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Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Nov 15 2010

“Sub-Proof” Lesson Plans?

After spending 8+ hours on a Sunday, I’ve finally learned how difficult it is to prepare substitute lesson plans.

As I’ve described, tomorrow I begin a grand jury commitment that will last until winter break begins. Because I have a “hands-off” sub in my classroom, I need to prepare 5 weeks of stuff for my students to work on.  This is hard–really hard.

I’ve written sub plans before, but only for one day at a time.  Even then, it’s always hard to get things right.

  • First, without knowing who will actually sub for my classroom when I am out, I have trouble writing the right things. What will suit the sub’s teaching style? What background knowledge does s/he have on my classroom or the dynamics at my school?
  • Second, as I’m preparing the plan, I realize just how much detail an “excellent” sub plan requires.  It requires, first and foremost, crystal clear directions, not only for students, but also for the teacher.  It also requires some advanced thinking about potential problems or contingencies.
  • Third, I am less motivated to do my best, because I know that, ultimately, what transpires in the classroom is a function of the substitute teacher.  If I am not there to execute, I can’t be sure that the lesson will run as planned.

As a result, I’m always stressed when I have to leave the building.

So guess how stressed I am now, knowing that I won’t be directly teaching my students until the New Year arrives?

Sub planning, a week at a time, for five weeks, presents another challenge, since it requires that I “estimate” the work rate of my students. Assign too little work, and students will have extra time to wreak havoc in a lead teacher-less classroom. Assign too much, and students will give up and start a mutiny, driving the substitute teacher out of the classroom.

Also, because I currently teach two preps (English 3 and Journalism), I had to make two packets for students. Making one for English 3 was relatively easy, since I could rely on the Elements of Literature textbook.  However, I don’t have a journalism textbook. I don’t have, for that matter, a curriculum or standards to follow (although I’ve been referring to Indiana’s journalism standards).  It was a little bit more of a struggle, in other words.

What seemed so simple turned out to be somewhat complex. My Sunday evaporated, as with most Sundays. I will get some rest, swing by school to photocopy these packets (thank goodness our principal lifted the copy limits, the bane of my existence last year), and report to Moultrie Courthouse.  I hope my plans are “sub-proof.”

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2 Responses

  1. You could try Better Lesson for some ideas: http://betterlesson.org/

    Lessons that have been downloaded frequently are usually better. There is some good stuff there.

    Have you ever tried the CNN media literacy stuff? Here’s an example: http://www.cnn.com/2010/US/studentnews/08/12/heroes.teacher.parent.guide/index.html

    Can you get newspapers into the classroom? If so, maybe you could do something cool using the previous day’s newspaper and Twitter… where they read and respond to an article or tweet interview questions they’d like to ask someone involved in a current event…

    I’m trying to think of things that might actually result in some learning, as well as break the monotony of what could be a long, worksheet filled saga for your kids!!!

    SOOO sorry you have been dealt this particular card… Any hope you’ll be dismissed? I hope the case at least turns out to be interesting.

  2. MJL

    Say hi to Moultrie for me! I used to go there every day when I worked for PDSDC over the summer.
    And I totally know what you mean about sub plans. I can’t imagine having to use a sub day to impart new content. I just pray for no theft of SMARTboard markers. (That’s a lie, I lock them up.)

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Really, "A Blog Covering Dilemmas in Education": A (former) English teacher's reflections…

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