Taking A Gamble: Preparing for a Sub in the Secondary Classroom

As winter set in each year, so did sinus infections that filled me with fever, mucous, and dread.  I could handle the sweats and chills.  I could take on the drips and floods.  But the thought of placing my classroom full of students into the hands of a sub TERRIFIED me!

Tips and suggestions on preparing for a substitute in the secondary classroom

Subs are unpredictable.  They come in short, tall, young, and old.  Some are enthusiastic, yet some are dreadfully droll.  They come smart, and they come... Well, you know what I'm talking about.  If you are in a larger district where you get whomever answered the phone at 6 AM, your chance of a productive day for your students will be slim to none.

I've had the pick of the litter!  There was the one with the cold that left my desk covered with snotty tissues.  C-O-V-E-R-E-D.  Mr. Mali came many times to enthusiastically teach my students the SAME lesson over and over about his country, despite our content being something totally different.  I had the future Jeopardy contestant who brought her question book to study with my students instead of my lessons. Oh, and Mrs. Foster was a sweet old lady who insisted on telling each class fairy tales - I taught high school at the time!  But the ones I dreaded the most came prepared for their day.  They brought a news paper, their reading glasses, and a thermos of coffee.

If my lesson didn't teach itself, it wouldn't be taught.

This realization brought me to the creation of my first Primary Source Analysis sets, my Geography review activities, and my SPRITE reviews.  In addition, I began to follow my own checklist for preparing my classes for a sub.  I created, I copied, I left directions on the board, and I headed to the doctor's office from that point on, no longer fearing a wasted day!

The checklist is simple:
  1. Train your students from Day 1 that your classes will go on, with or without you.
  2. Put the fear of consequences in them if they choose to not carry on in the case of your absence.
  3. Choose two students (in case one is absent) in each class that can provide reliable guidance to the sub.
  4. Always write the next day's lessons and directions on the board before leaving each afternoon.
  5. Always copy and lay out student materials each afternoon for the next day.
  6. Keep a sub folder on your desk with class rosters, generic student lessons (Primary Source Analysis Handouts for my Social Studies Classes), and an introduction sheet with clear expectations for your students and your sub.
  7. Contact your "go-to" person to have them step into your classroom before the first bell to make sure the sub is on task and ready.
My Primary Source Analysis Sets are a great resource for any Social Studies classroom.  Keep a set copied at all times in your sub folder, but also use them as part of your routine lessons to teach and practice analysis skills.  Allow students to work in small groups, and always encourage extended written responses at the completion of each set.


And all else fails, keep a scavenger hunt game available for last minute sub calls.  Allow students to "play" through your absence, when they are actually learning, practicing Social Studies skills, and keeping out of trouble!

Pictured is my Key to the World Scavenger Hunt - a FREEBIE!

Leaving my classes with a sub was always such a gamble.  I feared taking a day off to heal myself, but I eventually realized that my students needed me at my best, not a snotty, feverish, weak mess!

Tips and suggestions on preparing for a substitute in the secondary classroom

To prepare for your next sub, be sure to read all of the tips and tricks shared by the Secondary Smorgasbord, hosted by Desktop Learning Adventures and The ELA Buffet.

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Michele Luck

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