Sub Plans – What about them?

Some days start out glorious, and go downhill from there.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about sub plans, the making of them and their delivery or not.  Way back in earlier times, before NCLB and benchmark exams, when I had to have a sub I would often leave a movie that somehow pertained to what we had been studying.  I’d make a graphic organizer that asked the students to identify character, setting, main events, with maybe some sort of a reflection or comparison at the end.  I didn’t really worry about having the sub continue with the thread I had started other than that.  The students could watch the movie, yet be held accountable for something without expecting much from the substitute.

In recent years, I’ve changed my ways.  I leave thorough sub plans that involve the sub actually teaching something.  Or if not teaching, at least guiding the students through whatever it is I’ve left for them to do.  I seem to have forgotten the way of substitute teachers, and my students in relation to them.  It’s really more about my students than the subs, I suppose.  They go bonkers when I’m not there.  At times they go bonkers when I am there, but not as much as when I’m gone.  They just lose their balance when I leave, it seems.  So I come back to a classroom that is kind of torn apart and work that is not done because apparently no one understood what to do.  I usually find notes from the sub, covered with names of who was sent to another teacher’s classroom, explanations of work not done because how could anyone get them to do anything the way they act, and occasionally a name or two of the kids who behaved well, but mostly not those because there aren’t many of them.

Then the aftermath unfolds.  They spend at least one day after I’ve been gone acting out.  Showing me how they behaved for the sub.  Punishing me for leaving them.  Telling me in great detail about how mean that sub was and asking why I didn’t just get that one who plays the guitar.  They like that one.  Sometimes I want to shout, “Hey! It’s me!  I’m not a sub!”  Except, hello? They should not be treating a sub that way and I should not expect them to, except that…well, they just do.  I feel like slinking around campus for a day or two after I’ve come back, in case their sub is on campus again, or in case (Oh, please no!!) my colleagues were forced to cover for me on their prep periods.  Oh the humiliation of that.  Except they also teach the same kids, so they sort of get it, except the eighth grade math teacher who is used to teaching college and hasn’t actually taught seventh graders before.   They’re terrified of him.  Pity these guys when they find themselves in his Math class next year!  Payback!  I can hardly wait.

Have I created completely codependent little monsters?  It seems that way sometimes.  Or maybe I’m just expecting too much.  When I’m going to be out, I tell the students that I’ll be gone, why I’ll be gone and what I’ll be leaving them to do.  I bring them in as co-conspirators, sort of.  Except, well, you’ve already read how well that works. Not at all, really.  I can’t imagine coming in as a substitute teacher and trying to teach a lesson to thirty-one unknown twelve-year-olds who think I’m mean or stupid or funny looking or all of the above.  Why should they buy into me, and do what I say?  It takes time to bond and build a rapport. So what’s the answer?  Just stay at school?  That’s my best answer, of course.  But what about the days that I have to be gone?  When I’m sick or have to be at some really scintillating mandatory meeting?  There are always going to be days when I have to be out of the classroom.  I hate wasting a really good lesson plan on one of those days, knowing that it will not be really completed, yet won’t be fresh enough to reuse it when I return.  So therein lies my dilemma.  I have to be out next Wednesday, which is why I’m pondering the subject.  I’m considering a return to the movies.

What do you do about sub plans?  I would really like to know.


12 thoughts on “Sub Plans – What about them?

  1. dkzody says:

    Oh, please, no movies. The teachers who are still there, teaching, hate that. The kids don’t watch the movie, but rather act out in the dark while it plays then they go to the next class, all hyped up to misbehave. The sub sits at a desk, usually reading or on the computer. I’ve seen this so many times when I’ve had to track down a student in someone else’s room. Actually, I probably should write a piece about what I would see when out looking for a student to get information. That’s when I learned which teachers were really good and which ones were really bad. But, getting back to what you are saying…

    Perhaps middle school kids are different, but I worked very hard to get my high school kids to behave very well while I was away. Subs wanted to return to my class because the kids were so good. I would talk for a few days (you have two) about expectations but also what would happen when I returned. Any student whose name of left behind would have their parent called, and I usually required a parent conference after these incidents. Word got around that Mrs. Zody meant business and they better behave with a sub.

    I also gave a grade for that day, depending on what kind of work they did. I just called the grade “work grade.” If a student was legitimately absent, I gave them the points (usually a minor amount) because there was no way to make up the grade. I would explain to students that this was like a workplace, and if the boss (me) has to be gone, they should carry on with the work necessary for the job to get done. Most of the time my students were in the middle of a big project with massive amounts of work to do so it was no problem.

    When it was a problem, though, was during the spring, in yearbook class, when the yearbook was finished, and students really had no work to do. I allowed them to work on other classes, and they often goofed off when a sub came, but they were old enough to behave well. Junior high kids are just so squirrely, I don’t know how they would do with such a loose lesson plan.

    Having a really good sub also helps. I always loved it when my students said the sub was mean.

    • lynnjake says:

      Thanks for the long comment Delaine. You make some good points. I like the idea of calling parents of the misbehavers, and the grade for the day is an interesting idea as well. When I taught high school I had no problems with my students and subs. My technique of bringing them into the equation, telling them where I was going and what they were going to do and trying to get the right sub nearly always worked. With middle school it almost never has worked. I have had a sub or two that they liked, and it helps to get the same one every time. Unfortunately, the really good ones get hired long term or full time. It really is a dilemma. I leave good lesson plans that I think they will enjoy, or worksheets that will just take time or a combination of the two, and neither has been very effective. One thing that makes it hard is the English classes are blocked, so they are there for two hours. It’s tricky to come up with a lesson plan that will take that long for a sub. I find the most difficult part about teaching middle school is the constant need for behavior management. It’s so easy to lose the kids, and once lost they can be difficult to get back on task, especially if you don’t know them.

  2. Myra says:

    I have a system that I’ve used consistently with my students: I always write my subplans on overhead projector sheets for my sub to read along with the class so that he/she AND my students are held accountable to get the same info at the same time. It minimizes that “he said, she said” confusion.
    I’ve got a great and challenging workbook that my students have used aplenty, and whatever pages I want done I also copy onto overhead sheets so that the sub can later review answers with the kids during peer-correcting. This ensures that the sub has SOME responsible interaction with the kids, something that forces them to assert some authority (so they’re not just some babysitter).
    After I feel my students have gotten a pretty good grasp on the concept we just studied, I don’t announce I’ll be gone; instead I tell them this: “I don’t care if your sub is a MONKEY! Here is what I expect from you tomorrow…” (After a few times of this, the students had caught on that this meant I’d be gone. In the background this is when I’d hear muttered cheers and jeers and some would even chime in with me.)
    I try to make sure that the work they do is a good long mix of easy, intermediate, and challenging. I also tell they kids that they’re worth more points than normal and that a quiz would follow on the day I get back.
    Once I’d conditioned my students to this “system”, subplans have been been predictable and thus…easy. 🙂

    • lynnjake says:

      Thanks, Myra. I really appreciate your chiming in here. this sounds like an effective procedure. I am going to try something like it this week, at least a beginning of it. It sounds like it takes some repetition for them to get what they are expected to do, but I like the shared accountability. I’ll let you know what I actually do!

  3. Danny Boy says:

    What do you really want accomplished when you return? Do you want everything intact? Do you want anger? Do you want great reports? (good luck). Do you want students to be glad you’re back? Do you want all your buds to tell you how great your kids were and they wish they were you? Do you want the sub to go to the sub convention and sing your praises or ugh your ughs? Movies are definitely the wrong move in every instance; they tell the kids, sub and fellow teachers that you don’t care. Unfortunately, the best you can do IMO is to prepare the kids to receive a written assignment which allows all of them to respond which serves as a benchmark assessment. Stress the importance of finished product, completion, and neatness and that it is a forty-five minute assignment that will be returned within 48 hours with a grade that is nonassailable; can’t be made up, improved, turned in late. Either you sweat on the prep end or the receiving end BUT you will sweat.

  4. lynnjake says:

    Thanks Danny. What I want when I come back is to find that the students have completed the lesson plan I left, and that we can move on through the lesson or unit we are studying. I try to leave work that is pertinent and interesting. I just am so frustrated when I hear that the students acted out, did no work, cut class and so on. I like the idea of giving them an assignment which may not be made up. I think my big issue has been that I put so much effort into making sub plans which are doable, challenging, on track with what we are doing to try for somewhat seamless continuity, and it so seldom works out that I get discouraged. I think the 100 minute class periods add to the challenge. I will definitely try some of these ideas this week and will report back next week. Thanks again for your challenge and your good ideas.

  5. Maribel Cachu says:

    I personally feel that because you know how your students are, unless you know for sure who the sub will be or if they have the “swag” to actually teach young teenagers…. Leave at least they will both know what s expected. It is sad than many substitute do not know how to do class management… But its a reality… As one of the students who actually tried to help your subs, I thought it was better for them ( again depending on the sub) and us who actually wanted to learn, to watch a movie and think about the.connection than spend an hr hearing the stupid kids trying to play pranks on the sub…..

  6. lynnjake says:

    You make good points as well, Mari. And you are speaking from the voice of experience! I’m actually looking forward to having a sub this week, just to see what I do to prepare for the day!

  7. Aaron the Ogre says:

    As a sub, I love the opportunity to teach. I also love thorough lesson plans and hate movies. The only problems is many subs don’t like either.

    I teach middles school and high school students and have found that the classes where the teacher posts on the board, with the students on an overhead or Promethian and/or informs the parents of the lesson plan the class goes better.

    The students are going to act out. I make it clear to the classes I sub that they are taking a risk, because I am going to turn-in all class work and the short quiz based on today’s lecture, activity or film (I make one up if one is not provided). I let them know I don’t care f they fail to do the work, but that their teacher will.

    I rarely have problems, but many subs are not willing to be professional. Be clear to the students what is expected and make sure the same plan and expectation is shared with the sub.

    • lynnjake says:

      Thanks for the input, Aaron. I will definitely take your comments into consideration when I make my plans this week. I’ll post about what happens next Friday. Thanks for reading!

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