One of the schools at which I substitute has a very interesting and unique construct in place. While the class sizes border on the "too large" end of the spectrum, the class is presided over by two teachers who split the class into smaller, ability-based groups for math and language arts instruction and then split the planning and instruction of social studies and science. The school runs an extended day program, so one teacher arrives early and leaves at 3:30, the other arrives an hour later and stays until 4:30. This affords more prep periods in their day, too. I'm definitely intrigued. A benefit of that situation is that I am rarely far from a teacher who knows the students well when I substitute in one of their classrooms. This has a tremendous effect on student behavior and usually helps ensure a nice environment for a substitute. Another benefit of that? I get observed by a full-time certified teacher every time I sub. I hadn't put too much thought into that until, at the end of a recent assignment, my co-teacher-for-the-day asked me if there was any way she could "review" my teaching.
Huh. I hadn't thought of that. But it's a really great idea. Here was this terrifically talented professional educator wanting to formally codify my teaching abilities and I was empty-handed. Never again, I decided! I have tons of written observations/evaluations from my time spent in classrooms in South Carolina, but as I consider pursuing full-time employment again, I have relatively little to show for the time I've spent in Oregon classrooms the last few months, despite having received plenty of positive verbal feedback. As I pondered that, I really got to thinking how unfortunate this situation would be if I were a pre-service teacher substituting until a full-time job came along (Hello, fellow December graduates! I'm talking about you!).
To fill the void, I created a document I'm calling "Permanent Staff Member Reflections on Substitute Teacher Performance." For those of you with experience with such things, it can be an "Observation" or an "Evaluation," but I also recognize that those terms have certain connotations with particular districts or unions, so I chose not to put them in writing on this document. Anyway, it's a printable that you can ask any member of a school's staff (co-teacher, permanent classroom teacher, paraprofessional, administrator, administrative professional, etc.) to fill out in order to amass some data on yourself. Feel free to make your own if you don't want to buy mine (here), but consider keeping a few in your sub bag. It's a great way to showcase your professionalism to a prospective employer and a terrific way to collect feedback you can immediately use to inform your practice.
To celebrate my birthday week, from now until 2/29, my Fill-in-the-Blank Sub Plans are free over on TeachersPayTeachers. Check them out here!
More than half of the teachers I've subbed for have overestimated the likelihood that their students will apply the hard-earned, relationship-based respect they themselves enjoy to me. In order to be effective, I've put together some strategies that work in concert with the routines already in place in the classroom.
Sometimes a teacher will leave me instructions about a signal she uses to quiet her class. In that event, I always try using it first. It might be a "quiet coyote" hand gesture, a rhyme ("One, two, three, eyes on me," "One, two, eyes on you!"), or some sort of chime. If it works, great! If not, though, I start using the countdown method. Depending on how much stuff they need to put away, how far away they are from their seats, and how quiet the room is to begin with, I'll countdown from 10, 5, or 3 (whatever I think they need to be successful). They should be quiet by the time I get to "zero" (unless I've given them instructions about cleaning up and returning to their seats--in that case, they shoud do all those things AND get quiet by the time I get to "zero"). If there is a chime or hand signal, I use it, too. If they haven't gotten quiet by zero, I keep counting into negative numbers. I keep track of the negative numbers on the board and teach a mini-lesson about negative number addition just before lunch/recess/dismissal (only if all students walk home!). With one class, the total was -37! We sit with our heads down for whatever that total number of seconds is and are late to lunch/recess/dismissal by that amount of time.
Some caveats? Under no circumstances should a student miss the bus home because of this strategy. If the school in which you're subbing doesn't allow recess to be taken away from students in whole or in part, you'll have to come up with another plan, too. Be aware of who you might be inadvertently affecting, also. If the lunch schedule "rolls" (meaning that each homeroom starts lunch at their own time--Mr. Aungst starts at 11:15, Ms. Seibert starts at 11:20, and Ms. Rearick starts at 11:25, for example), then you may be putting undue strain on the cafeteria workers and the teacher and class that follow yours. If that seems to be the case, check with those people in advance to assess how inconvenient this system might be for them. In my experience, though, the average length of the lunch line and/or other staff's desire for a substitute to have a good experience usually make this a realistic and supported strategy. Sometimes this works great before lunch/recess, but not so well afterward (let's face it, most kids have a bus to catch, making this a less viable option for the afternoon). After paying me back the seconds they took from me before recess, usually kids do a better job of getting quiet by zero in the second half of the day. In other classes, one student will screech, "She'll tell Ms. Smith to take us late to recess tomorrow!" In those cases, you probably don't even have to ask Ms. Smith to follow through. Usually just the idea that she might is enough to deter the students. Also? Pay attention to who the offenders are that are causing you to count into negative numbers. If it is just one or two students, take away their Crewe Cash (see below!) instead of holding the whole group responsible.
Individual Behavior Accountability
Some classes have systems in place to help students monitor their own behavior. Consequences might include flipping a card or moving a clip on a chart. If that is the case in the room in which you're subbing, great! You might just be in for an easy day! However, some teachers only acknowledge the behavior of small groups or the whole group. I wholeheartedly disagree with this strategy. I vehemently oppose holding a group totally responsible for the actions of a few without providing any sort of recognition for those students who make good choices. In other instances, there's a system in place, but no information about it in the sub notes.
If I can't determine an in-place system for acknowledging individual behavior in the classroom I'm joining for the day, I use a Crewe Cash* system. Each student gets two Crewe Cash tickets first thing in the morning. They must write first and last names on both tickets. These tickets can be actual tickets, a small computer-generated coupon, or just a difficult-to-counterfeit piece of paper (I usually chop up any colored paper I find in a recycling bin into rectangles of about 1.5"x2". In a pinch, I use notebook paper or white copy paper and draw some squiggles with a pen or marker I brought from home that doesn't seem to match any of the supplies in the classroom before chopping the paper up. If all else fails, use common paper and chop, but sign your initials to each one before passing them out). Students are told to leave them out in plain sight all day long (bonus? They work as a nametag since kids have them out on their desk all day!). Then I figure out a way to make the tickets work with whatever the teacher has in place. See examples below. When I catch kids being good, I toss another ticket on their pile or hand them one for walking quietly in the hallway. When students misbehave, though, I give them a verbal warning the first time, but start wordlessly taking away tickets for each subsequent misbehavior.
Classroom A: Teacher has a system of team points and the school participates in PBIS. At the end of the day, each student who has ANY Crewe Cash leftover gets a school PBIS token. If everyone in a team has tickets, they total them and the team gets that number of team points for the day, if the teacher seems to give team points lavishly. If team points seem to be hard to come by, you might want to promise to award the team the average number of Crewe Cash per kid. If any member of the team has lost all their tickets, the team gets zero team points for the day (but the kids with tickets still get a PBIS token).
Classroom B: Teacher has a system of class points and the school participates in PBIS. At the end of the day, each student who has ANY Crewe Cash leftover gets a school PBIS token. We total the number of Crewe Cash for the whole class and average it by dividing by the number of students in the room and the class gets that many class points for the day.
Classroom C: Teacher has no classroom point system. School participates in PBIS. At the end of the day, each student who has ANY Crewe Cash leftover gets a school PBIS token. Consider giving a prize or a second PBIS token to the student with the most Crewe Cash or doing a drawing with all the Crewe Cash tickets students amassed throughout the day (they have names on them, remember!).
Classroom D: No classroom- or school-based rewards system in place. At the end of the day, all the tickets go into a drawing and you provide a small prize for the winner(s).
Classroom E: Teacher has a classroom- or team-based points system, but students trade classes and you can't figure out how he reconciles the behavior system with the switching of classes. Every student--even those who aren't in your homeroom--gets two Crewe Cash when he/she enters the classroom. If students rotate out of your room before the end of the day, they turn in their Crewe Cash. At the end of the day, put all the (positive) Crewe Cash into a drawing for a small prize. If you have to hunt down the winner because they're somewhere else, do it!
No matter which system you choose (or if you invent your own), be sure to explain the ins and outs to students at the beginning of the day.
Another perk of this system is the fact that, at the end of the day, you have a pile of tickets to help you remember who to write about in your end-of-day notes. If there was a student who lost their tickets, you'll have no problem remembering their name! If a student was exceptionally helpful, you can go back through your other ticket pile and remember to write a nice note about the kid who earned 6! Just be sure to keep the two piles separate!
Students who make good choices get something. It might be a school token, it might be a chance at a prize, but they don't just have to settle for the same consequences as those students who made poor choices. If students make poor choices beyond the number of tickets they have, you can use that as a stepping stone to other consequences. If you feel it would be supported in the school you're in, you can start tallying negative Crewe Cash on the board or on a clipboard you carry with you. An example consequence? Each negative Crewe Cash equals one minute off of the individual student's recess. You could have a discussion when you take away the second ticket like, "I will be keeping track of the additional tickets you lose. If that number is greater than five, you'll have to eat lunch by yourself. Keep in mind that you can earn tickets back, though, if you start making good choices." You may have to set a number that would equal an office referral.
In any event, you'll have a temporary economy you can use to discuss rewards and consequences. It helps homeroom teachers gauge degrees of compliance, too, if you can tell him/her that most students ended the day with three, Blair had 6, and Susie had -12. Do be sure to keep in mind any information the teacher gave you regarding IEPs, 504s, or other situations that might influence a student's ability to earn/keep Crewe Cash. Certainly don't use this system INSTEAD of any individualized behavior plan that certain students use that might be an accommodation of their IEP/504.
What has worked for you? Would you share your best tips in the Comments below?
*Obviously, I don't expect you to call yours Crewe Cash! It's just easier to differentiate between "my" tickets and PBIS tokens if I have an official name by which to call them!
Speaking of PBIS Tokens--if you often find yourself subbing at schools that use PBIS tokens, but you can never seem to find any, check these out!
Planning for a substitute is one of the most grueling tasks an educator faces. My sister is a physical therapist. I tried to explain it to her like this: imagine if you had to write down every single thing you wanted done while you were gone so that a person who may or may not have a degree or experience in your field could follow along. You couldn't just write, "Ask the 9:15 patient to do 15 minutes on the arm bike and then do wall wipes." You would have to say, "The arm bike is the third piece of machinery in the second row by the windows. Tell the 9:15 patient to sit down at it. Press the button with the minus inside the circle. It should turn green. Press the up arrow next to the display until it reads 7. Set a timer for 15 minutes (should be velcro-ed to the side of the display). Tell the patient to begin and start the timer. He did level 6 during his last visit, so if he struggles, tell him that he can drop the level back down to 6 if necessary. When finished, walk him over to the wall between the display of colorful, wide rubber-band-looking things and the bathroom door. Tell the patient to stand facing the wall and to extend his left hand above his head and place it on the wall. Tell the patient to glide his hand in an arc along the wall to the right until his arm is parallel to the floor. Tell him to arc his arm all the way to the left until it is parallel to the floor. Ask the patient to repeat 20 times (arcing from center to right, back through center to left and back to center counts as one "time"). The left side will likley cause him pain. It is important that he continue all the way until his arm is parallel to the floor, so please be encouraging if he encounters pain. If he doesn't continue all the way to the left, please leave me a note explaining his maximum range of motion after 10 reps so that I can plan a new exercise for next time, if necessary." And you would have to type it in advance, for every patient you see all day, from home, from memory (oh gosh! What if the arm bike is the fourth piece of machinery and you remembered wrong?! Your patient might be stair-climbing instead!), often while sick. It sucks. I know it, every classroom teacher knows it, and every sub knows it.
But do you know what's worse? Showing up for a job and finding out that the kids should be working on page 137. And nothing else. No information about schedule or what to do if kids misbehave or how to tell the administration you're missing a student during a lockdown.
Below is my non-exhaustive list of all the stuff your sub needs to know. Please leave a comment to let me know what I forgot! To make life easier for classroom teachers, you can download a fill-in-the-blank sub plan from my TeachersPayTeachers store here. That version is designed to be printed and filled in by hand. You can also purchase a totally digitally-editable version here. I will be updating those documents as I discover new and helpful information that I left out! I will be glad to send my customers updated versions as I push them out. The really handy thing about my sub plan document is that you can fill out the first few pages once and then have them ready for each subsequent absence (and leave them on file with your office for emergencies) and then just customize the last few pages with the activities for the next day you're absent.
Without further ado, my list of things to (please!) make sure your sub knows:
What have I missed? I haven't spent much time in middle and high schools, so if there are things that are specific to those grade levels that I need to add, please be sure to tell me in the comments below!
Want to try to keep each other up-to-date on all the available educational technology? It's an uphill battle, to be sure, but I wanted to start sifting through it all. This document will change over time and may eventually be an open-source Google Doc...and might even someday be alphabetized! For now, it's my modest foray into educational technology. Check it out, use it as a reference, and let me know what I'm missing! You can find it here, for now!
They don't care how much you know until they know how much you... Scratch that. First thing's first, they have to know who the heck you are. Some regular classroom teachers use their Interactive White Boards so exclusively that there's nowhere for a substitute to display his/her name. Make a (cute!) sign to take with you to every job. Works great if there's a document camera rigged up, but can also be taped to any vertical surface or pinned to a bulletin board.
Then you can get busy making sure they know you care.