Summer Substitute Series: Preparing Your Students

June 10, 2013

Preparing for a Substitute

Think back over the last school year. How many times were you absent? Teacher absences are usually unavoidable. Sometimes you need to attend a training session, you might be planning with your grade level, maybe little Tommy sneezed all over you and now you have a cold... the list goes on and on. Any way you slice it, you still need a substitute.

Substitute. To teachers this word means lots of extra planning, panic about your class' behavior, and all those other wonderful feelings you get when you're worried about your students and their learning. On the other, students usually view substitutes as an opportunity to get away with whatever they want. Yes, even your kindergarten babies know how to manipulate substitutes these days.

If you have ever been a substitute, you know that it is one of the toughest jobs you will ever have. Reasons for becoming a substitute vary, but if you're lucky often times your subs will being looking for a full time position or have taught before. This means a lot of subs have a basic knowledge of teaching practices and can handle the average class. (We'll talk more about preparing for the substitute over the next few weeks.)

However, today, we are here to talk about preparing your students. Do we mean that your students have some sort of responsibility even though you are not there? Absolutely. Students need to be taught how to behave and conduct the classroom while you are away. If you do not prepare your students, you will probably have a hard time finding a substitute who is willing to frequent your classroom.

Below are a few things you can do to prepare your students.

1. Explain to your students what a substitute does. Believe it or not, many students view substitutes as babysitters. Given this thought, students do not treat subs with the respect of a regular teacher. They manipulate, lie, and are disrespectful. It is your job to explain to the students that a substitute is a teaching professional. Substitutes are teachers (depending on your district they may even need to be certified) that deserve the same respect as any other teacher in the building. Students need to know that subs have been in classrooms before and know the ropes.

2. Set expectations for your students. Your expectations during your absence should be the same, if not higher for your students. You may need to give your students some consequences (both positive and negative) for an incentive to hold up their end of the bargain. Students need to be told that just because you are gone does not mean that school will just be fun and games that day. They will still be learning and participating in school like any other day.

3. Allow students to express their feelings. Unless it is the beginning of the year in Kindergarten, chances are your students have had experiences with substitutes before - some good, some bad. Take time for your students to share what they have liked/disliked about subs they had in the past. This will give you a better idea of where your students stand while their regular teacher is out of the classroom.

Every class, every student is different. We don't guarantee that talking to your students before you are absent is the key to everything, but it definitely could be beneficial. We encourage you to have this talk with your students at the beginning of the year and briefly remind them of the talk when you know you will be out for the day. At the very least, when you have those last minute emergencies, your students will have an idea of what you expect from them.

Have you prepared your students for substitutes in the past? We would love to hear what things you talk about with your students and if it has been helpful or not. See you in the comments!

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