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Preparing for a Substitute: 6 Ways to Help Minimize and Manage Classroom Mischief While You Are Away

We have all heard the stories of a classroom full of students acting up for the substitute teacher. The moment where a substitute teacher takes over the class for the day is such a classically iconic moment, that it shows up in blockbuster films as well as best selling children's books. I know what you might be thinking- If entire children's books such as the Berenstain Bears Substitute Teachers can be written to depict children acting out in a variety of ways for substitute teachers, then there must be some truth behind the concept. While spending time in the field as a pre-service teacher, I learned fairly quickly that students do behave significantly differently while their regular teacher is out of the classroom. On several occasions throughout my practicum I was placed in the position of working along side different substitute teachers, or taking complete control of the class while their regular teacher was away. So how does a regular teacher prepare their classroom for a substitute teacher that helps equip them with the tools to minimize behavioral problems, and keep the class academically on track? Here are six tips you likely will not find in blockbuster films, or children's books to help prepare your classroom for a substitute teacher.



The Classroom Culture and Ground Rules
You have all heard it the expression “kids will be kids,” but for some teachers and other adults, this expression creates feelings of frustration or uneasiness. In todays society, the expression “kids will be kids” is often used as a way of justifying or allow smaller human beings to be excused from their displays of challenging or disrespectful behaviors. Although some may argue that challenging behaviors should be expected when dealing with young adolescents, the question then becomes what quantity of challenging behavior should be tolerated or accepted depending on a students age? Whether the class clown decides to play a prank- or the drama queen and her followers decide to play dictators for the day- or the questioners in the class decide to question every comment made by the stand in teacher, so many deviations from the regular classroom culture can happen while you are away. The substitute teacher that walks into your classroom is tasked with the challenging job component of learning to navigate through and manage a classroom for a short period of time. Since every teacher has different classroom and behavioral expectations, it is crucial that a detailed overview of what your ground rules are for all students that step into your classroom is left for the substitute. This will be incredibly important for a substitute to have because it will educate them regarding “when kids can be kids,” and when students needs to be disciplined or spoken to for their actions or behaviors. Is one of the ground rules in your classroom no cellphones while the teacher is talking? Or perhaps, the main rule to help create a positive classroom culture is that everyone needs to be treated with respect. If the substitute teacher know that one of the rules is to be respectful of one another, then they can hold the class accountable to a set standard of behavioral expectations while their regular teacher is away. In other words, by being left with the ground rules, the substitute teachers will understand what is expected of the class from a behavioral stand point.


A Classroom List with Pictures and Side Notes

Even veteran teacher who exhibit excellent classroom management skills, may be able to tame even the rowdiest of classes given time to get to know the students individually and collectively. Realistically speaking, time to get to know the students individually in order to create teacher-student bonds that help to properly manage behavioral issues, is not a luxurious necessity your substitute teacher for the day will experience. Therefore, it is crucial that a well organized classroom list with pictures and side notes are left for the substitute teacher. To state the obvious, a class list with students names and their pictures will help the substitute teacher to identify and address students directly through the use of their names. Lets face it, it is far more respectable to have someone placed in a position of authority to address you by your actual name rather than vague pronouns and adjectives. A teacher managing two students through saying “Hey Tommy. Stop pulling Jennifer hair.” instead of “You over there, guy in the blue shirt stop pulling that girls hair.” is much more direct and respectable. When a teacher uses students names directly, it communicates to the students that the teacher knows who the students are. When the students realize the teacher has linked together their name with their face, it makes it harder for the student to get away with mischievous behavior. If it is far enough into the school year, then you may know which students tend to act up in class and which ones are very in tune with your classroom routine. Use your knowledge of the class to help out your substitute by writing helpful notes on the class list next to the students names. This can be equally as valuable as the class list itself because the substitute teacher will then know which students may require a bit more attention to keep on track.




The Bag, Box, or Binder of Tricks

Attention span? What is that? Safe to say that students at different developmental stages and ages all have different lengths of time they can remain focused, and stay engulfed in an activity or assignment. Having a group of twenty six grade fives all sitting and working on a math worksheet may only last productively for ten minutes. Where as if you had a grade ten class learning in the same format, they may be able to focus productively for twenty minutes. It is also important to note that there are other factors such as the time of day in which a class occurs that can significantly influence students attention span and behaviors. Therefore, to ensure your substitute has no issues with pacing and keeping your students attention while you are away, it is important to have extra activities available to be pulled out at anytime. Let's face it, most teachers probably would not want students to get so bored that they end up putting a frog in their peers desk to keep things interesting. In order to keep students from creating their own tricks and entertainment, it might be a good idea for you to practice your own creativity and wit by beating them to it- come up with your own bag, box or binder of tricks. This collections of tricks should include a large variety of games and activities that relate to the subject area being taught, or they could be games such as 'Heads Up Seven Up' which could be used as a tool to create a quiet and refocused atmosphere. The goal here is to have a variety of activities that trick the students into learning something without them realizing they are learning valuable information. They will have fun and think they are only playing a game instead of learning curricular related material relating to general or specific curricular outcomes. Whether it is a bag, box or binder it is important to have clear instructions and all the materials needed to execute the activities with precision ready to go. So get creative and create your own bag, box, or binder of tricks.


Emergency Procedure Information and Emergency Contact Information

It is fairly unlikely for major emergencies such as a real lock down or a real fire evacuation to happen while you are away from your classroom, but  emergency drills do happen on a fairly regular basis. Therefore, it is fairly possible for a emergency fire or lock down drill to occur at some point while you are away. There is a reason administration has the expectation that all staff  read up on their schools emergency polices and procedures. Since substitute teachers go from school to school, they will have a general awareness regarding what to do in emergency situations. However, they will not necessarily be 'in the know' regarding your schools specific emergency procedures in case a fire or lock down drill happens while they are in control of your class. Therefore, it could be considered a necessity to have all emergency information organized and easily accessible for any teacher coming into your classroom. Also it may be a good idea to compose a list of contacts the substitute teacher may call if they require any extra assistance with lesson content, disciplinary issues or require general questions to be answered. Some contacts that may be included on the contact list are the office, the school librarian, the resource teacher, the school councilor, and the principle.


End of the Day Student Chart
It is the end of the day and your substitute teacher now has spent a full day in your classroom. By now this intelligent individual probably has some ideas regarding what materials you left for them worked well, which students were very helpful and which student were exhibiting behavioral issues. It may be helpful to create a simple chart for the substitute teacher to fill out at the end of the day that will inform you of the events or incidences that occurred while they were in your classroom. The chart can be as simple as asking the substitute to name what went well, what did not go well, who was the star student or students of the day, and which student or students requires some behavioral correction. It you wanted to ask the substitute to include an explanation for their answers that may be very helpful as well. It is really up to you to selectively choose the right quantity and quality of questions for the substitute to answer that will allow you to receive the information you require.


The Substitute Binder or Folder
All of the topics we have talked about so far would be completely useless to a substitute walking into your classroom if they are not organized and placed in a specific spot. It may be helpful to put all information including the lesson plan for the day, the school schedule, classroom list, notes, emergency contacts and procedures, end of the day chart, seating chart and a map of the school all in a binder or folder. This binder or folder could be labelled and titled the Sub Binder or Folder making it easy for you to pull out and place on your desk anytime a substitute teacher is required. Labelling  the binder or folder is equally as important as actually putting it together because it will help communicate with the substitute that all information in the binder is designed for their eyes to look at. Therefore they will not feel that unnecessary or potentially confidential information will be shared with them that is not necessary or helpful.






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