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Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Communication and Teaching: In the Classroom

So you made it to your assignment early and you had enough time to get to know your surroundings. You got this, right? Well, yes you do…until you don’t. Which means once class has started, what are you going to do to keep students engaged and cooperative?

Image from OC Register
While you may be a guest in the classroom, these are your students today and you are responsible for
giving them opportunities to enrich their learning. Which for most students is not at the top of their lists of things to do. In my last post I gave you strategies and a bag of tricks to help you maintain as typical a day as possible, but there is still the possibility that some students will not make it easy.

Greetings and expectations

I recommend you stand at the front door and greet the students as they come in. Smile as they arrive so that they may feel a little less apprehensive about having a substitute. At the very least, your genuine smile will keep students guessing about whether they should misbehave instead of actually misbehaving. And there will be days where you just don’t feel like smiling, and that’s fine. But even a small smile will go a long way.

Something I like to have handy, either in a PowerPoint presentation or on a large piece of paper, are my personal class expectations so that I can point it out to the class but not have to spend too much time on it. This way, I have something to point to during the lesson so that I don’t have to completely stop what I’m doing to address a minor issue, such as talking out of turn or playing basketball with the recycle bin.

Taking attendance

You should always have an attendance sheet available to do roll call. The district that I sub for has an electronic system that includes each student’s pictures along with their names. But if you happen to need to take attendance on paper, ask the office to give you two copies – one that goes to the office and one for you to keep during class. Most teachers have a seating assignment, which is great if the students follow it. You can choose to enforce the assigned seating or not – but if you don’t, let students know that you’re expecting a response when you call their names, otherwise they will be marked absent.
Image from YouthWorkinIt.com

Even with electronic attendance, I will still ask for paper copies to take notes, such as where students are on a project, who are being rock star students, and who might not be getting the most out of the class. I also like to use the list when I am doing Q&A or discussion-style lesson plans, because not everyone likes to talk, and I like to close my eyes and point to randomly select someone to speak. That keeps them on their toes and engaged with the lesson.

In-class assignments

Most often, the work that the teacher assigns is busy work, or work that is due soon and given a “free” day to complete. Whether you know the topic or not, it is important to go over the assignment yourself so that during class you are able to go around and make sure students are truly staying on task or help out if they get stuck.

With increased use of technology, there will be times when a teacher gives the entire lesson electronically, either on a website or in a program like OneNote. Chances are you will not be able to access these lessons ahead of time, unless the teacher was able to print out screenshots for you. In instances like these, I like to find the student who is ready to go and is not distracted by others. I ask them to open up the lesson and show me what it is that they are doing. Then, standing behind this student (I try to pick kids who don’t feel uncomfortable when someone hovers), I will ask the class questions, like what tab or website would they find their lesson, what is the topic of the lesson, what is the objective, and when is it due (You usually will know the answer to this one). Then I can walk around and conference with individual students as to where they are in the lesson.

Know rules and schedule

You should have already familiarized yourself with the school rules, located in the substitute packet the office should have given you, and your teacher may have given you separate classroom guidelines and rules to follow. But sometimes, you may need to make up your own. A substitute usually only needs three basic rules: students must stay seated during individual/group work, students should only be talking during discussion and when asking/answering a question, and students must put effort into their work.

Sometimes I need to have certain rules handy
Unless explicitly mentioned by the teacher, you don’t have to agree to students’ demands (“but our teacher lets us do it”). For example, the most common question I get from students is “Can I listen to music?” This is usually a song list located on their smart phones or an accessible app on their laptops. My rule, unless otherwise stated by the teacher, is that as long as I can’t hear it, they can listen to it, but the phones need to stay in their pockets or otherwise out of sight. But if they are working on a quiz or test, or as a class are not staying on track, I will tell them to put all phones and earbuds away.

For some students, be prepared to be flexible. Your teacher may provide you with a summary of students who have Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). This is good to know so you are aware of which students may require a different teaching style or may need to change the way you interact with them. If you are not provided with a summary, still be prepared to use different approaches to individuals who seem to be less engaged with the lesson.

Oh my cheese burgers! Free time?!

In most scenarios, you will have enough work to keep students occupied until the bell rings. Walk around the classroom often to make sure students are staying on task. Do keep an eye on the clock, however. You want to give plenty of time to complete the lesson and at least two minutes at the end to pack up and address any questions.

And if somehow your students manage to finish their assignments with 5 – 15 minutes of class time left, depending on the class you can offer choices: do homework, read quietly, go online, listen to music, talk quietly, or play a game. This is where your bag of tricks may come in handy, especially if you’re not comfortable letting the class choose their own free-time adventures. In my bag I have copies of a Sudoku game and trivia cards that I can pass out and make a game out of.

The hope is always that you sub for a class where you have nothing but positive comments to give the teacher. But that isn’t always the case, so be prepared to minimize disruptions using the suggestions above and dip into your bag of tricks when needed.