When the cat’s away, the mice will play…

Today, I was off-campus for a great collaboration day among LOTE (World Language is another name) department chairs and team leaders across my district.  While I was away, students in all of my classes misbehaved for my substitute.  I’ve already had to be absent for various reasons and multiple times this year.  I’ve had 4 other subs in my classroom this year and EVERY single one has given my students a great report, including last Friday.  I am holding onto this knowledge as I prepare for how to handle my students tomorrow.  Why?  Because A. it makes me feel like less of a failure and B. It reminds me that my students can behave for other teachers if they choose to do so.

Before having a sub, I always give the same speech: “I don’t care if you think the substitute is certifiably crazy, that they forgot to take their meds, whatever, do not get your name written down.  When in doubt, just don’t talk.  It is not worth your trouble to cause problems with a sub because then you will have to deal with me.”  I also leave a nice note about my students for the subs, typically something along the lines of, “I love my classes this year, I hope you enjoy them today as much as I do everyday.”  Typically, I get a great report because both the students and the substitutes know I have high expecations.  Today is not the case.  Thankfully, the substitute is going to be on my campus again tomorrow and plans to visit with me to tell me what all happen.  I will not be able to see her until after I have seen my students, and I don’t want to ignore the issue tomorrow.  Naturally, I’ve been strategizing.  Here’s what I’ve come up with:

1. When students enter the room, I will great them at the door with a reflection to complete in English–sorry, we are going to have to take some English time tomorrow, it just can’t be avoided in this situation.  As they enter, I will tell them to immediately sit down and complete the assignment without talking.

2. I will give the students up to 10 minutes to explicitly complete the reflection before we begin our discussion.

3. When we begin the discussion, I will start by reminding them of the speech I always give them when I’m going to be away.  I will tell them that as such, I do not want to hear any disrespectful comments made about the substitute or anyone in the class.  I want to know what happened but in a respectful and honest way.

4.  We will then go through all of the questions together and debrief.

Here are my questions:

  • Describe your class period yesterday with the sub.  Give facts only.  Do not include feelings or opinions.  Be sure to explicitly state anything you specifically did during the class period.
  • What could you have done to improve the situation that you did not do?  Again, facts only, no opinion statements.
  • Do you feel that your and/or your classmates’ actions were justifiable?  Explain.  Here is an appropriate place to include your opinion.
  • What are Mrs. Barber’s expectations when there is a substitute teacher?
  • Do you feel you and/or all of your classmates adequately met Mrs. Barber’s expectations for when a substitute is present.  Explain giving as many details as possible. 
  • How do you think Mrs. Barber feels today after seeing the report from the substitute?  Explain.
  • What advice do you have for how Mrs. Barber should handle this situation? You must give a minimum of 1 course of action she should take.

I don’t know how effective this will be, but I will report back.  I am open to ideas from other people if you read this before tomorrow at 7am (I will definitely check for comments).  I also plan to discuss and establish norms for when substitutes are present with all of my classes.  Not all absences can be announced when dealing with sick children, so I would like to know that in the future there are even clearer expectations for behavior with substitutes.

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