Most teachers are well aware that we are one of the few professions (if not the only) where you have to do more work if you call in sick then if you were to just go to work and struggle through it. It doesn’t seem right that when we are feeling terrible we need to try and create or write up a coherent lesson plan that anyone could implement while taking our place in the classroom. Even if we want to just take a day off, we need to prepare ahead of time and come up with a plan-of-attack for our substitute. It’s unfair, but it is also the way things are. This is what I do to make my life easier when I am out of the classroom.
First and foremost: know who the good subs are! Talk to your colleagues, find out who they have had good experiences with and who they have had, shall we say, less then favorable experiences with. If you use an electronic sub system, see if you can set up ‘favorites’ so that in a more lass-minute situation, those people get called first. If you now you are going to be out, ask the people you trust as far in advance as possible. It really helps. I don’t know about your district, but in mine, the good subs get booked up very quickly.
Set up an emergency folder. The stomach flu happens! And when it does (or something else equally as horrible) and you cannot muster up the energy to get to the phone or are unable to talk, have a plan in place that anyone could follow if they had to step in while you are unable to teach. For me, I have a generic Mythbusters episode where my students have to answer questions and outline the scientific method used in the experiments on the show. I have the DVD in the folder, with a class set of the student instructions and a basic lesson plan. This is helpful because in the case of an emergency or a very short notice call-in, I know my students will have something to do.
Assuming that you know you are going to be out…
Plan, plan and then plan some more. I cannot stress enough that over-preparing is your greatest aid for whenever you are going to have a sub. Do not assume anything. Especially if you do not know who your sub is and are not able to talk with them and brief them before hand. I have a sub folder on file (you can see and read about it here in my post on staying organized) in which I have seating charts, classroom procedures, classroom expectations, information about the school schedule, etc. I want the sub to know what an average day in my classroom looks like. Make sure that your lesson plans are detailed and easy to understand. If you are able, ask someone else to read them (preferably someone who is not a teacher). Make all copies ahead of time and lay them out in order with post-it notes onto that explain what they are and when to pass them out (this may seen like over-kill, but I have found many times over that this is necessary… I have learned the hard way).
Let your students know ahead of time that you will be gone. This is a great opportunity to discuss your expectations for their behavior and maybe even prep them a little for what to expect in the lessons while you are away. When I have done this, I have come back to much better reports from the subs versus when I have failed to prep my students. If you are taking a personal day, don’t feel that you have to tell them every hairy detail, just let them know that you won’t be there–they are less likely to act out.
Length of absences? If I am going to be gone for just a day (which is all I can really handle unless I am home with the stomach flu), I typically give some kind of review sheet that is good for my students in terms of educational practices, but easy for a sub in terms of control and instruction. Movie days are always good in a pinch or if you are going to be gone for more then one day (you can do a movie with a written reflection once it’s done). If possible, try to keep the movie on-topic with your curriculum so that the students don’t perceive it as a free-for-all.
Lastly, be prepared for your sub to potentially “go rogue”, as one of my co-workers put it. I think we have all had an experience when we come back and find out that our sub did something completely off-the-cuff that was not what we asked at all. It can be frustrating, yes, but it happens and we must move on. For that reason, I would suggest not to make your sub-plans anything that is do-or-die (unless you really know and trust your sub).
One of my favorite sayings is “Stressing over something is like sitting in a rocking chair, it doesn’t get you anywhere, it just gives you something to do.” So… try not to stress about your students when you are gone. You are not there and they are going to do what they are going to do (as well as your sub), and stressing about it won’t change it. Remember: the only way to fight a current is to swim with the current.
-The Ardent Teacher
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