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How to Support Substitute Teachers

Sometimes, I am inspired to blog about a specific topic because of a discussion I’m having or an “aha” moment that happens during a meeting of some sort, but I have to admit—this week—I got nothin’! As I went to my good friend Google for ideas, I come across this: 60% of Google searches were for FRONTLINE.

If you are unfamiliar with Frontline, it is a platform used to manage teacher absences and substitute teachers. This meant 60% of trending Google searches at the moment is teachers, operations managers, and administrators looking up the log in to put in a teacher absence and request a sub. Students all over the country have substitute teachers, substitutes all over the country are walking onto school campuses blind, and teachers all over the country are creating meticulous sub-plans they hope will be followed.

To ensure that we have the best substitute experiences, I have come up with two blog topics: how to support a substitute teacher and how to make the most out of a substitute teaching placement. Below are a few tips for supporting a substitute teacher.

#1: Have a welcome packet ready. It is disconcerting walking into a new building and a new classroom everyday. Substitute teachers don’t know school rules, school culture, students’ names, staff members names—basic things that make your day run A LOT smoother. To prepare, create a welcome packet that can be reused for your subs. In addition to class rosters, daily schedules, and assignments, provide basic school rules, student expectations, key staff members to go to for support, rosters with pictures (we can easily run this in my building), and/or an overview of the curriculum (we use an online platform which many people cannot easily just walk into).

#2: Deliver a mini-orientation. I always greet any sub we receive, explain all of the information in the welcome packet, provide a brief tour of key places in the building, point out key staff members to know, and give some context of the class that they will have. Substitutes need to know where the bathroom is, where they can put their things for the day, and need to match names to faces.

#3: Support substitutes throughout the day. My school does a really good job with this one. Don’t just direct substitutes to a classroom and wish them the best! Have someone periodically stop by the room to check in to make sure things are okay and see if the substitute needs any support.

#4: Leave a doable sub-plan. The quality of a sub-plan can make or break a sub. If the activity it too simple, the substitute will spend the day managing behaviors, if the activity is too complicated, the substitute will give up on it completely. You have to remember, a substitute has not necessarily mastered your content area or grade level, which means he/she cannot simply just execute a lesson plan on coefficients or the verb “estar”. Keeping this in mind, create a sub plan that is easy to follow, for example:

10 minutes: Students read silently

15 minutes: Students work on vocabulary assignment.

15 minutes: Students update plot diagram.

…and so on….

#5: Leave clear instructions for students. If you are not calling off as an emergency, inform students, set the expectation for the substitute, leave clear directions on the board, and leave enough materials for the substitute. I love it when I walk into a class and the teacher has left the instructions for students already, and they can tell you what they should be working on.

#6: Check-out. Before your substitute leaves for the day, do a brief check-out. This check-out can literally be as simple as asking the substitute how his/her day was—it doesn’t have to be anything formal. Listen to any feedback the substitute has for you and address any questions or issues they may have had.

I know how crazy it can be managing teacher coverages, and how frustrating incomplete sub-plans can be, but frustrated subs tend to not return to schools. By taking the time out to prepare some of the items I’ve discussed, you can prevent yourself from being sub-less during a flu epidemic!

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