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May 7, 2012 Managing Your Classroom When You Are Absent By Jeremy Rinkel
Grades 6–8, 9–12

    Teachers are busy. In some cases, teachers are overworked. Getting ready for a substitute teacher is sometimes more work than just being at school. From my experience, students in a lot of cases think it is “free day” when a substitute is there in your place. I have been out of my classroom a few times this year, and I could tell my students’ attitudes and behaviors were different when I returned. On one occasion, for instance, students were working in the computer lab and a few of them decided to unplug two people's computers while they were working. I had to respond to this and other situations from a discipline standpoint.

    How do you make sure students are meeting your expectations when you are gone? How do you make sure that learning takes place? Continue reading for three things you can do to make sure your class is well-managed when you are gone.


    1. Make sure students understand the expectations you have for them when they have a substitute teacher.

    I often tell my students that I expect them to be better for the substitute teacher than they are for me. I attempt to run a fairly strict classroom, so I expect students to stay on task and not give the substitute any trouble. Again, openly discussing your expectations with students ahead of time usually prevents any issues.


    2. Make sure students understand the consequences of poor choices.

    After discussing my expectations, I make sure students understand the consequences if they are reported for misconduct. I leave a detailed lesson plan with a spot for each class period where the substitute comments on how the class went. If students were disruptive, loud, etc., I ask that the substitute note those behaviors. If a specific student is disruptive, I ask that the substitute write down the name of the student. If an entire class is disruptive, my policy is that students will write (from their perspective) what happened. I usually make this an extensive assignment so it won’t happen again. What I usually find out is that it was only a couple of individuals causing the disruption, but I see value in holding the entire class accountable. If an individual student’s name is written down, the student automatically is assigned an in-school detention for misconduct under a substitute, no questions asked. As I stated earlier, it is crucial that the teacher communicate their discipline policy with the students.

    Below is an example of the beginning of my substitute note:

    Thanks for subbing for me today. Please let me know how each class does for you. If you have any issues with a student, please write their name down, and I will deal with them when I return. Students should remain in their seats and work on what you assign. Seating charts are on my desk, and rosters are in the yellow folder on my desk. If you have any questions, you can reach me on my cell @ [insert number]. Thanks.


    3. Make sure to provide meaningful material for the students while you are gone.

    As a former substitute teacher, I remember what it was like to give students a multiple-page handout of worksheets that the students knew the teacher would not even look at upon their return. In some cases, the worksheets had nothing to do with the current unit the students were studying. It is very important that you leave students meaningful activities or assignments to do while you are away. Students need to be held accountable for the work they do when you (the teacher) are unable to be at school. Below is an example of classroom activities my students were assigned when I was unable to teach:

    4th Hour: Students are working on a character poster assignment. They are working individually so they should remain at their desk unless they need to use a computer. The projects were assigned Wed., so everyone should be working.

    6th Hour: Take students to the computer lab upstairs in the library. They are working with a Web-based application called ToonDoo. They are designing a comic book taking a theme from Romeo and Juliet and applying it to the real world today. They are working with a partner, so they may discuss things if they need to. Remind them that there is a study hall in the library and they need to be as quiet as possible.

    Clear, concise expectations and substitute notes will prevent many classroom issues. It will also ensure that learning takes place when you are away.


    For more on managing your classroom while you're gone, see my posts "Creating the Digital Substitute, Part 1," "Creating the Digital Substitute, Part 2," and "Four Tools for Creating the Digital Substitute."


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