Once you’ve accepted a long-term subbing assignment, you’ll need curriculum guidance, suggestions for grading papers and administering tests, and guidelines for many other day-to-day activities. I recommend that you try to contact the regular classroom teacher and schedule a face-to-face meeting (health or other scheduling variables permitting). Together, the two of you should map out a one-week plan. After the first week, you will be able to continue on your own, with limited guidance. During the longer term, you should work closely with your grade partner. But remember, you’re now a long-term sub, and you will be able to put your imprint on the curriculum and the class.
How is Long-Term Subbing Different from Day-to-Day Subbing?
Being offered a long-term subbing position is an honor. You have proven that you are reliable and capable. The faculty welcomes you, and, for a time, you will have a taste of what it would be like to have your own classroom. That’s the good news.
But you’ll also have increased responsibilities. You’ll have to create your own lesson plans, and, at the same time, be certain to present all material prescribed by the curriculum for your grade level. To accomplish this, it’s essential to confer with your grade partner.
In addition to planning and classroom scheduling, you’ll also have responsibility for parental communication. If your long-term subbing assignment will span a number of months, it’s a good idea to write a note to the parents, introducing yourself and assuring them that their children’s learning will continue as normal. Before you do this, however, I suggest that you get guidance (and if necessary) permission from the principal.
On a day-to-day basis, you’ll have responsibility for writing newsletters to parents, developing personalized notes that address a specific child’s progress, and other forms of school-to-home communication. I cannot overemphasize the importance of checking spelling and grammar in all such communications. In fact, it’s a good idea to have someone else proofread any document that is to be sent home.
Every teacher has responsibility for in-school paperwork (e.g., forms, reports, lists). Be sure you understand what your responsibilities are and complete all paperwork in a timely manner. Although teaching must take priority, a lax attitude about paperwork will not serve you well when administrators and other teachers evaluate your work.
You must be aware of the special needs children in your classroom. Some students may have an Individual Education Plan (IEP). This plan will indicate any special accommodations that should be made for the child. For example, it may state that the child needs extra time when taking tests, may need a quiet place to work, or may have modifications for homework assignments.
In addition to students with IEPs, some students may have a behavior modification plan. This plan defines a strategy for modifying a student’s inappropriate or disruptive behavior. The plan often defines a series of rewards (e.g., stickers, positive note sent to parents) that are distributed throughout the day when the student meets predefined behavioral goals. For example, a student might receive a reward for good morning behavior, for good behavior during recess, for good behavior at lunch, and for good afternoon behavior. In general, the behavior modification plan may be nothing more than a white index card that is taped to a student’s desk or inserted into the child’s daily planner.
Will Students Accept Me as their “Regular” Teacher?
If you follow the guidelines I’ve discussed in other chapters and set the tone of caring and confidence, there is no reason why the students will not embrace you as their own. But remember, it’s likely that the students will be upset about losing their teacher for a long period. And they may worry about their teacher’s health and well-being.
Recall the anecdote about Ian Michael at the beginning of this chapter. The day after he was offered the long-term assignment, Ian addressed the issue with his class.
“Some of you may not know that Ms. Iola will be out for about six weeks,” he said, after the morning activities. “I’ll be your teacher until she returns.”
One child blurted, “That’s because she’s getting an operation on her leg, right?”
“That’s right,” said Michael, “but you should know that everything will be fine. I’ll be talking with Ms. Iola often. She misses you and asked me to tell you that she’s thinking of you.”
A brown-haired, bespectacled girl toward the back of the room asked, “Will we do stuff exactly the same way Ms. Iola did?”
“We’ll try,” responded Michael, “but we’ll also do some new things that I think will be fun. Just remember, we have lots of learning to do, and we want to give Ms. Iola a good report. Right?”
Heads nodded as the class waited for their new teacher to start the day.
Is There Ever a Situation in Which I Should Turn Down a Long-Term Assignment?
As I’ve already mentioned, you should generally accept a long-term subbing assignment, particularly if you are trying to land a full-time position. However, if you’re asked to accept a long-term assignment in a subject area that is foreign to you (this will probably only happen if the principal is desperate), you may want to think long and hard before accepting the position. For example, many of us are mathematically challenged. We know and can teach the basics, but doing a geometric proof may be a struggle. If you fall into that category, and you’re offered a long-term assignment in a middle or high school math class, you might want to decline. In the Kickball, Physical Education, and Other Specials chapter, I discuss the special requirements for subs who must teach “specials.”
I would advise you to do a little research on the makeup and disposition of the class before you accept the long-term position. If the class in question is a complete unknown to you, ask to sit in on the group one day. Be sure that you will be comfortable with the age group and subject matter. There are times when a group has had a series of subs who just couldn’t handle them. You do not want to put yourself into this position unless you are very strong and ready for a challenge.
Can I Put my Own Imprint on the Class?
As a long-term substitute teacher, you have been entrusted with someone else’s classroom. As a caretaker, you should try to maintain the same classroom culture—as long as it works for you. After all, the regular classroom teacher will return, and it’s your job to ensure that his or her transition back into the classroom goes as smoothly as possible.
But this doesn’t mean that you can’t be innovative and allow your teaching personality to shine through. Feel free to create your own class projects, if they complement the curriculum and enhance learning. For example, during his tenure in Ms. Iola’s classroom, Ian Michael decided to create a class newspaper. He divided the class into groups, and they each had a role. He assigned committees for an editorial staff, an advice column, a puzzle page, an advertising section, and so on. The paper was “published” and sent home. Parents loved it.
One parent called the principal to praise the newspaper and the other work that Mr. Michael had done. When his time as a long-term sub concluded, Ian was asked to stay on and take a fifth-grade position that had opened up on a permanent basis.
A long-term subbing position will provide you with a clear opportunity to impress school administrators, which may ultimately lead to a full-time teaching position. There is no better way to test the waters. You’ll learn all about the culture of the school, the faculty, and your comfort with a particular grade level. To be successful as a long-term sub, remember these guidelines:
- It is your job to reassure students who may be worried about their regular classroom teacher. Be sure to tell them that learning will proceed as normal and that their teacher will return when he or she is able.
- Students will respond well as long as you set a caring and confident tone. Follow guidelines provided in other chapters and you’ll do fine.
- Be sure to budget time for planning. Consult with colleagues if you have questions or need guidance.
- Be sure to keep up with all parent communication, such as newsletters, and all required paperwork. Communication with parents and school administrators is an essential part of any teaching job.
- Put your own imprint on the class, but try to maintain the same classroom culture. That way the regular teacher’s reentry will be smooth.
If you’ve been offered a long-term subbing assignment, you’ve been given a potentially career altering opportunity. So if the opportunity opens up for you, seize the day!