This week I am taking a precious personal day on Friday. It works out well logistically because Friday is the last day of our first semester and Monday we have off for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with a grading day to follow on Tuesday. This means that by taking Friday off I get a 4-day weekend!!
As a side note, our district has a fabulous policy in place that gives us one day at the end of each marking period devoted entirely to catching up on grading, so next Tuesday will also be more laid-back than usual – no students or class, just time to grade and plan. I always love these days because they give me time to reflect and plan for the new marking period. I don’t actually do a whole lot of grading on these days (usually) because I need a good chunk of time just to physically input the grades and write up comments for each student – the bulk of marking happens the week or two prior (i.e. NOW).
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to my personal day on Friday. I thought this might provide a good opportunity to provide a peak into how I approach lesson planning for when I have a sub in my classroom, particularly for any novice teachers who may be just starting to figure out how to do so in an efficient way.
Pro-Tip: In my experience, unfortunately, often a sub day equates to a busy-work day for students. While book work & worksheets can be more relaxing for students than a typical day in the classroom, they are not usually very engaging and often result in little learning. I tend to refer to such days as “throw-away” days. To avoid this situation, I recommend the following: if your school has computer labs that are easily accessible for your class(es), as soon as you know you will be gone for a day, try to sign up for lab space. Having a sub is a great opportunity to give your students a chance to be more self-directed in their learning for a day and sending them to a lab where they have access to a computer and the internet is a great step in the right direction.
When I go to write my sub plans I include the following sections:
- A greeting & thank you to the sub / explanation of where I am and when I intend to return (this is not required; however, students often ask their sub where the teacher is and this way the sub has a way to respond)
- A bell schedule (if your school is anything like mine this can vary drastically day to day and if I sometimes have trouble keeping track of it I cannot even imagine the life of a sub!!)
- A Run-through of my day by period – Including:
- Class name/level (for example: Spanish 2, Freshman Lit & Comp, etc)
- Classroom #
- Clear explanation of what students should do – model after your typical lesson plan (hook/bellwork, main activity or activities*, and announcing homework for the next day- tip: request they write this on the board so students are clear on what is expected.)
- Make note of any information you want them to record for you (who completed or did not complete last night’s homework, who was absent, who did not use class time well, etc)
*When it comes time to plan your activities, try to create a meaningful learning experience for students in your absence. What can they do without your guidance to further their learning of the current theme you are covering in class? Can they begin to conduct preliminary research for an upcoming project? Can you find an interactive website that lines up with your current curricular goals? Does your school use a course management system such as Moodle or Blackboard? If so can you create a forum, chat, or webquest for students to complete at their own pace while in the lab? I first locate 2-3 websites or activities that match th theme of our current unit of study, and then create a lab checklist that I print off. That way students can check off each task as they complete it and make sure they have done everything that is required of them. I’ve experimented with making the checklist digital only but find that having a paper copy of the checklist helps students stay organized and on task, particularly when I am not there to redirect them.
1. Create a sub folder that contains necessary information for subs and which is always ready to go with the exception of that current day’s plans. Include in the folder:
- A map of your school
- Instructions for how to take attendance on the computer
- Passes for the library/late passes
- A notepad for sub to take notes on
- A pen or pencil
- Seating Charts and/or class rosters – my school recently added pictures to our seating chart program which is such a lifesaver for subs – now they know if kids are really sitting in the right seats!
- Your daily schedule (1st period planning, 2nd duty, 3rd period Spanish 2, etc)
- A master copy of your school’s bell schedules so that even if you forget to include it in your sub plan for the day they can reference the master list and find that day of the week’s bell times.
- The name and description/location of a helpful teacher with whom you work closely and of whom they can ask questions of as they occur during the day. (note: let that teacher know that you will be out and to expect to maybe be answering some questions – or, even better, ask that teacher to drop in on the sub to check & see that they are OK and answer any questions they may have)
- The name of 1-2 trustworthy students per class who know how things run in the classroom and of whom they can ask questions (such as how to turn on the projector, etc.)
- Your contact info (email is probably enough but I like to leave my cell # too in case they need help right away).
2. Plan activities that are student-centered rather than teacher-centered. Put your sub in the role of facilitator, not lecturer or stand-in teacher. Provide suggestions for what to do in case technology fails or something else goes wrong (ie a study hall or studying for an upcoming quiz). Finally be flexible – your students will likely not accomplish as much without you there as they will with you present, so learn to expect this. In some ways a day away from the classroom is a needed break for both you and your students and gives you some perspective so that when you return you can jump in and be more productive than ever. So don’t worry too much about one day and whether or not they are as productive as they could be; however, do set expectations and make something due by the end of the class or for homework for the next day -this gives the students some accountability & motivation to use class time effectively.
3. Finally, when you find a good sub who leaves you good notes & with whom your students are comfortable, request that sub again and again. Build a relationship with him or her, get contact info, and make an effort to keep your sub choice consistent throughout the school year as you have sick, professional, and personal days pop up – students respond well to consistency and they will know what to expect when they walk in the room & see the same sub each time you are absent.
Good luck! Check back later this week – I will edit this post with a link to a google doc of my sub plans for Friday to show an example!