Friday, November 10, 2017

Communication and Teaching: Arriving Prepared

In an earlier post, I discussed how a substitute’s day isn’t always “typical.” However, arriving early and being prepared for your assignment will help you have as typical a day as possible. Here are a few tips for arriving early and what to bring with you to prepare yourself for the day.

Explore your surroundings

Arrive early to your assignment so you have time to find the school, locate the parking area, and make your way to the office. Once you have your assignment, you are running against the clock to set up for success. Head to the classroom to prepare for the day’s lessons by familiarizing yourself not just with the lesson notes, but with the classroom itself. How are the students’ desks set up? Where would be the best place for you to observe the class, explain the lessons, or be accessible to students who have questions? This room is where the magic happens, so use every inch of it.
Image via Pinterest
 Even the walls should be utilized to your advantage. Put your name on the board in a prominent location so the students can easily find it. If you have enough space and more than one subject or grade level, place a list of what the students will do that day so they readily know what to expect when they walk in. Pin, tape, or clip premade expectations posters or other large visuals, like checklists or charts, on the walls or easels that you can refer to as needed during the day.

If you have time, get acquainted with the campus. All teachers should have at least one planning period in addition to lunch. Use that time to find the copy room, the lunch room, and the restrooms. Also, introduce yourself to your neighboring teachers in case you need to call on them for help. Knowing where everything is and who to turn to for questions will make for a smoother day.

Be prepared for anything

My bag of tricks
The best way to be prepared is to know the rules of the classroom and the school. The office may give you a substitute folder or some type of handout that gives you a general overview of school rules, emergency procedures, and bell schedules. Your teacher may have also left notes for you regarding class expectations and disciplinary guidelines. I have had teachers inform me that students are not allowed hall passes for any reason, including bathroom privileges. Use the bell schedule to manage your time throughout a lesson so you can be sure students have time to complete the assignments.

Another way to be prepared is to have a “bag of tricks” handy with everything you might need to run a class. Rather than rummage through the teacher’s desk to find out where pens, pencils, paper, and dry-erase markers are, bring your own supplies so you don’t waste any time starting the lesson. Besides common supplies, your bag should have erasers, two different-colored dry erase markers, a calculator, Kleenex, post-it notes, a notebook, and even your own hall pass. As you get more sub assignments, you will find new things to add to your bag that help you manage lessons.

Have a back-up plan

Sometimes students are amazingly on task and you finish the lesson and related work early. If it’s just seven minutes or less, and you are comfortable your students will occupy themselves without trying to bolt out the door before the bell, let them have free time. Otherwise have a back up plan handy for every class subject. This is busy work to keep students from getting bored waiting for the end of class.

Most schools today are one-to-one, meaning each student has a laptop assigned to them. Have some websites available for them to go to that relates to the subject you are teaching. You can even have worksheets in your bag of tricks that you can copy and pass out to students. I like to have copies of an easy Sudoku puzzle to hand out and put students in groups to complete the puzzle. The group that finishes first gets a prize – usually fancy erasers or mechanical pencils that I can buy in bulk from office supply or party stores. Students also enjoy Mad Libs, and I will occasionally let a well-behavied class participate in finishing one or two pages and then I read the finished story out loud to them.

Expect to compliment on-task behavior

Occasionally, you will have that amazing class that arrived to class on time, listened to you explain the day’s lesson, did their work quietly, and kept themselves engaged all on their own. But more than likely you will have classes with a few distracting students. No matter at what age, everyone responds well to positive reinforcement. Have a simple reward system in place to encourage on-task behavior.

I have old marketing postcards that have movie posters printed on them that I pass out to as many as six students who I see are trying hard to stay focused despite classroom distractions. I will even reward disruptive students when I see that they are trying to not disrupt others. Students who struggle are often the ones who will do anything to not do their work, and they are often only recognized for not working. So I like to make the extra effort to show them that I see them trying, and I want them to keep trying and asking for help if they need it.

But even if you don’t have little knick-knacks to pass out, just a simple “thank you for staying focused on that worksheet,” or “I’m really impressed with how well you explained that character’s emotions,” will go a long way in keeping students engaged. Walk around the classroom constantly, as this gives you the opportunity to provide specific and meaningful comments to your students.

Arriving prepared keeps things running smoothly

Image from
To have the greatest chances of a successful sub assignment, arrive early to get settled into the classroom and surroundings, familiarize yourself with the sub notes, and prepare for your lessons. Be prepared with a bag of tricks to help you keep classroom management running smoothly. And have some sort of positive reinforcement system to encourage on-task behavior so you spend less time addressing unwanted behavior. When you arrive prepared to have a productive day, you just might find yourself having an amazing day.