Thursday, December 6, 2012

The View from the Other Side -or- Preparing for a Sub

Please read this post.  If you are employed as an art teacher, it is important.

Some background:  Today I was a substitute teacher, for the first time in 37 years.  I am signed up on a regional substitute teacher registry, specifying that I only want to sub elementary art.  (The last time I worked as a sub was when I was fresh out of college, searching for my 1st teaching job.)  During my 36 years in the classroom, I rarely took days off, but there were those unavoidable occasions: a death in the family, attendance at a conference, a sick child, or rarely, a sick ME.  I was always worried about the sub; if I knew I was going to be out (a planned conference for example) I spent HOURS in my classroom prepping materials, and writing specific plans, because I did not like to have my kids' time wasted.  It paid off; people who subbed for me liked to come back.

But there are those unexpected days: the death, the child who throws up at 3:00am, when you do not have the time for that sort of preparation. You should be prepared for those inevitable days.

In my school district, we were told to create a 'Sub Folder', including all pertinent information: class lists, seating, health alerts (allergies etc), fire drill and lockdown procedures, a map of the school, names of who to go to for assistance; also various classroom procedures, some 'emergency lessons'.  These were kept filed in the office, ready for the secretary to hand to a sub when they came to work.  But if your school does not have such a procedure (such as in the school where I subbed today), you should prepare a sub folder anyhow, and leave it prominently on your desk for an emergency sub to locate.

In the case of the art teacher, the classroom procedures should include everything from what materials can be used or should not be used, to bathroom policies, cleanup procedures, end-of-day procedures, behavior policies, school Code of Conduct, etc.

Emergency plans should:
  • be something that can be completed hopefully in one session, in lieu of work-in-progress that is not easily continued by a sub, 
  • require minimal setup - the sub may arrive with only minutes to prep for their first class.  They don't want to be pouring paint, cutting paper, covering tables, and so on. 
  • use materials requiring minimal cleanup - no unplanned painting, perhaps something tied to a book that is easily located in the classroom. 
  • be written keeping in mind that the sub may NOT be an art teacher.  Don't expect the sub to have any art expertise at all.  On the other hand, you may have an art sub (like me) and you want them to enjoy teaching the lesson.  Please don't just leave coloring book pages.  UGH.  
  • include information about location of materials to use for these emergency lessons.  There's nothing much worse than having no paper and 25 kids walking in.
Some ideas - my emergency plans usually involved things that could be done simply with a motivating brainstorming activity - drawing a keyhole or door and imagining what might be on the other side; imagining a rock-and-roll band made entirely of insects or vegetables as musicians; drawing a landscape and dividing it into parts to be each altered for seasons or for times of day; you get the idea.  I usually had a variety of different choices for various grade levels.  What worked for grade 6 doesn't work for kindergarten!

 So, how was my day?  Mostly good.  The absence was an emergency; there were class lists, but not much else.  No sub handbook, no posted procedures, nothing.  I could not find lesson plans, nothing about procedures at all.  Another teacher stopped in and said she was supposed to help me find some videos I could show.  UGH again.  I asked if it would be OK if I taught a lesson of my own creation instead, and she said she was sure the absent teacher would be thrilled. These are the times when that sub handbook or folder, created in the first week or two of school, would really come in handy. (By the way, technophobe that I am, I really didn't want to have to deal with an unfamiliar DVD player anyhow.)

It was a primary school, and I had 2 classes of 1st graders and 3 classes of 2nd graders.  For the 1st graders, I prepped by cutting some 4" squares of faded brown paper that I had found in the room.  We read the book Not a Box (I had brought it with me).  We brainstormed for ideas, and the kids each glued their square on a larger piece of paper and used crayons to transform the box.  The kids did a great job (though the after-lunch class was a little rambunctious), and it was a good quickie lesson.  The class periods were 50 minutes long, so the gluing step helped keep the work from getting done too quickly.

For the 2nd graders, I did a warm and cool color activity, drawing an object with Sharpie (a fish, a boat, a house, a flower, a frog...), breaking the paper up with lines, and then coloring the object with warm colors and the negative space with cool, kind of patchwork quilt looking.  Some kids did great, and some didn't finish. Hopefully it will all be OK with the teacher. We used small paper and markers, and once we got moving, we discovered the markers were almost all dead.  There wasn't a red or blue in sight.  Very sad.  For the first class I added in some crayons just so they could finish.  Afterward, I looked around and discovered several unopened classpacks of markers, enough to last a LONG time, so I opened one and made up a tray for each table so that they would all have access to both warm and cool.  I used these for the next two classes.  There was no color wheel hanging anywhere in the room. (The room was actually a little disappointing - it had a lot of potential but seemed lackluster.  There were no cute bulletin boards or reward charts or job charts or any of the things I see regularly posted on the blogs.  Oh, what I could do with that room...)

Anyhow, to finish my day, I had a duty listed on the schedule (I think it said 'child supervision') with absolutely no instructions.  I had to ask someone, and found out it involved dismissal of students to the parents who pick up their kids (the ones who don't ride a bus); it was basically mayhem and chaos in the cafeteria.  I hope nobody went missing, since I was given no procedures, and the cafeteria had multiple doors to the outside being used by parents and kids.  Yikes.

OK, so perhaps YOU are not absent from school and YOU don't need a sub:  What should you do when you see an unfamiliar face on your hall?  Be welcoming!  Ask them who they are subbing for, poke your head into the classroom where they are subbing sometime during the day and ask how it's going or if they need anything.  I did not have ONE person do that today, and it would have made a huge difference.  At the end of the day I wrote the teacher a note, cleaned up, and closed the door and left.  Nobody checked on me, and I did not need to sign out (I asked).  I ate lunch in the staff room, and a few ladies came and went and totally ignored me rather than saying hello.  Perhaps I was invisible to anyone older than a second grader?  I do know, at the end of the day, 1st and 2nd graders were all saying "Hi Mrs. Brown!" to me when they saw me in the hall, and that felt nice.  The sub isn't making that much money for the time/energy spent (I'd make more spending a day waitressing, I think) so do what you can to make that person welcome in your school.  It may not be your job, but it is the nice thing to do.

Will I go back to that school if called?  Yes, absolutely; I liked the kids.  But I again will come prepared with my own lesson, and expect to eat lunch alone. The kids were great, and it was fun getting them to think 'outside the box'.

How do you prep for a sub in your art room?  Any advice you'd like to add?  Please chime in!


  1. I agree! I subbed for 1 1/2 years before I was hired to teach art and I absolutely hated it when the teacher said, "give them a free period"! The school I subbed at on a regular basis had forms the sub had to fill out at the end of the day (based on if the teacher left adequate plans) and the teacher was required to fill out a form about the sub (did he/she leave adequate notes, do what you asked, etc.). I really wish our school did this as well! It is a great way to ensure everyone is doing their job!

    Our school also requires an emergency sub plan folder, but the forms we have to fill out are more geared towards the regular classroom so I have created my own sub binder that is always next to my computer.

    In this binder, I have folder dividers for the 5 days of the cycle that I teach for. Each folder holds the daily roster and my schedule for that day. In the beginning of my binder I have a welcome letter that includes the following:
    -my rules
    -classroom management suggestions (Mona Lisa, ART letters, etc.)
    -my expectations
    -emergency evacuation/fire drill info.
    -4 complete sub plans that can be used at all grade levels

    My sub plans are the "Crazy Hair Day" project (I have stencils attached in a bag for the younger students to use...older students write their name in cursive a bunch of times), a "Fill a Jar" project (I include a picture of a boat in a jar, prompts for talking about surrealism, and jar tracers for students to fill their jar with an unusual picture), and a few others that I rotate through every year.

    These lesson plans are complete lesson plans, with objectives, materials, steps, standards, etc.

    I also have a clipboard with seating charts next to my computer for a substitute to use. On each chart, I put a star next to students that need special attention because of behavior issues. I also notate which students are trustworthy students to help out in class, as well as if any students have major health issues that should be known.

    I stress too about making sure I have left adequate sub plans! That great thing about this binder is I usually only have to update my roster once or twice a year and I can easily rotate through my sub plans whenever they have been used!

    1. I'd be happy to sub for you, if you were closer to me! It sounds like you provide just what I wished for today.

  2. You two are so thorough. I'm just at the end of 6 days sick leave. NZ schools don't have specialist art teacher's. (Our school is an exception) So most days the classes had a regular reliever. But on two of the days we got a high school art teacher and he was delighted to be able to do his own lessons. It is hard to follow another teachers plan, so equipping yourself with everything you'll need is my best advice. My favorites, mandalas, perspective drawing, stitching, weaving, crayon etching.

    1. Gretchen, it is so interesting reading what you write, because I haven't traveled much beyond the US and Caribbean.

      I also like teaching perspective. It just occurred to me -I didn't see any rulers in the art room today!

  3. I'd be totally intimidated if you were my sub you are the guru!

  4. Ever thought about teaching college courses as an adjunct? We need you in our Art Ed. programs! I'm from NY (one of the reasons why I follow your page!) and went to a SUNY school and wish more of my art ed. professors had your experience and willingness to share. You are great and I love everything you write!

    1. Ha ha. I trained with NYSUT's ELT program, but in the end didnt follow through. I was not eligible to teach courses for college credit because I do not have a masters degree. I have 36 hours grad credits, but when I got my certification, all you needed was 30 hours for permanent certification. The masters degree was not required. But that was 1979...

    2. By the way, which SUNY school? I am a New Paltz graduate.

    3. What about being a student teacher supervisor? We need more of those that are certified art! I received my certification through St. Lawrence and not a single supervisor was an actual art person! They were all English, Math or Social Studies people!

    4. I see, I see. Well, it's a thought.;)I went through that program too! SUNY Potsdam/St. Lawrence. I loved the program but felt we needed more Art Ed supervisors. Small world!

  5. You are braver than I! Subbing when I retire one day is not going to be on my list! It is a requirement in my school district that each teacher have a sub plan folder(mine is a binder) so that all the classroom/school procedures,class lists,schedules,lesson plans,etc... are in place for a sub. In fact one of my principals even has us hand them in the first week of school so she can make sure everything is in place. Mine has numerous lesson ideas for emergency's. I want to make sure whoever subs for me has a good day and that my students have a good day also. I was just out this week for two days for a workshop and I spent at least 3 days getting everything in place so things ran smoothly while I was gone!

  6. I have an "art class procedures" folder on top of my emergency sub basket. That way I can take it out and put it with my regular plans if it is a planned absence, but all of the information is right there if I am out on an emergency!

    Another thing I like to leave in my sub folder is a feedback form. I ask them how the classes went and if there is anything that needs to be added to the substitute information. I also ask for their contact information if they are willing to sub for me again (it's a great way to build a calling list for planned absences).

    1. I did leave a note for the district -using writing paper I brought with me. The weirdest thing - there was no bucket of pens/scissors/etc on the desk!

    2. Ironic, but I never thought about leaving my own checklist/feedback form for a sub to fill out! I'm definitely going to be doing this in my folder! I notice that a lot of subs in my district simply tell me that "everything went great!"...when in actuality, I know it didn't because the counselor across the hall tells me differently. Maybe if I give them a section to fill out for each class, they will be willing to actually write me a note! (I always left lengthy notes about each period...I hate it when subs don't do that!)

    3. I have a sub report/attendance sheet for my subs to fill out so I can see how the day went and they can fill me in on the good,bad and the ugly! :)

    4. I never thought about building my own contact list. Thanks for sharing that idea. I'll retype my comment page and add on that information ASAP!

  7. Being ignored????? Shame on those teachers! I am appalled. At least look someone in the eyes and say hello!

    I'd like to post this on my art sub blog in a couple of days if you don't mind. jan

    1. Jan, you are very welcome to use it. Can you send me the link to your sub blog? I think I've missed it somehow.

      And as far as the unfriendly staff, you an be sure I wasn't shirking in a corner somewhere. I was just odd, sad.

    2. Worst case when I once subbed, I went to the teachers room and joined a group at a table. They all looked around, picked up their things and moved. I've always carried that experience with me and try to engage the sub when ever there is one in my building.

    3. What an awful experience! I always spoke to subs, and included them in staff room conversations. I can't imagine being any other way.

  8. Our school requires teachers to have a sub folder with all pertinent info.and a few "emergency lessons" in the classroom AND a copy of it in the school office, too. I often thought that if I were a sub for just a day or 2, II would prefer to come in and use my own lessons with a class.

    1. I agree, if the teacher doesn't mind, I'd be happy to use my own plans, but we need adequate materials. A teacher should definitely indicate in her sub folder what materials are OK to use and what are off-limits, and should make sure there is something adequate for the sub to use to avoid panic.

  9. Phyl you are hilarious!You are such an amazing art teacher. Lucky day for those kids when you are the sub!

    1. Thanks, teebo, though I think this is probably ny least hilarious post ever! I pride myself on approaching life with a sense of humor, and hopefully that will help me when I sub. But this is actually a fairly serious post topic, I think.

  10. Welcome to my world Phyl! : ) Although it sounds like there are both similarities and differences being a relief teacher in the US and here in Australia. And I love that book you mentioned - Not A Box. Really, really cool. So simple and great fuel for the imagination.

  11. Just discovered this post, and it is terrific. I subbed for almost 5 years before I landed my own classroom. Those years taught me the importance of easy lessons for a sub. I have a sub binder that is easy to locate on top of my desk in the event of an unplanned absence. It contains seating charts, a copy of my schedule, a school map and detailed information on duties, emergencies and other school procedures. There are also lesson plan ideas and sheets that can be duplicated in the back section. Ideas might be pages from one of those complete the picture books. I make sure to make the binder accessible even if I have a planned absence with a note that the sub can have some freedom if they would like with my plans. There is also a couple of names of teacher contacts who might be available to answer questions if needed and where to locate them in the building. For my planned days out, I have also put together artist sketchbooks with my students in grades 1-4. Each sketchbook has an informational sheet glued in the front cover with extensive instructions on expectations for the projects listed. Students can chose a project to complete on my day out. The list contains ideas similar to your keyhole project and other like Imagine you are an ant, what do you see, design the perfect playground, an alien spaceship has landed on the playground etc. the sub is given a copy of each of the instructional sheets and I emphasize that all subjects must be thoroughly developed. The students self critique their work on the back of the page if they have time. I have critique sheets typed up to guide this step. The subs job becomes to encourage and supervise. I think it works well, I always get glowing thank yours from the subs for my great plans. I do have to leave a kindergarten lesson, they do not have sketchbooks. I also leave a fill in the blank "How did your day go?" Sheet for the sub with a place to record absences and problems or glowing compliments about the students. It's makes my day out prep quick and easy and hopefully a smooth day for the sub!

    1. Using some examples from Phyl and many of the other responses made by other teachers who read Phyl's response I summarized it all and came up with the following
      answer to the question,"What should you do as a teacher to Prepare for a Sub?" I believe a sub needs to have the following:
      1. Student Class lists of every class the sub may see during the day.
      2. Names of students that have medical problems stating what the problem may/could be and any proper procedures that must be used in
      order to deal with the problem such as using one of those medical pens used for students who have allergic reactions etc....
      3. Names of students who are good helpers/ students who inappropriately behave(naming the types of behaviours to watch out for and
      some common/useful hints for dealing with them like ex. talking out loud without raising hand= get one warning from now on and
      after that punishment would be to stay in at recess/lunch for 1/2 the time)
      4. Sheet to write on at the end of the day that tells how each period went and which will provide info about how things went, where
      things ended, what problems occured etc...Some schools require the sub to fill these in and give to vice principal/ principal.
      U should always ask for the subs ph # or email address in order to put them on your own supply list.
      5. Emergency procedures in case of fire(ex. head to nearest outside door located to right/left??? and bring class list to check when
      everyone is outside & safe, have a student runner whose job is to remain as the last student to leave the classroom who shuts the door
      & who makes sure nobody is left and who tells the principal that all of his class has left the school building). Also, another safety
      procedure includes what teacher/students should do in case a known individual has entered the school's premises: ex. lock/shut classroom
      door get away from the door, find a certain place to stay seated while the emergency is still occuring and wait for an announcement that
      tells everyone that the emergency is over.
      6. Seating plans of every class
      7. Classroom rules to be followed and punishments to follow if any rule is broken.
      8. List of names of fellow teachers (and where U could find them )that may teach similar grades/subjects who can possibly answer any
      questions you may have that day especially if it involves duty requirements ex. Where do I go and what do I need to pay attn to etc.)
      9. Duty schedule
      10. Emergency lesson folder that has at least 5 or more plans,one for every day of the week, to be used by any class grade in case of
      any emergency where the one plan left gets lost,stolen,torn up etc...
      11. weekly class schedule that says what classes the homeroom students have for all 5 days ex Monday- 8am:English,8:50am: Math etc..

      Hope my summary is to your liking!
      DRL, Riverview,NB,Canada

    2. 12. a school map
      13. at least one sheet for every subject that U teach that can be duplicated whenever needed that has a sticker on it somewhere
      saying that it needs to be returned exactly as found so it can be
      reused afterwards again.
      14. a binder of numerous pages ranging from crosswords,word searches, coloring pages and also, writing pages like the ones mentioned
      previously entitled: Imagine You Are An Ant/ What Would You See, Design The Perfect Playground, An Alien Spaceship Has Landed On The
      Playground etc. Each work completed should be thoroughly developed as if it will be graded because it could be used as bonus marks or
      as a way to get that student over that last hump from having a failed grade to a passing grade. On the back of each of these pages should
      be a page where the student can self critique their own work if they have time. A critique sheet should be made into a poster that
      could be placed on the main wall of the classroom in front of the class that lists all the different ways one can critique one's own work.
      Ex. Is your work done to the best of your ability? Did you answer every question? Did you provide enough information that will support
      your answer? etc.... These pages are for students who finish their work quickly and are bored.

    3. Wow, Derek, thanks for taking so much time to think this out so thoroughly. I'm very impressed! And now, for the person subbing, a few reminders: bring a couple of books (to read with the kids) and plans for some easy emergency lessons in case the teacher hasn't left what he/she should. Also, notepaper to leave a note for the shaver, and some useful 'props'.