After 20 years of teaching high school math, this year I find myself in a new position: Float Teacher at Kellogg Middle School. Although a series of circumstances led to this being the only opening when I wanted to end my leave of absence last spring, I had absolutely no hesitation accepting the position. I thought I was heading into an easy, restful year free from creating lesson plans, grading, parent interaction, and department meetings. After all, subbing was a piece of cake—glorified babysitting. Sure, I had heard stories about how students behaved with subs, but I assumed that was because the subs weren’t experienced. I had 20 years of finely-tuned classroom management skills—this would be no problem.
I was wrong.
Needless to say, this has been an eye-opening, learning experience. It has changed my thinking. Soon, when I return to “my own” classroom next year, it will change my actions. Here are some things I now plan to do:
Have a one-page summary of class policies and procedures.
If I were to go by what students tell me as a substitute, the teacher never collects homework, students work in groups while laying on the floor, nobody ever brings paper or pencil to class, they always work outside or in the hall, restroom passes are given freely to anyone and everyone multiple times, friends from other classes are welcome to join at any time, they always line up at the door 10 minutes before class ends, they always use phones and iPads, and the teacher plays music for them throughout the entire class period.
I know I won't be able to keep my students from trying to bend the rules, but it won’t be hard to create a list that includes the following:
Have an up-to-date, marked or highlighted seating chart--with pictures.
Attendance is a nightmare for a sub. (Don't believe me, check out the Comedy Central skit "Substitute Teacher" by Key and Peele...) Names are difficult to pronounce. Calling roll is time-consuming and emphasizes the fact that I don’t know what I’m doing, and gives the students a perfect chance to start the hour by playing all kinds of name-changing games. On the other hand, a great seating chart can be a sub’s best-friend. With a great seating chart I can get attendance taken in under a minute and know a variety of information about the students in the class.
When I return to the classroom, my seating chart will certainly include:
Have an assignment that is relevant to the class and for which students will be accountable.
This is perhaps my biggest takeaway from my experience. In the past I would either ask the sub to play a DVD of the TV show Numbers or tell the students to work on any missing assignments. There are problems with both of these: showing a video requires turning off the lights and it often becomes impossible for students to work on missing assignments because they have either finished it, left it at home, need the teacher to explain it, or have to work with a partner who isn’t in the class that day. Even if a class is not a management problem and the students talk quietly all hour, there is nothing slower than the minute hand of a clock when a sub is just sitting at a desk watching students talk with each other (plus, what learning is happening then?). Okay, there is one other thing slower--the clock when it is the fifth time the sub has watched that same episode of Numbers...
In the future, I’ll just ask the sub to continue with whatever assignment is next in my lesson plan. It may be a little rough, but if I teach the same course more than once, the sub will be great after the first time through. If it is just not possible, see my next suggestion.
Have a set of folders with a variety of stand-alone assignments.
When I return to my own classroom, I’ll be sure to have a variety of stand-alone tasks, and I'll mark each as 10-minute, 25-minute, or a full class period in length. For math, these will be an assortment of logic puzzles or real-world use of math that is at least somewhat connected to the course. It won’t fit perfectly with the day and current standard, but it will be something the students can turn in at the end of the hour for feedback that I can give them later. On the front of each folder will be the time needed for the assignment and a chance for the sub to record the date and hour it was used so I know what can be set out again in the future. (These are also great for when your absence is sudden and you have no opportunity to prepare for a sub ahead of time.)
Foster a respectful classroom environment.
I know this sounds like a cliché, but a class doesn’t change overnight. If I have a class that is built on positive relationships and consistency, I won’t have to threaten them to get them to behave for a sub. On the other hand, if class management is based on fear or there is no consistency, the class won’t respect the sub even if I, the classroom teacher, threatens to write up or assign double detention to every name the sub writes down. A sub can come in and work with any class that has a respectful classroom environment already established, but she'll surely struggle if there is not such an environment already present.
Oh, and one last thing: I’ll hide some chocolate and let the sub know where it is.
This post brought to you by Dave Pugh, Float Teacher at Kellogg Middle School
Feel free to connect with Dave Pugh via email
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