I’ve heard it said that an American businessman measures success by the fact that his company cannot function in his absence. However, a Dutch businessman assesses achievement by the fact that his company operates perfectly in his absence.
So, where does that leave teachers? It’s really tough to have classes carry on without you during an absence. As any teacher knows, preparing for a substitute is grueling and so much more time consuming than just being there. I’ve decided to record some of the ideas I have for successful substitution plans, at least for secondary school.
How to Pre-arrange for a Substitute
- Plan a lesson, preferably an open ended activity that will last beyond the allotted time. You don’t want the students to announce to the substitute, “I’m done. Now what do I do?”
- Make sure the lesson plan can be facilitated by someone who doesn’t specialize in your area (i.e. for me, Science). So, I definitely can’t plan a lab while I’m gone.
- If you can plan a summative assessment, that works well.
- Write out the details, being explicit as possible.
- If you have a web site, put everything on the web site so that the students can self-guide themselves.
- For multiple classes, place the outline and any handouts in color coded “folders” (I just use a folded piece of A3 construction paper) with instructions written on the outside of the folder with the class name, date, and time of the class listed on the folder.
- Clear off your desk and leave all instruction folders in the center.
- I usually also try to unclutter the room a bit but that’s probably not necessary.
If you have an unexpected absence i.e. due to illness or emergency
- At our school we have submitted “emergency” plans to the Principal so if there is an emergency, there are at least three lesson plans for every class. I have provided a list of web sites with cool science articles and students can select from the articles and report on them. For IB students I have them study the IB manual or review command terms. I have lots of laminate cards for review activities that can be used at any time.
- However, with my web site, I can usually keep progressing with the lesson plan, with modifications to adjust for a non-science teacher in the classroom. The students are familiar with my web site and are comfortable taking instruction and lesson plans from it. I can easily link to web sites or upload documents for them to work from.
No matter how well you prepare, no matter how clear you think the instructions are, don’t be disappointed if things don’t quite go as planned. While I was away last week, it took my 6th graders an entire double block to finish the reflections on the Science Fair. What was there to show for it? Single sentence responses! Seriously? It took a double block to produce that? Oh well. The IB students, on the other hand, accomplished everything outlined for them.
Thus, in contrast to American standards, the Dutch business standards would suggest that I am failing with 6th graders while I’m triumphant with IB students. I'd like to think that the relative accomplishments are actually more a function of the different age groups represented in the two classes. In both cases, however, I’m happy for any progress made during my absence.
Does anyone else have any good ideas for substitution plans?