Monday, August 30, 2010

Emergency Lesson Plans

I don’t think the discussion about How To Make Substitute Lesson Plans is complete until a mention is made of Emergency Lesson Plans.  They are an essential element to proper lesson planning.  As a teacher, you never know when you’ll wake up and discover you need to take your child to the doctor, or some other serious scenario that you could not anticipate, prevents you from going to work the next day.  Even if your principal doesn’t require it, it’s always a good idea to do this.

My advice is to make emergency plans at the very beginning of the year, or even over the summer, and have enough plans to last a few days.  You probably won’t need them, but if you do, you won’t have to worry about your class.  Just make a note in your sub folder about where you keep the materials and lessons for emergency plans.

Keep in mind that emergency lessons are things that you would otherwise not cover during the school year.  Emergency lessons are only for emergencies.  You also want emergency lessons to still be substantive, not simply mindless worksheets that your class would finish quickly.  A little bit of planning and organization at the beginning of the year prevents any issues later on.

If you’re looking for emergency activities, some teachers opt to purchase from various sources.  I would suggest first looking on the net for free activities, and using reproducible books that you may already own or that you can borrow.

A Couple of Ideas for Emergency Lesson Plan Activities:

  •   Writing assignments/journaling are excellent activities for emergency plans.  Students could write a story, a response, an essay or a journal entry.  You can probably find hundreds of stand-alone journal prompts in books or on many websites.  Just select a few and offer your students a few for the lesson.  Also, writing assignments can usually be tacked to the end of whatever activity you’ve planned, whether it’s reading a story, reviewing an article or watching a movie.  Writing usually takes awhile for students to complete, so you get the same effect of assigning several worksheets without having to make copies.
  • Reader’s theater plays are also excellent for emergency plans (or any plans, really… I have a particular bias towards these plays).  What’s great about them is that they are pretty easy to find, they can be read in groups or by the entire class (cooperative learning), and they are pretty flexible when it comes to framing a lesson around them.  Simply have the class read the play and write or create something in response.  Reader’s theater plays are so popular that you can find them for most grade levels and for different subjects.   Here are some links to a few play scripts on the net.
  •    Films are good things to add to emergency plans.  You may have videos in your classroom already, or you could record some programs from PBS.  Use the film as a backdrop for a lesson by having students write a response.
  •    Classroom magazines also offer ample opportunities to be used in lessons and, again, they are convenient because you may already have them in your classroom.  Students could use old magazines to write responses, draw diagrams and graphic organizers, answer questions, etc.
  •    Picture books can be the basis of great plans.  Keep some of your favorites that you don’t plan on using during the year.  Picture books can be read easily by a sub and used to lead the lesson.  Picture book read-alouds work well even in higher grades, and you can create activities based on the stories.
  •    Teacher reproducible resources give a lot of good things you can use to make copies for emergency lessons.  They’re often packed with worksheets, lesson ideas, word lists and other activities.  You may have many to peruse through, and you can also borrow some from other teachers and your school’s library.
  •   Supplemental material in textbooks is one of the easiest and most accessible options.  There are probably several pages that you don’t plan on using in your textbooks.  Extra pages between chapters and units in the textbooks could give your students extra practice over the concepts.  Your teacher’s edition may have some notes about extension assignments for some of these materials.
  •   Review games are always a great addition to any lesson.  If your class has a favorite game to review spelling or vocabulary words, math skills or science and history facts, then consider it for your emergency plans.

The Caffeinated Teacher has a really good example of advance planning for a sub.  She has a sub tub (which I think is a good idea), and several lessons divided into labeled folders.  In the event that something happens, her class would have great lessons to work on until she returns.  That’s the goal!

As long as you keep a general procedure list in your emergency lesson plans, a substitute or any other staff member should have no issues with educating your students in your absence.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Top 5 Teaching Tips of the Week (August 30-September 5)

1.  Learn how an inexpensive item that’s probably already in your classroom could be useful in an even wider variety of activities thanks to Post-it's Teacher Site.  You can browse and see dozens of ways to use Post-It notes in your daily lessons.  Some of the more popular ideas are the Birthday Booklet, Classroom Stationary, and the Hidden Message Board.  Be sure to check Post-it's Bright Ideas for ways to use their other products for activities.  Also?  Coupons! 

2.   If you’re looking for a way to show students that science and technology are useful for many careers, try taking a peek at Packetville, an interactive game with many lesson plans and educational activities.  Designed for students age 8-14, the site helps make science even more engaging to students.  Girls can also be inspired by the particular praise female scientists are given on the site.  Visit the Educator's page to get ideas on how to implement activities.

3.   Learn how a game of musical chairs, glow in the dark paint, or even a parachute could help students with their spelling words in these fun review activities

4.   Looking for a way to spark journal writing?  Laura Gartung suggests Monthly Journal Bingo, which cleverly motivates students to complete daily journal entries.  Log in to TeachersPayTeachers and download the free instructions and a sample Bingo Board for the activity.  You can easily adapt this idea for the upper-grades, workstations, unit studies, and for different subjects.  (*Subs:  If you need a classroom activity, use this as a writing assignment.  Have students complete a “Bingo” row by responding to their prompt choices.)  

5.   Nutrition Explorations offers some great ways to teach various grade levels about nutrition and health.  The site has complete lesson plans and activities to help students make positive food choices. 

Find any good tips?  Let me know about them, and I'll be sure to credit you!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

How to Make Substitute Lesson Plans: A Checklist

Do everyone a favor:  if you’re a teacher and you know you’re going to be absent, make really clear and thorough lesson plans.  It will make for a less stressful day for your sub, and a more productive day for your students.  Impress your subs by how organized and thoughtful you are when you make lesson plans.

The main thing to remember is that you’re not creating these plans for yourself.  These plans are for a complete stranger who is unfamiliar with your classroom and your procedures.  Assume your substitute needs to be told everything in minute detail.  Often, they do!  It’s better to overplan than underplan.

Substitute plans can be divided into two sections:  general notes and specific plans.  It is helpful to have a labeled substitute folder or binder in which to keep both sections, and leave it in a highly visible place where a person entering the room can clearly see it.

Section 1:  General Notes-
This section usually requires the most thought.  This is the part of the lesson plan that provides a detailed description of the general classroom procedures and things the substitute should know.  This part will not change, except for a few amended notes you may add throughout the year, so you’ll only have to do it once.

For Section 1, simply think about how you would describe to a stranger how your classroom operates.  Essentially, that’s what sub plans are.  Type the description early on the in the school year, print it, and keep the general notes in your sub folder.  Have the general notes saved in a file so that you can print them again, if necessary.  Each time you have a sub, they will see the same notes in the sub folder.

The general notes are essential to a good lesson plan.  Even if you leave awesome specific plans, if you’re not clear on the classroom procedures, or leave important details out, it can still make a sub’s job difficult.

Make sure you have these things in your general notes:
  • ·      A seating chart.  Make sure you update it when you change the seating arrangements or get a new student.
  • ·      An attendance sheet.  Make sure it is up-to-date and that you include the attendance procedure.  Is the attendance due at a certain time?  Do you have a student assigned to take the attendance to the office?
  • ·      Your classroom discipline policyThis is paramount for your plans.  Always describe what a substitute should do if students present behavior problems.  Also, remember to include anything the substitute could use as leverage.  Is there an upcoming classroom party for which students earn points?  Did you warn the class that a poor report from the substitute would result in a loss of recess for the week?  How do you reward well-behaved students?  Mention that in the notes because it could prove very helpful for your substitute.
  • ·      A scheduleThis is particularly important for elementary school teachers who are in charge of getting their classes from place to place.  Be sure your sub knows important times of the day (lunch, recess, PE, switching class with another teacher, etc).  Make sure the sub knows what to do during those times.  Do they have lunch duty during their break period?  Are they supposed to leave the class with another teacher when it is time to go to music?  Be sure to include dismissal procedures as well, including what time students are to leave, whether the sub has to monitor students afterschool, etc.
  • ·      A school map.  It would be helpful if you highlighted staff restrooms, the teacher’s lounge and other important locations.  Assume your sub is new to the school.
  • ·      Emergency procedures in case of a drill (or a real emergency).  Most schools print fire and other safety drill instructions.  Leave a copy in your general notes.  The substitute should know what to do and where to go in the event of a real emergency.
  • ·      Phone numbers and room numbers of helpful staff.  If the sub needs the office, nurse, resource teacher or janitor, how can they reach them?  Leave numbers the sub can quickly call if they need help with something.  Are there other teachers or staff members who could be helpful?  List their numbers and locations.
  • ·      Office referrals, nurse passes and other important papers.  Unfortunately, your sub may need them.
  • ·      A list of who enters and leaves the classroom.  Do certain students leave during the reading lesson to go to a specialist?  Do some students switch to another class after lunch?  Does an inclusion teacher come in the morning for an hour?  Think about who enters and leaves the classroom, and give the substitute notice.  What time do students leave, and when should they be back?
  • ·      Important procedures.  This is when you will need to be the most precise and think about things from the perspective of a classroom visitor.  Think about what procedures would be important for a substitute to know.  You do not have to describe everything, but you do need to think about the important things, and be as clear as possible.  Some things to consider…

o   Think about things you’ve trained your class to do.  Do students have assigned jobs?  Do you have a specific rule about pencil sharpening, walking in the hallways, going to the restroom and getting water, etc?  Is there an activity for early finishers?  Is there a hall pass?  Do you have a signal for quiet?  What do you not allow the students to do?
o   Think about centers and workstations.  If you will have students using them, is there a specific rotation procedure the students have?  What are the rules for using the computer, using the classroom art supplies, working in groups, etc?
o   Think about your daily routines.  Do you let students lay on the floor during silent reading?  Does the class have an end-of-day procedure?  Should there be a clean-up time?  Do you lead the same morning activity at the beginning of class?  Describe these routines.
  • ·      Amended notesOver time, you may amend your general notes as things change and you learn more about your class.  These can simply be tips that would make things easier for your sub.  For instance…

o   Are two students not allowed to be near each other, or stand next to each other in line?
o   Is there something to be avoided that could make a particular student anxious?  This is especially important in the case of special needs students.  Some laws prohibit describing specific things about special needs students, but a general note about how “Joey should not be called on to read aloud” or “Allow Joey to hold the stuffed animal if he gets distracted” should not be a problem.
o   Who typically presents a behavior problem?  On what should the substitute keep a sharp eye?
o   Who is helpful or dependable?
  • ·      Feedback form, or a place to leave notes.  Encourage the sub to leave you a detailed list of what happened.  If you are looking for specific details, your best bet is to leave a pre-made form for them to fill out.

Part 2:  Specific Plans-
This is the section that changes each time you need a sub because these are the specific plans for the day.  This will take much less time to do if you have already made Section 1 and keep a copy of it available.

The specific lesson depends on whatever you want the class to do, but keep two things in mind:  your plans should be clear and thorough.  In general, overplanning is better than not planning enough.  You do not want your substitute to be forced to supplement your plans, or waste instructional time for your students.

A few things to consider…

  • ·      Overplan.  This is one of the most important parts of a lesson.  Overplan activities.  If the class does not finish everything, that’s much better than them having time wasted with nothing to do.   Activities often take less time to complete than they would if you were the one leading the lesson.  Can you add an extension to the reading activity?  Can you add a journal entry to the science assignment?  If you already have a procedure for what early finishers do, describe it for the sub.  Just add that students can work on these things if they have extra time.  You can also have extra work and worksheets in case the class finishes all their assignments early.  Do you have a place where you keep hands-on extension activities?  Is there a review game the class particularly likes?  Is there a project with an upcoming due date the students can work on?  Consider these when thinking of extra activities. Try not to suggest “silent reading,” if it can be helped, unless you know your class enjoys silent reading.
  • ·      Is there something for students to do right when they enter?  Allow the substitute to start off on the right foot.  Even if you don’t normally use warm-up activities, provide one for the sub.  Students should be seated and focused when the day begins, and a quick assignment helps accomplish that.  The class’ behavior for the entire day can hinge on the first few moments.
  • ·      Avoid phrases like “the class knows how to do it/the students know where it is/they know what to do/just ask [insert student name or other staff member not in the classroom] how to do this.”  Remember, clarity is key!  Do not assume the students would be helpful to a substitute, or that they could clearly articulate a procedure in your absence.  It is your responsibility to instruct the sub.  If the students are capable of explaining it, you are even more capable of quickly writing it.  Besides, what if your helpful student is absent?  What if the class does not want to help the sub?  Do not put the sub at a disadvantage by having them rely on the class to decipher your instructions.
  • ·      Avoid using acronyms and shorthand in your plans.  If you tell the sub to use the SRB, how will they know what you’re talking about?  Should they know what “G2 presents project” means?  How would a substitute know that you use “G2” as shorthand for “group 2”?  Remember, sub plans are made for a stranger, not yourself.  Be clear.  Subs should not have to ask your students for help reading your plans.  Also, make sure times are accurate and clearly visible in the plans.
  • ·      If you find yourself thinking a lesson plan is too complicated, it probably is.  Unless it is absolutely necessary for it to be done that day, try to avoid potentially confusing lesson plans.  It may not be that the material is too difficult for a sub, but the sub won’t have the advantage of prior preparation.  Is it something that must be done an absolute specific way?  Is it an arts and crafts activity that requires skill?  Is it a science experiment with many steps and supplies?  Is technology involved?  Does it involve something that could make a sub uncomfortable?  If you’re absent for one or two days, stick to review lessons rather than introducing brand new concepts.
  • ·      Avoid busyworkAssigning a day filled with busywork can cause almost as many problems as not having enough work.  Students can become restless, bored and rush through their work.  If your plans include too many worksheets or textbooks assignments, consider amending some activities to include cooperative learning and other techniques.  Can they play a vocabulary game instead of copying definitions?  Can the written assignment be replaced by an oral discussion?  Can the students use hands-on manipulatives to practice their math skills?
  • ·       If cooperative learning is part of the plan, make sure it is something students have practiced.  If it is an activity you’ve never done with students, save it for another day.  Try to stick to activities they have regularly practiced.  For instance, don’t schedule workstation rotations when students haven’t practiced the various activities or rotations in a long time.  Cooperative learning can be an excellent component of a plan, but it can erupt in chaos if students don’t know exactly what to do.
  • ·      Are all materials necessary for the plans available, easily visible and in order?  This includes worksheets, handouts, materials for games and activities, and whatever else you’ve included in the lesson plan.  The sub shouldn’t have to dig around in your cabinets and drawers looking for an activity’s supplies.  The sub shouldn’t have to send a student to make more copies.  Double-check to make sure you have enough copies of papers, everything is labeled and in order, and very easy for the sub to navigate.  If you’re relying on technology, can the sub handle everything, or would it be easier to make adjustments?  Have you left instructions about the projector, DVD player, Smartboard, computers, etc?  If the sub will need the teacher’s edition of a textbook, have it stacked neatly with pages and important notes marked with sticky notes.
  • ·      Did you leave answer keys?  This is especially important in upper-grade levels.  If you have some work for the class to check, leave a key.
  • ·      Have students already finished the activityMake sure you’re not leaving an assignment that the students have already completed, or almost completed.  If you have an hour-long math lesson which tells students to finish their math packet, and 20 hands shoot up to announce that they’ve already finished it, what is the sub supposed to do for the next hour?  Double-check and make sure the assignment that needs to be completed will up take the designated amount of time.  Assume time will be left over, and have more activities scheduled, just in case.
  • ·      What could go awry? This is another important question.  It is particularly relevant when the plans rely on unpredictable things.  Always have a backup activity available in the case of these events:

o   Going to another location, such as the library, computer lab, an assembly, etc.  There could be an unexpected scheduling conflict, and your class may not get to go.  What should they do if the hour-long assembly is cancelled at the last minute, or if there is another class in the library?
o   Having a presentation.  Is the counselor supposed to come to your class and give a self-esteem lesson?  Is a guest speaker scheduled to visit your class?  Is a group of students supposed to make a presentation?  What if these people do not show up, or schedules change?
o   Depending on technology.  If a lesson is stored using a technological program, what should happen if no one is able to get it working properly?  If students are supposed to go to the computer lab, what happens if there is a computer crash?  What if the DVD player stops working, or the CD player malfunctions?
  • ·      How can you hold students accountable if they are assigned to watch a movie?  Students often sleep or goof around when a movie is played, especially if they have a sub. Consider adding something for them to complete after viewing the movie, such as a quiz, or a worksheet that they fill-in as they watch the movie, or a written response.
  • ·      What should students turn in, take home, finish for homework, etc?  Be sure to tell the substitute exactly what students are expected to finish and turn in.  Some substitutes worry if they do not completely finish every item on the plans.  Let them know if some things can be finished later, or if it is a flexible plan.  If there is homework, state exactly what it is.

If you take these things into consideration and include them in your plans, I am willing to bet your subs will always be impressed by how well planned your instructions are!  I’ve had the pleasure of subbing for a few teachers with awesome plans, and it’s always a good reflection of their teaching habits.  It just seems to make the day run smoother!

Remember, you can’t control a lot of things that happen in your sub’s day.  A lot of the class behavior and unexpected incidents are beyond your control.

What is in your control is your sub lesson plan.  That one simple thing has the utmost importance for your sub’s workday.  Show you appreciate your sub and your class by making it a good plan!

Subs, is there anything I’m forgetting?  


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Substitute Lifesavers: How to Survive When You Don't Have Lesson Plans

Picture it:

Early one morning, you excitedly enter an elementary school.  You haven’t worked in the last couple of days, and you had become a little concerned about your next paycheck.  Around 6:00 am, you hopefully and groggily checked the substitute assignment system to see if there were any jobs available.  What luck!  A third grade assignment had been placed since you checked the system last night.

You arrive early, greet the secretary with a smile, sign in and head to the classroom.  “Today feels like a good day,” you think to yourself.

You enter the classroom, view a neat space and place your things down near the teacher’s desk.  You look around for the lesson plans.

Ruh roh!

You look everywhere.  On the teacher’s desk.  On the reading group table.  You even trek to the teacher’s box and see if there’s a sub folder there.  Nothing.

You look at the clock in a panic.  Ten minutes until the bell rings.  You realize, with horror, what this means:  what in the world are you going to do with thirty students for the next seven hours?

Suddenly, what appeared to be an auspicious day has quickly descended into the dark pits of your nightmares.

Chances are likely that if you sub long enough, you’ll encounter this scenario.  In some lucky districts, many subs can go for a long time without this occurrence.  In other districts, it’s much more commonplace for a substitute to be left with nothing.

The chances of this increase when you make yourself available for jobs posted at the last minute, when teachers probably didn’t realize until too late they wouldn’t be in to work that morning and, therefore, may not have left any plans.

One very large part of being a substitute is being flexible, and that includes being prepared for these situations.  Resist the urge to panic; there are ways to handle this situation with dignity and grace.  They’re called Lifesavers.

Lifesavers are particularly important to substitutes since we are dependent on whatever plans the teacher has left.  If you don’t have plans, then you’ll have to learn to think on your feet.  A teacher successfully leads a classroom by being prepared and taking control.  Revealing that you are not prepared means you are not in control of the classroom, and it will lead to a stressful day.

Students need to know their substitute teachers are in control.  They smell blood when they hear innocent questions from the sub like, “Well, what were you guys working on yesterday?”  Don’t ask.  You’re the teacher for the day, and if you have no idea what to do, you have to be good at faking it.  Even if you have lesson plans and something runs short, or a plan backfires (like going to the computer lab only to discover a scheduling error:  there’s a class already in there), you have to have something to fall back on quickly. 

I never leave students to their own devices.  You’d be surprised at how five or ten minutes of “nothing to do” can result in disaster.  The time-honored default activity in these situations (otherwise known as “read silently”) has its limitations:  students, especially the young ones, can only read silently for so long.  After about ten minutes, if you’re lucky, they will start to fidget, talk, draw on their desks, bother other students, etc.  Also, some students may not have books.  If you send them to the class library, they can create a mess on the shelves, play near the bookcase, not find a book they want to read, and so on.  In other words, I steer clear of the “silent reading” unless there are only a few minutes to fill, and the students actually want to read.

That begs the question that most substitutes have asked themselves at one time or another:  what do I do?  Well, that’s what I’ll address in this Lifesavers series.

First, however, let’s discuss a few things you can do to mitigate panic in these situations.

8 Things Substitutes Should Do When They Don’t Have Lesson Plans:
  1. Always assume you won’t have lesson plans, especially if you’re working a job posted that same morning.  If you assume you will get to work without a plan, you’ll prepare for the worst.  It’s likely you’ll have some sort of lesson or activity when you get there, even if it’s just bare-bones, so you’ll only have to rely on a few things you’ve brought with you, or maybe none at all.  But don’t get too complacent!  When I get lax and leave my extras at home or forget to print some, that’s just the day I’ll need them.  Remember, you can’t really anticipate not being prepared for a job, so always expect to need your backups.
  2. Research.  You’re not a full-time teacher, but you can still do research to improve your craft.  Research includes internet searches, professional books, talking to other subs and teachers, etc.  Just by visiting this blog, you’re doing research!  I get a wealth of ideas from books and things I see in classrooms I sub for the day.  I find quick classroom activities, and I take notes in a growing list of things I can use when needed.  My idea notebooks I take to school have a ton of activity ideas in them (most of which will be posted on this blog at some point, lucky you).  Steal ideas!  You may even purchase a few handy things and take them to work everyday, like math flashcards, a few interesting books and magazines, etc.  The tough part is subbing for different grade levels and needing to choose activities that are kind of flexible.  If you only have copies of some worksheets for first-graders, it won’t be useful for the day when you’re subbing for fifth-grade.  That’s why I usually focus on activities and games that can be modified to fit several age groups.  I save time, ink and paper by doing that. 
  3. Get to work early.  If you have time to spare, you will know that you have no lesson plans and can start with your backup ideas.  I try to get to work at least fifteen minutes before the class arrives.  Those few moments are precious!  Whenever I don’t see plans when I enter a classroom, the first thing I do is ask a neighboring teacher.  Sometimes, teachers leave their plans with another teacher, or email them at the last minute.  Usually, this is the explanation as to why I don’t have plans.  Other times, the school’s staff will know where the absent teacher keeps emergency lesson plans.  At the very least, 95% of the time, other teachers will be sympathetic towards you and do all they can to help.  They may have an idea of what this class has been working on and get some last-minute plans written up for you, and give you copies of worksheets for the class.
  4. Always have a warm-up activity ready for the beginning of class.  No matter what, don’t let students enter the room and not have something to do when they first arrive.  Several jobs I’ve had went sour from the very start because there was no clear activity for the students to begin, and so they stood around, talked, and played with their friends.  Students should not be chatting and wandering around aimlessly for the first five minutes.  Once a class starts off badly, it’s hard to regroup.  Get them seated and focused on an activity, even if they’re just waiting for the morning announcements.  Sometimes, students are so used to routine that they will begin whatever their warm-up usually is without any prompting from you.  Other times, they need to be told to work on.  If you must, write a few math problems, or sentences with grammatical errors to correct, on the board for the warm-up.  While they are working, use any spare minutes to continue planning your backup lesson.  Keep them busy.
  5. Learn to extend activities.  This is a skill I acquired on the job, and I think every teacher should be able to do it because it’s so useful, even when you have good plans!  Imagine that each assignment/activity is a soaking-wet sponge.  When you have time to fill, it’s essential to squeeze that sponge enough to so that each and every drop of water is released.  It’s not just for the sake of time; often, students need to approach an assignment from many different ways to strengthen their thinking skills.
  6. Learn the schedule for the class.  Whether you have lesson plans or not, you’re still responsible for making sure they get to art class at the right time, arrive punctually for lunch, and other things like that.  This is particularly important when subbing elementary because you usually have to escort them everywhere.  Teachers often have the general schedule posted somewhere in the room, outside their door or on their desk.  If you can’t find it, ask another teacher.  Older students will know most of their schedule, but ask another teacher just to make sure, especially if the school does not use bells.
  7.  Use what’s in the classroom.  I rely on whatever is in the classroom before I use my extras so I can save what I have for later, or I may not have to use it at all.  Look around.  You may find some clues as to what the class usually does with the teacher; if you see writing notebooks, or centers, or a word wall and other things, try to implement them into your makeshift lesson.  If you see textbooks around the room (or workbooks, classroom magazines, journals, etc) flip through and see if you can string together an assignment from them.  With textbooks, I like to use the supplemental pages that are generally at the end of the chapter.  (In math books, they are usually practice tests; in science, reading and social studies books, they are typically articles that tie-in to the chapter’s theme, but are not part of the chapter’s main content.)  This is because most teachers ignore those pages, so it’s likely that the class hasn’t already done them.
  8. This last one is optional, but I don’t ever tell students when I’m assigning them work their teacher did not assign.  I don’t make them aware that I don’t have any lesson plans, or that I’m giving them something extra (although I guess it would be ok if it was something like a game).  Why?  I suppose it’s a power thing.  Older students may become defiant and ask, “Well, if Mrs. Applebaum didn’t assign it, then why should we have to do it?”  I want to avoid that conversation, so I don’t let it come up.   Whatever extra work I have, I hand it out and assign it with the same adeptness as I would from the teacher’s lesson plans, so students are none the wiser.  Occasionally, if you have a really good class, they may freely let you know that they are actually supposed to work on something specific (they have a spelling test that day, or they’re supposed to keep working on a history project, for example), and then you can adjust what you planned.

My Lifesavers series will give you a full description of each activity, including some helpful tips for executing and modifying it, as well as some potential challenges.  If you know of anymore, tell me about them and I’ll give you full credit!

People call quick classroom activities Lifesavers because it can feel like you’re drowning if you aren’t prepared.  Subbing is tough enough even when you have perfect lesson plans.  Keep a list of Lifesavers in your arsenal to help your unpredictable days run a bit smoother.  


Substitute Teaching: How to Work More Consistently

This post was initially going to be about what a person considering substitute teaching should know, but I think there is enough discussion about that all around the internet.  What you don’t see as often are specific substitute teaching tips that get right to the heart of our paychecks:  how to work more consistently.

Few jobs are as precarious as that of substitute teaching.  Essentially, we’re underpaid day laborers whose work depends entirely on a number of factors we can’t control.  Substitute teacher pay is hardly enough to make a living, and low pay is compounded by not working very much.  Holidays and breaks don’t offer any money, and with the economy the way it is, many people are turning to substituting, which creates more competition in each district.  Many districts are in such financial straights now that their laid off teachers have been injected into the substitute pool, which means that many subs will have their workload, and paychecks, dramatically decreased.

With that said, there are a few things we can all do to work as consistently as possible.  Even if all those these tips don’t apply to your situation, I think a few would help us out:

  •      Research school districts.  Deciding where to work is a huge factor for substitutes.  When applying, do as much research as possible about surrounding districts and how consistently you would be able to work there.  Call the administration building and ask questions, such as how many teacher absences they have per year and if laid-off teachers have priority in the sub pool.  Go to the district website and see how many schools the district has.  Large districts mean more work opportunities, but more competition as well.  Working in multiple districts is a good idea, especially if you are not working in very large districts.
  •      Place few limits on what you’re willing to do.  This is a big one, and there are several things to consider.  Most subs have a preference for particular grade levels.  If your workload has decreased, open up yourself to more opportunities by accepting assignments for grade levels you generally avoid.  This also applies to schools where you’ve had bad experiences, areas you’ve shunned (such as PE, music, or even paraprofessional jobs), and especially assignments placed the morning of a job.  Expand the boundaries of your comfort zone, and try to be as prepared as possible for any job.
  •       Be an exceptional sub.  This is obvious, but probably the most important thing on this list.  Even being a “good” sub is not enough these days.  Go above and beyond what you normally do, even if you already have a great reputation as a sub.  What could you do to be even better?  Doing a great job on the jobs you have increases your chances of the same teacher requesting you again.
  •   Network.  This is also important.  Be friendly to the secretary when you sign in, administrators and all staff members you meet.  Greet them with a smile and introduce yourself.  Eat and chat in the teacher’s lounge, which is a great place to get new jobs from other teachers.  Make others notice how great you are with students, such as when you lead a class down the hallway in a quiet, orderly fashion, or when students wave and greet you when you return to their schools.  This impresses other teachers!  They may keep you in mind and specifically request you for jobs, if they can.

I hope these tips are able to help at least a few subs out there.  This year, I’m looking forward to improving on a few of these fronts myself. ;-)

Note:  If last-minute assignments posted the morning of a job cause you trepidation (as they did for me!), fear not!  Coming soon is a list of Lifesavers that are hopefully a big help to substitutes who walk into a class and discover they have no lesson plans.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Top 5 Teaching Tips of the Week (August 23-29)

1.  Looking for inexpensive center ideas, or quick classroom activities, that are easy to create?  Check out The Cornerstone’s economicaleasy and creative center ideas.

2.  FreeTech4Teachers gives you 11 ideas for integrating technology this year.

3.   Use this helpful flipbook to guide students in organizing their binders (from Mary Blow via  She also shows you how to turn this organization tool into an easy assignment for the first days of school.

4.   Check out this cool class project about pirates.  Wikispaces is a great way to make a collaborative project engaging to students.

5.   Give students a fun, imaginative science lesson about animal habitats in this PBSKids online activity.  Using the site’s drawing tool, students analyze and respond to a monthly challenge by designing a fictional creature's habitat.

Find any good tips?  Let me know about them, and I'll be sure to credit you!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Little Bit of Background...

Hi!  I just wanted to give a little bit of background info about myself, and my goals for this blog.

Who I Am:
As my bio states, I am a substitute teacher about to begin my third year in the classroom.  I am also working on my teacher certification.  Like many, I’ve been applying to different school districts for the last couple of years but, unfortunately, I’ve yet to get hired as a full-time teacher.

I haven’t given up hope, though!  I am genuinely excited to be in the classroom teaching everyday, so I know this is the career path for me.  I’m learning and growing each time I step into the classroom, and I’m convinced that it will pay off soon.

I suppose I should note that I intend to work in the elementary/middle school age in Reading and English Language Arts, and that tends to be my area of focus when I’m looking for teaching ideas.  I will, however, strive to be more inclusive on this blog.

Why I Started This Blog:
I chose to start a teaching blog because I wanted something with a lot of resources on it for people like me.  I love finding lesson plan ideas, stories about teaching, advice for teachers and education news.  I thought, “Why not blog about it?”

Inspired by Kauai Mark's relatable stories, I knew that substitutes everywhere have some of the most interesting work experiences of any career.  Every day is an adventure! 

You may be thinking, “Wait a minute.  Who does she think she is?  How can she give teacher advice when she’s just a sub with two years of experience?”

You’re right!  I’m no expert.  Not to sound incompetent, but I often make mistakes.  But I also approach substituting as a learning experience.  I reflect, take notes, and work actively to improve.  I receive tips from others and research effective teaching methods (such as  Kids Can't Read: What Teachers Can Do: A Guide for Teachers 6-12 ).  I can see that I’m ten times better in the classroom now than I was on my first day.

The best thing about subbing, in my opinion, is that I get the chance to visit tons of classrooms and see what works and what doesn’t.  I can glean so much about how a teacher runs a classroom just by spending the day with the students.  By doing this every day, at least a couple of hundred times now, I learn how classrooms operate effectively and what problems hinder learning.  I get to grab ideas from many classrooms instead of just a few.  It’s made me a better substitute and, eventually, I think it will make me a great full-time teacher.

This blog is called “Substitutes, FTW!” because I try to substitute “for the win” each day.  Perhaps I can help other substitutes do that, too.  This site, however, is not just for subs.  It’s for any teachers and educators looking for tips, stories and ideas.

This isn’t a one-sided thing, either.  I’m here to learn, too!  Comment and tell me what you think, what you’ve experienced and any ideas you have.

I’m new at this, but I’ve tentatively decided on 5 different sections for this blog:

·      Top 5 Teaching Tips of the Week
This is a quick list compiled of different teaching resources.  This will include websites, ideas, helpful forum and blog posts, etc.
·      Ain’t Misbehavin’:  Classroom Management
This section is for what I find that’s a good example of what to do, or what NOT to do, in order to manage the classroom and behavior.
·      Made of Awesome:  Lesson Plan Ideas and Classroom Activities
Cool lesson plan ideas and classroom activities are my favorite things about teaching.  I think they make education so much more rewarding for both students and teachers, so I take my quest to find good ideas very seriously.  Whether it’s an emergency lesson plan, a quick learning-review game, a book that can be used for a lesson, or whatever… I’m on the hunt, and I’m going to share it with you all.  Please note, this section will NOT provide actual lesson plans.  I am not going to type up objectives and all the aspects included in a lesson plan.  It takes a lot of time, and I also think the specificity lesson plans require would inhibit flexibility.  These are lesson plan ideas, not entire lesson plans.  I will provide the basic idea and resources, and you can create your own complete lesson plan around it however you think would be the most beneficial for you and your students’ particular needs.
·      Education in the Media
This section will include mostly education news, but don’t be surprised if you also find a mention of films or TV shows dealing with this topic.
·      My Workday
This is where I detail my own day-to-day triumphs and defeats as a substitute.

In an effort to preserve anonymity, I use a pseudonym for this blog and I change some key details about my work experiences.  Nevertheless, 99% of what I will describe about my workdays is true.

I plan to update regularly.

The new school year is here!  I hope everyone is prepared and excited.

2010-2011, FTW!


Coming soon:
·      Thinking About Subbing?  Here’s What You Should Know
·      How To Make Emergency Lesson Plans
·      Lifesavers for When You Don’t Have Lesson Plans!