Posted in beginner teachers, high school, middle school, organization, resources

Planning For a Sub

For the first 3 years of my teaching career, I barely missed a day. This year, however, my 2-year-old, who just started daycare, cannot seem to stay healthy. This is when I first realized: as a teacher, it is hard to be gone.

Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a day of as much as anyone. Unlike many professions, however, I have 180 students who rely on my presence to guide their learning.  I’m sure they don’t mind too much, but I sure do.

With this post, my intention is to outline some of the struggles with having a sub and some ways to prepare for it. I in no way intend to slight substitute teachers, as they make it possible for teachers to be absent. It is not easy to be gone, and I want to help teachers make the most of it.

There are 3 main issues I have run into when I have a sub:

1. You are not always guaranteed a sub that knows your content.

In a perfect world, your sub would teach the lesson that you otherwise would have taught. They would answer questions about the previous days homework, go through all of the notes and example problems, tell students animated stories to help the content come to life, and then assist students as they work through the assigned practice problems. That is when you realized that your substitute is a retired English teacher coming to your math class.

I have only seen this actually work out 2 times: once when I had a retired math teacher from the school cover my class, and the other when I covered one class for the teacher I shared a room with. I wouldn’t bank on this happening by chance.

Even when a sub does know your content, sometimes their process does not align with how students have been learning it. It can be a good thing, but it could also confuse student.

2.  Things don’t always go according to plan.

Though you hope a sub would accomplish everything you ask them to and your students would work diligently, but the reality is that it doesn’t always happen. I wanted students to finish a worksheet from the day before picking up a new challenge worksheet. The sub just give students the new worksheet right away, which they did finish, before just sitting around the rest of class. By not finishing the earlier worksheet, Students missed out on two of the tougher calculator problems, and I had to spend extra time catching everyone up before the end of the trimester.

3.  It takes time to put sub plans together

I can only speak for myself, but on a typical day, I do not neatly lay out every worksheet, test, and seating chart on my front table so that it is waiting for me when I get to work. Also, when you are gone, plans often change, and you need to create a new worksheet. This prep could take several hours depending on the classes you teach and what you need to change. And then needing to do this while you are sick at 10pm? No fun at all.

So what practical advice do I have to offer? There are several things we can do to prevent our absence from feeling like a wasted day.

  • Provide answer keys. Every sub I have ever had said this was most helpful. I normally provide enough answer keys for each group to have one as they work. This helps to prevent kids from giving up.
  • Make guided notes. If you want to teach a lesson, put a worked out example next to each problem you want students to try. This allows the kids to interact with the notes while giving them some guidance. Provide a full answer key for when they are really stuck.
  • Videos. If students have access to technology, make a video of the lesson for them to watch at their own pace before or while they work on practice problems.
  • Rearrange. You might need to look at your week ahead and see if there is something that you were going to later that you could do with a sub. Save that tough lesson for when you return and get kids started on the review early.
  • Have students teach themselves. I first taught solving by factoring when I had a sub. Students started out with easy problems ( 5 x __ = 0) and slowly combined skills they had until they were factoring and solving quadratics. I now use this every year.
  • Be as clear as possible. If you are giving a test, give specific instructions about calculator use, note use, partners, etc. This is especially true if you have different policies for different classes.
  • Don’t be afraid to expect learning. Don’t give in to just watching a movie. Give students a meaningful worksheet to practice important skills. Tomorrow, I have my juniors working on a practice ACT test. It might not be ideal, but it is more productive than nothing.
  • Assess when you return. Try to get a feel for what students actually accomplished while you were gone. Use the subs notes, ask students, give them a quick quiz, anything to help you figure out if the students accomplished what you hoped. If they didn’t, you have some catchup to do.

It does take some work to prepare for a sub, but one could argue that the thinking that goes into preparing for a sub can help you diversify your teaching. I know that sometimes you wake up sick and have no time to prepare, but if you have some time to get things ready, put some thought into it so your students can still get something out of the day.

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Posted in beginner teachers, elementary school, high school, middle school, resources

Your own professional development

Professional Development…..what does it mean to you?

We go to meetings and workshops. We attend sessions on how to do this or that. We listen to an “expert” speak. We read blogs like this. But why? For many teachers, it’s to fulfill clock hours or a demand from higher up. But for me, it’s what I relish.

Yes, I do dread some of the things we must do and some of sessions we sit in, but professional development gets my gears in motion. It pushes me to think about that kid, who has A in class, but I haven’t talked to yet that week. It pushes me to try to get to that kid who can barely multiply single digit numbers. It pushes me to think about that colleague said about how to teach slope. Professional development challenges me to do what I have not done yet or what I am striving to be better at.

Every year, I look forward to the MCTM (Minnesota Council of Teachers of Mathematics) conference in Duluth. It’s a little cold and a little too small for this city girl, but I love the feeling of getting the chance to improve myself and to see my classroom with fresh eyes. It also gets me through the rest of the year because May can be a very long month when I have no refresh ideas. I love seeing fellow math colleagues display what they are proud of and share it with the rest of us. I love that I might possibly walk into a session where it gives me the answer I have been looking for. I love that I get to see old tricks done in a new light. MCTM is the creme of the creme when it comes to professional development for me. But until then, what do I do?

I can’t wait for the once a year professional development to inspire me. I can’t wait for it to answer the burning thoughts and questions I have now. Where do I turn? The WORLD WIDE WEB.

Twitter: It is a great wealth of knowledge full of people all over the world who are willing to share. I am not an avid Tweeter (is that the word for people who Tweet?), but when I need something new, I turn there. Math celebrities like Dan Meyer @ddmeyer, Christopher Danielson @trianglemancsd, Andrew Stadel @mr_stadel, and Fawn Nguyen @fawnpnguyen, to name a few, have inspired me to use photos, videos, music, technology, and the internet in my math lessons. They don’t only inspire but create practical instructional ideas and activities that are ready to use. Join and find other math teachers like you who want to inspire. Join discussions on best practices. Get advice on what to do next when students already get it. Your fellow math teachers have a lot to share on Twitter, so join, even if it’s just for professional use. Follow me while you’re you are searching through Twitter. @mctmCONNECT

Blogs: There are many great ideas floating out there from actual teachers, who have tried and true tested activities. They are the ones who provide answers for when I am in need of a great slope activity or just a great problem solving activity. I have learned organizational skills and management ideas from bloggers. I read about what they like and dislike about certain websites or technology. They are my professional circle when I can’t articulate what I want but know what I need when I see it.  Some of my favorites are:

http://iheartedtech.blogspot.com/

https://middleschoolmathmania.wordpress.com/

http://mathequalslove.blogspot.com/

Welcome

http://walkinginmathland.weebly.com/

http://www.ipads4teaching.net/

Pinterest: I never thought that I would be into a site like Pinterest. I was not interested in using it because of its addictive nature. I was really wrong. I found so much on Pinterest that I had to start my own account. I have a board dedicated to math and education only. Note-taking ideas and foldables are of abundance. Creative math “decor” and student made projects have transformed my classroom from a dull and empty (typical) secondary math teacher’s classroom to one that is vibrant and shows off student work. I have never had all my walls and even parts of my windows covered in work from students or posters I created for students. I have a rational number line, created by students, and see the benefit it has provided my students. Pinterest is a place to find and “steal” from teachers who have awesome ideas.

I may love learning and reading about teaching on the internet, but nothing beats professional development where you can discuss and debate with fellow teachers. You may not feel the same way I do, but find a personal purpose for that professional development. As you sit there through another session, by choice or not, use the following to push yourself beyond the days or hours of professional development:

1. Use it immediately and not just file it away. Decide how you use what you just heard/learned to change your next lesson.

2. Find a colleague to share it with especially if they were not in attendance.

3. Make a new friend during the professional development if you are there with a bunch of strangers.

4. Introduce yourself to the presenter if what they said or did really hit the nail on the head.

5. If possible, walk out of the session if you know it’s not for you. There is nothing worse than to sit through a session that you don’t find useful or helpful. I know that this is not always possible, but then you just do what #1-4 said. 🙂

How are you pushing yourself to learn from others and yourself?