up at the end of the class period, how many points the assignment is worth, and when the assignment is due. Basically, it is a good idea to brainstorm any and every question that the students may ask, and furnish the substitute with answers to all of them.
*Provide “Office Referral Forms” so that the substitute will have them in the event that a student is defiant, belligerent, or otherwise unruly.
*Provide a “Substitute Report Form” and encourage the sub to write a detailed report of your students’ behavior so that you can deal with any poor behavior when you return. Whatever you do, don’t tell your classes that any student appearing on the substitute report will be sent to the office. Leave yourself some wiggle room in case you get a “crazy sub”…which happens from time to time.
*Give the substitute the names and room numbers of a couple of your colleagues that he/she can turn to if things start going bad.
*If possible, find yourself a “favorite” substitute, and request him/her every time you are out. Some districts allow teachers to request specific substitutes, so take advantage of the policy when you can.
*Sometimes, events occur that keep you from being able to know in advance that you are going to miss a day of school. To be prepared, have an “emergency lesson plan” or two in a specific drawer in your desk. The lesson should be something that can be done at any time during the year. My emergency lesson plan when I taught social studies was “The Three Branches of Government”. It was utilized several times, so don’t think it can’t happen to you!
Following these procedures will make your day off a more pleasurable experience, and make your first day back more enjoyable because you won’t spend your whole day putting out fires and cleaning up messes! A bad day with an unprepared substitute can set your class back several days, so always be prepared.