Who else hates planning for a substitute teacher? Pre-COVID-19, I would need to be on death’s door in order to call in sick because of the hassle it caused. 

Have you ever wondered who decided it was a good idea to plan professional development or a conference during the school year? My students needed ME to be there each day because no one else could teach them the content. Not only that, having a lab or a shop causes additional problems because our students may or may not be able to continue working on projects due to qualified supervision. 

This year in particular has made us shift some of these beliefs. We are being encouraged to stay home when not feeling well–which I do appreciate how calling in sick is a widely accepted practice right now.

We need to be prepared and plan on having a substitute teacher on any given day because these shifts are taking place. To do this, we need to make some shifts in our planning and our practice. This will help us not stress out and be overwhelmed when we do need to have a sub.

Today, I’m going to share some ideas on how to prepare yourself and your classroom for a substitute teacher. No matter how long they will be taking your class.

In this episode, Khristen discusses:

  • Setting Up Routines to Plan for a Substitute Teacher
  • Have a Buddy Teacher for You and Your Substitute Teacher
  • Have an Emergency Plan (or three) at the Ready

Setting Up Routines to Plan for a Substitute Teacher

Could your class run itself, even with you not there? Think of how glorious that would be! You are a very important element of your class. If your students could not only receive content but complete work in your absence it would less stressful to miss.

For this to happen you will need to have routines set up. Routines that are automatically set into action regardless of whether or not you are there. Routines are key when planning for a substitute teacher.

Check out Episode 2: What You Should Really Know about Routines in Your Classroom if you need help getting started with routines.

What Routines with a Substitute Could Look Like

Let’s imagine what this could look like and dissect each part of a class. In my engineering design class, we followed a basic outline. Bell ringer with a review, discussion and new instruction, independent or group work, and exit ticket.

What would it take for my students to start the bell ringer on their own? They need to have the question or prompt and know how to respond to that each day. This could be done in a notebook with a prompt already printed. It could also be done online through an LMS where I could modify the prompts as needed. The substitute teacher at this point would just need to take roll (which they could do with a seating chart).

For the review aspect, your students can be sitting in small groups. This could allow them to turn and talk after writing or responding. Perhaps the substitute sets a timer to go off 3 minutes after the bell. This prompts the students to turn and talk. Normally I opened the discussion up to the entire class, but this could be done by a student. Maybe you have designated class managers or discussion leaders that did this. After a second timer went off, these students asked basic questions of the smaller groups.

Now that students have reviewed the previous class’s content, it’s time for new content. What if this could already be prepared? Typically in my class, I gave 5-10 minutes of instruction. It was usually how to use a specific drawing tool or concept. I prefer to do this face-to-face in order to ask and answer questions. But, this could be done through a video that they access via LMS. 

While that does take some preparation on my part, it has another benefit beyond when you are absent. It helps out students who are absent still receive the content and not fall behind.

Next, students have independent work or group work on an assignment. Consider how you could group students so that they could help one another with questions that they have. I had the system of “ask three then me.” This is so that students would rely on each other more when they had questions. Not only that, but it helps solidify concepts when they are able to teach someone else. Don’t forget, they always have the instruction video to refer to.

Finally, the exit ticket. I prefer these on paper because I could respond quickly. This could also be done online instead. Once again, another timer for clean-up could sound giving students the opportunity to respond to the exit ticket.

Can you imagine? Even when you are there your class would run smoothly?

In Order to Have a Self-Run Classroom, Routines and Systems Need to Be Set Up and Practiced

In order to make this happen routines and systems need to be set up and practiced frequently. Students would need to be trained as to where and how to access online materials. Class managers and/or discussion leaders would need to be trained. Better yet, all students are trained and they know when it is time for them to lead. Class seating charts would need to be carefully planned so that students could support one another.

What could you implement or start doing tomorrow to get some of these routines and systems in place to not only make your class run smoothly while you’re away but also when you are there?

Have a Buddy Teacher for You and Your Substitute Teacher

Everyone needs a friend–even teachers. If you don’t have one already, find a teacher who is preferably near your classroom that you can use as a buddy teacher. This teacher could also be utilized when planning for a substitute teacher.

This is someone that you can refer your substitute to if there are any problems. It can also be someone that you refer students to if they need somewhere else to go to finish an exam or just get away from other students in your class.

At the middle school/junior high level this worked especially well. Find a teacher that teaches another grade as the student will usually behave better when they aren’t distracted by potential friends.

Have an Emergency Plan (or three) at the Ready

Most of the time I knew that I was going to need a substitute. This made it easier to plan for the substitute teacher. Sometimes I didn’t–especially when I needed to stay with a sick kiddo. There have been a few times where I have been getting ready in the morning and one of the littles comes into the bathroom and throws up. Welp, guess I’m needing to get a substitute.

If I was lucky, my students were working on a project and they could have a workday. But, if they weren’t, that’s when an emergency substitute plan was needed. You’ll want emergency substitute plans to be generic enough that you can use them for any or all of your classes, but still relevant to CTE. Think about career-related lessons like researching higher education or checking out job postings.

While you can create your own or check out online resources from places like Teachers Pay Teachers. These will be lifesavers–and for a few dollars can save you a TON of time.

As a final thought, from a coach’s and administrator’s perspective, preparing yourself and your students for a substitute allows you to become a better teacher. While your students do need you, they can survive without you so that you can take care of yourself and your professional development. 

You may be missing an entire day of school, but they are only missing out on you for 45-90 minutes. Which isn’t that much time in the long run. Take care to set up routines and systems, have a buddy teacher, and have emergency substitute plans so that you can be ready for anything.

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