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sub wisdom . . . sorta
thursday, december 16, 2004

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holidailies 2004

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there seems to be two kinds of teachers i get to sub for: the prepared teacher and the, well, unprepared teacher. granted, there are those who manage to fall in between these two, but most end up up closer to one to the other - usually way closer (which is to say, there are very few who are middle ground).

prepared teachers are wonderful to work for. they have all the basics in one place - usually in a binder - out in the open and in easy reach. the basics include emergency plans, roll sheets, seating charts (although i've found these are really only useful if i'm going to be in a class with the same kids more than a day or two), notes on which students leave the room for "pull out programs," referral or discipline slips, and so on - basic, how to run the class kind of stuff. the best prepared teachers include a general, complete schedule so i know when and where they have hall or bus duty and lunch. the really aware teachers also include things that a sub new to the school would have no clue about, like the location of the teacher rest rooms.

most teachers have lesson plans (i've only experienced one class where that wasn't really the case, and even she had something), but the best teachers are very specific. they tell you what is due when, where you can find supplies you might need (which they've left out in a clearly visible, uncluttered space), given very specific instructions for each task, and include optional, extra activities in case the kids make it through everything for the day. they also give you a little leeway as a sub - letting you adjust a due date, for instance, dependent on how the students behave for you. and they let you know of any special treats they give their classes, and just under what circumstances the class gets them (i cannot tell you how many times a class has asked for a treat saying that the teacher "always" gives it to them, but i have nothing in my sub plans that even mentions it).

these teachers make working for them easy. they may have you give a test, do some actual teaching, or just have you keep an eye on the kids while working, but everything is pretty clear-cut. everything from the emergency plans to the panic button is easily found, and the schedule and the work for the day are specific and complete and reasonably detailed. there's little to no guesswork, which is wonderful if you're a sub like me who tries to follow precisely what the teacher has down in his or her plans. their rooms aren't necessarily neat (and more than a few come frighteningly close to my daughters' room in terms of neatness . . . which is to say it's a minor disaster only with floor space), but the sub stuff is all in one place, clearly marked, easily found, and detailed enough that there are very few questions the sub can't answer.

i don't mind doing "teacher stuff" (versus "baby-sitter stuff") for these teachers, either. heck, i don't even mind giving tests for these teachers. and that's because their sub stuff is so well put together, there is little room for misunderstanding. i know exactly what that teacher wants. even high school classes, where the kids tend to be the ones with attitude and taller than me, can be pretty pleasant to sub at when a teacher has made it so easy. these are the teachers who get thank you's for having me and an "invitation" to call on me again. even if the kids themselves were unpleasant (not wildly out of control, but needing a firmer hand and a more watchful eye than usual unpleasant), i'll generally let them know they are free to ask me to sub again. i figure those kids know me now and how strict i can be, so they are less likely to give me as much trouble when i come back. it's the out of control, rude, multiple problem students classrooms i can't return to even with the best plans (and i've only had one class that bad so far).

on the other end of the teacher spectrum is the unprepared teacher. for these teachers, it doesn't matter how neat the class is, you can't find the sub stuff. you may have lesson plans in the middle of the teacher's desk, but not much beyond that. the emergency folder is usually in a packet by the door, but all it holds are evacuation plans (which are important, dont get me wrong, but have you ever tried to manage a classroom without a roll sheet to even know the kids names?). sometimes these teachers have the handouts neatly stacked nearby, other times you have to dig for them, and still other times some poor person from the office is frantically trying to make you enough copies before class.

the worst of the ill prepared teachers have lesson plans so vague you can drive a mac truck through the holes or hear the questions before you'll be getting before the day even begins. it's not that they leave the sub to create a lesson plan - that would be easy. it's that they obviously have stuff they want done, but didn't leave a clue on how they want it done (which, granted, is a non-issue for worksheets, but a lot of teachers don't use worksheets except as a last resort, which is a good thing . . . unless you're a sub trying to make heads or tails of the lesson plans). the sub then muddles through the day hoping she's doing the lesson the way the teacher had in mind. for me, this is a very insecure feeling - not because i can't come up with a way to get through the plans, but because i want the teacher to be happy and not to feel they have to do the lesson all over again "correctly."

all of this has me thinking about the things i need to do for my subs once i get the provisional certificate and start teaching full time. i'm an organization freak (even if you couldn't tell that by my desk right now), and this experience is only making it clearer what subs need to handle a class as smoothly as possible. everything needs to go into a very clearly marked binder that's easily found - it should probably always be out on the desk or something since there will be surprise sick days (there's a really nasty bug going around the schools right now that's laying quite a few teachers low unexpectedly). inside this should go: a school bell schedule; my own personal class schedule which clearly indicates when, where, and how of any bus or hall duty i may have and when lunch is and how it's handled; rosters with a seating chart for each class (just because i don't find it useful doesn't mean another sub won't) and a list of "pull out" students for each class plus a list of student helpers; a list of classroom rules; how discipline is handled; what rewards are given when, how, and why; the names and locations of teachers who can be gone to for help that doesn't require the use of the dreaded panic button; and the emergency plans (with another set in the folder by the door). in the front pocket can go the lesson plans, in the back pocket can go the referral/discipline slips.

i suppose the key is to try to look at what you have for a sub as if you've never been in the classroom and never been to the school before and have no idea what this teacher wants or how s/he manages the class or teaches. and to take what you perceive as "common sense" out of it because what you think is obvious probably isn't for a sub who's never been in the classroom before. and even if it is obvious, the more detail provided, the easier the day will go for the sub and the kids. as long as the teacher makes the class routine as clear as possible, the students will get jarred as little as possible. less disruption = more learning (hopefully).

besides, i'm sure teachers like getting notes that say, "hey! thanks for having me!" and "feel free to request me again!" i know not all subs leave notes on the day went like i do (but they should!), but those that do help the teacher improve that experience for the next person. i think that's the best kind of "sub wisdom" a teacher could have.

on a side note, i wish teachers who have snacks in their rooms would lock them up at night or put them up high where kids can't get into them without alerting the sub. it makes it difficult on a sub if the snacks are easily accessible and in a place that's difficult to monitor. *grumble*

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ring/clique/fl of the moment:
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word of the moment: definitive

serving to supply a final answer, solution, or evaluation and to end an unsettled unresolved condition; fixed and unalterable in opinion or judgment; most authoritative, reliable, and complete usually with the implication of final and perfected completeness or precision -- used of research, scholarship, or criticism especially of a biographical or historical study or of a text or edition of a literary work or author; serving to define or specify precisely; distinguishing; exact, express, and clearly defined; real, actual, and positive; definite; complete; fully developed; final; issued as a regular stamp for the country or territory in which it is to be used


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