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How to Move Beyond “Please, Please Don’t Torture the Sub”

Posted by on in Classroom Management
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Missing school is harder for teachers than many other professionals because not only do we have to leave appropriate plans and information so that substitute teachers can manage our classes while we are out, but also because even the best of students tend to have the classic, “Oh boy! We have a sub!” reaction. Unless you have done everything possible to ensure that your students will still learn while you are absent, you will return to deal with the miserable aftermath of a disasterous school day.

Being able to miss school without worries about your students and all the things that are going wrong in your absence is possible with a bit of planning and preparation. First of all, very early in the school year, create a binder filled with helpful information that any substitute teacher can use. When you change seating charts, add or drop students, or when other significant changes occur, update your binder. Here are some items that you may want to include in your sub binder.

  • Class rosters with helpful pronunciation clues
  • A photo seating chart. Photograph your students sitting in their assigned seats. Print these and write the name of your students under their photos. Your sub will know where students are supposed to sit and will be able to match names to faces right away.
  • Medical information for students with chronic illnesses such as asthma or diabetes
  • Your daily class and duty schedule
  • Classroom procedures for daily routines such as lunch, restroom requests, fire drills, and other emergencies
  • A list of several activities that students can do if they finish early. You can generate this list early in the year so that it is handy just in case you are rushed for time later.
  • A map of the school with exits and fire extinguishers marked
  • Copies of all necessary forms such as lunch or attendance counts
  • Names and room numbers of helpful teachers
  • A phone number where you can be reached

Next, make sure to leave workable plans that even the most harried sub can follow.

  • Your lesson plans for any day that you are going to miss should be specifically written for the sub.
  • Provide plenty of directions and a suggested time length for each assignment.
  • Do plan independent written work that will be collected and graded.
  • Make sure to photocopy, label, and organize all handouts.
  • Leave work that will occupy students, but that is not merely busy work.
  • Avoid computer use, videos, media center visits, and activities involving scissors or other sharp tools.

Finally, it’s important to involve students in a positive way in maintaining the order and routines of the class when you need to be absent.

  • Having students be aware of their specific responsibilities is a positive way to enlist their cooperation. Consider having students generate a list of the ways that they can be helpful for a sub. This is one class discussion that does not have to take very long, but that will result in a smoother day for everyone when you have to miss school.
  • Have them take a pledge of cooperation. Signing a written promise to work hard and behave well makes your expectations clear as well as puts the responsibility on them.
  • Assign tasks such as turning in attendance or passing out papers. Convince them to be helpful instead of disruptive.
  • Make cooperation fun. Let it be an intriguing class challenge. Have them set goals for themselves and work to meet those goals.
  • Best of all, make it their responsibility. When students own a situation, they will more often than not rise to the occasion and exceed even our highest expectations.

If your students have misbehaved while you were out, however, don’t rush to punish. First, have students write out their version of the events of the class. Read these, and think about what you are going to do before you punish an entire class or even individual students based on what a substitute teacher has told you. If you then have to deal with misbehavior after you have gathered the facts from the sub and from your students, strive to be fair.

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Julia G. Thompson received her BA in English from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg. She has been a teacher in the public schools of Virginia, Arizona, and North Carolina for more than thirty-five years. Thompson has taught a variety of courses, including freshman composition at Virginia Tech, English in all of the secondary grades, mining, geography, reading, home economics, math, civics, Arizona history, physical education, special education, graduation equivalency preparation, and employment skills. Her students have been diverse in ethnicity as well as in age, ranging from seventh graders to adults. Thompson currently teaches in Fairfax County, Virginia, where she is an active speaker and consultant. Author of Discipline Survival Guide for the Secondary Teacher, First-Year Teacher’s Checklist, The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide, and The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide Professional Development Training Kit, Thompson also provides advice on a variety of subjects through her Web site, www.juliagthompson.com; on her blog, juliagthompson.blogspot.com; and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/TeacherAdvice.

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