When the cat returns

Well, I arrived at school today to read the extensive notes from the substitute.  This has been a bit of a stressful week, so seeing it all written up was the straw that broke this camel’s back and I burst into tears.  Thankfully, I did not have on any eye make-up :).

Originally, I planned to use the reflection in each class, but I ended up only using it in 1st, 2nd and 4th period because those classes were the ones that got bad reports.  The other 3 classes got a decent report.  The reflection went over well and opened up good conversations with my classes.  I learned quickly what part I played in this situation and how we all can do things differently next time.

First of all, a colleague of mine, Jane Shea, has the best mantra: You can never be too explicit.  This is where I failed.  While I left a detailed lesson plan, I did not mention anything about my style of teaching nor my classroom procedures for the activities I left–Cloze passages and such.  While this in no way excuses the disrespect some of my students chose to show the substitute, it does explain why some felt threatened and/or scared (though they are high school boys and would never phrase it like that) and why they did not handle themselves as well as I know they can.  As a result, I have now edited my substitute plan template to include the following:

A note about my teaching style:  I have a relaxed style with my students and am aware of the differing learning styles and needs of my individual students.  My students are used to working in pairs/groups as they complete assignments and use their phones to look up unknown words.  Unless otherwise stated, please allow them to work together and talk as long as they are on task.  They may use their phones to assist with their assignment as long as they are not texting or playing games.  They may also listen to music with headphones as long as they are on task.  If it interferes with their ability to work, the privilege may be revoked based on your judgement.

I read this addendum to each class and got their input and approval (it was tweaked throughout the day).

Next, in each class–even the ones not required to reflect–I clearly redefined and clarified my expectations for when there’s a sub.  I then opened up a conversation about coping with people who are not like their normal teachers–going beyond just my classroom but how to handle a sub in any class.  This included quoting from the AVID syllabus (by our awesome AVID department chair, Clarissa Moreno) about how to cope when a student feels threatened–count to 10 silently, take a deep breath and write your teacher a note about the situation to give to her when she returns.  I explained that I know them, I trust them.  I would believe them if they did that.  BUT, I explained that when we act inappropriately or rudely, we automatically lose our argument even if our initial feelings were valid to begin with.

While it’s never fun to have to deal with these types of issues, they happen from time to time, and I appreciate the learning opportunity that comes with every challenge I meet in life.  I made sure that today was a learning moment for all of my students and myself.  True, I will be a little nervous the next time I have a sub, but I know my students will want to impress me by doing the right thing.  And they are not a bad group, they just had a bad day.

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