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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation


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Since I'm now home sick nursing a nasty cold, I thought it would be timely to discuss the issues around subs and classroom management. How do you help subs that come into your classroom? What have you done that has "hurt" subs working with your class?

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Kerry Metheny's picture

As a former teacher and now substitute, I have come across many situations in a classroom that was utterly ridiculous to think that the lesson would be successful. Search-A-Word and Crossword Puzzles are pointless. Reading silently is useless. Interactive activities in which some sort of outcome is expected proves to be the most successful. Many teachers assume that substitutes will have no clue as to what is going on, therefore, they water down the lesson about five grade levels. Granted, there are some subjects in which I would have trouble teaching, such as foreign languages. However, regardless what the teacher leaves, I usually add to the lesson. I am not a sit back and read the paper sub. I enjoy interacting with the students and having them to participate. I am not the strict...you cannot speak the entire hour/90 minutes of class time. With children of any age, that is nearly impossible. Encouraging dialogue and participation is vital to keep control of the classroom. Joking about mild misbehaviors without belittling the student lessens the impact that students try to achieve. Rarely do I ever need to leave a nasty note about how Little Johnny was a total terror. Many times I encourage those students that are labeled troublemakers by the teacher and get them to participate. Making learning fun for these students versus preparing to bring down the hammer on them makes for a much better classroom environment. One thing I stongly encourage is medical alerts. I realize that there are confidentiality laws, however, I am sure that parents would like to know that a substitute is aware that "Mary Beth" has a peanut allergy or "Jackson" is known to have seizures. Being aware that there are certain items necessary to alleviate medical conditions would be nice as well versus having to call the office and hope they answer the phone to let them know that some kid is flopping around in the classroom...I have no clue who he is...and the secretary is unaware of the situation as well. Anyone who has substituted for any length of time can generally tell which student is in need of extra help and I generally encourage group activities to accommodate this. Since many lessons are backed up with technology on smart boards, overhead projectors hooked into computers, access to the computer may not be a bad idea. Love the rubrik concept of classroom behavior with a sub that was mentioned earlier...

Kerry Metheny's picture

Nothing as fun as looking over the teacher's expectations for classroom activities and all materials are locked up!!! Here is another day wasted and they wonder why they cannot complete their core content in a school year...planning is vital!!!

Kim's picture

What grade do you teach? And can you please give an example of one of your "learning centers?" I'd love to know more about that and figure out how I can make it work in a middle school Spanish classroom. I am not sure what to do for subs who don't speak Spanish, so I love the idea of the students having something to work on independently while I'm out of the classroom.

Ms. Hackworth's picture

I teach high school students. I have a Business Law and a Computer Applications course. I have a file with approximately 20 activities for each course that students can select from. I make classroom sets of copies of each activity and label each file "activity 1" and so forth. I have a folder for the substitute teacher at the front of the file that includes information about my students, class list, and a check off list of the activities, etc. I encourage the substitute to interact with the students and discuss his/her career information and life experiences. I want my substitute teacher to interact with my students and to assist my students with their work. I have a list of ideas the substitute may want to talk with students about before the students begin with the learning centers activities.

I got frustrated with administrators who force teachers to hand in "emergency lesson plans." I find this a huge waste of time. I discovered that when those emergency lesson plans are needed, the administrator that required them (1) cannot locate where he/she stored the plans, (2) does not have time to retrieve the plans, or (3) is not available to retrieve those plans when those plans are needed. I needed a better way to keep my students engaged if I was in the classroom so I came up with pre-creating the lessons and pre-teaching my students my expectations if I was not at work. My administrators no longer force me to submit emergency lesson plans because they know my system works.

The activities range in the level of difficulty. Some of the activities require internet research (I have a computer lab); some require creative writing, and drawing. I have some reading activities that require students to create a product that represents the reading assignment. I also have a few worksheets for those students who prefer to complete book work. Some other ideas for activities are create a menu for a restaurant, create a business letter to inform or inquire on a topic, create a tri-fold brochure on a topic, write a speech that persuades listeners of your opinion on a topic, write an editorial to the local newspaper complaining about a serious concern, create a game that teaches students how to do something, create a new Monopoly game- theme for a topic and draw the board (i.e. dog monopoly, this may work well with Spanish) etc.

The trick to this working effectively is creating activities that are fun and of interest to the kids, pre-teaching the kids the procedures and expectations for completing the activities and assigning two to three class leaders to assist the substitute teacher in following through with your established process.
I hope this helps.

Leslie Healey's picture
Leslie Healey
British Literature (11th grade) and World Lit (12th grade) teacher

I always leave explicit instructions, because it cuts down on the teenage games. I never let them take something home to finish, because then the sub has nothing to motivate them to engage with him/her during the period.

Joe Teach's picture

I've been subbing for almost 2 years now, mostly K-6, and I find that it's very helpful to bring books to read students in case their is some down time. Don't forget to bring a whistle along. Also, bring some extra white board markers and pencils...you never know if there won't be any.

For incentives, I sometimes offer students a game of "silent" ball if they are well behaved.

Recently I've been doing some middle school. I tell the students ahead of time, "If it gets too loud and disrespectful" then 1 minute after class added each time I have to raise my voice to calm things down.

Joe Teach's picture

Thanks for mentioning that excellent point Leslie,

To leave work that must be turned in at the end of class motivates students to get busy and not mess around.

Ian H.'s picture

I often have difficulty finding a sub who can teach everything I cover. I'm a high school teacher who teaches such a wide variety of classes (from French to computers to science) that I can never find a sub specialized in more than one of my classes. That leaves up to three other classes to create plans that a sub with little or no subject-area knowledge could cover. While I would love to leave a lesson plan for the sub to teach (they are, in my district anyway, fully credentialed teachers), I don't always have that luxury and often leave an activity that the students can do with little teacher input or a review day for students to go back over the material we've already covered.

Paula Sue Lyons's picture

HI I am a fairly new sub and I just love it when the teachers leave notes and things for us to actully work on I love to teach and hate it when they just leave movies. The kids get enough of that at home..and I welcome any suggestions. Thanks for this web sight.

Jennifer Harper's picture
Jennifer Harper
Grade 4 Teacher from Proctorsville, VT, 2006 VT Teacher of the Year

Before I secured my full time teaching position, I "subbed" for a year around the area I lived. I learned a ton, particularly in classroom management.

Now, I have been in teaching for over 17 years. The one thing I teach from day one is that teachers who have to fill in for me are guests in the classroom. They are not substitutes. Thus, they should be treated as guests.

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