I substituted for a year after I graduated from my teaching program, and it was the hardest thing I ever did. I was working in a district with 28 schools (my home district has 6) sprawled throughout eight cities. Everything was unpredictable. Most of the time, I had no idea where the school was, unless I had been there enough times to remember the side gate into the parking lot where I was not allowed to park. Sometimes, I got called to sub for the morning, then requested for an afternoon job at a school an hour away that started 45 minutes after the morning class ended, leaving me negative 15 minutes for lunch.
A sub’s life is frantic, so I implore teachers out there to be kind to subs, which basically means: Please leave instructions. Please. Subs want to be helpful (and sane). Having been in many classrooms where the kids had to teach me how to teach them, or I had to come up with my own lessons based on what the kids told me they were learning – here is, from a sub’s experience, how a teacher can get the most out of a substitute’s day’s work while keeping the sub sane:
1. Simplify. If there is something important or complex you were planning to teach on that day and you need to be out, don’t have us teach it, because the sub will not know what you want, and the kids will not get what you want out of it. There’s always the chance that you may get a fantastic master teacher who has taught this very lesson for 30 years (it could happen), but most likely not. Unless it’s absolutely necessary that the big lesson happens on that day, save it for when you can share it with the kids.
2. Bullet point. It’s much, much easier for a sub to read the lesson plan while teaching when it’s formatted vertically, versus giant paragraphs resembling a dissertation. We can easily check off what we’ve done and spot the next step.
3. Host. Have a conversation with the students the day before about expectations, being welcoming to a new person, and also appoint a few students who have shown responsibility during the week to be the sub’s helpers. This is also a good opportunity for students to try to earn this privilege, and it minimizes kids influencing each other to take advantage of the sub because there will always point people.
4. Routines. Tell the sub what the class’s routines and customs are, such as clapping 3 times to get their attention, or that everyone’s books need to be open to the right page before starting. This reduces chaos and gives the sub more authority in front of the kids.
5. Feedback. Leave a note at the end of the instructions asking the sub to write a few sentences of feedback about the day. I always did when I subbed anyway, pointing out the kids who showed exceptional effort and respect, and anything special that happened in the day. This way, you also get the sub’s name and can request him or her again if you feel it was a successful day. Good subs who know your class are hard to come by!