As I study the challenges that substitute teachers face, I have come to the conclusion that one of the things that make subbing difficult is the breakdown of procedures in the classroom. Let me explain.
Each teacher is allowed to make their own classroom rules and procedures. Some things may be suggested by the school’s administration, but each teacher needs flexibility in deciding what procedures will help them be most effective. Does this mean school should establish procedures school wide so there is consistency from class to class. No, this would be a huge hindrance to the regular teacher.
Some classrooms, particularly at the Elementary School level, have procedures posted on the wall. I always try to follow those procedures to the letter, if at all possible. However, these lists are seldom exhaustive.I have also been in classrooms where the regular teacher has done a fabulous job of creating a notebook full of detailed information on how to handle each and every procedural process. I am always thankful for that kind of information. However, unless you are teaching in a class for an extended period (that is, more than one day) you are unlikely to get the chance to review and learn all such procedures.
What then is a sub to do? My suggestion is to put together a short presentation informing students of what your procedural expectations are for the day. You should be able to do this in five minutes or less so you don’t cut into class time any more than is absolutely necessary. You are also going to have to be very flexible in which procedures you use in each particular situation and how you explain them. For instance, seniors taking a test would require very little instruction where grade school students would likely require a great deal more.
I have a short Power Point presentation I often (though not always) show to my classes. In it we quickly review bathroom procedures, fire and lock-down drill procedures and more. There is a bit a humor in it and the students generally enjoy watching it. I’ve actually had students who have seen it in another class ask me to show it in classes where it wasn’t needed.
Making your procedures slightly outrageous will help make them more memorable. For instance. have students who want to use the bathroom carry with them a large and silly looking hall pass. Ask students who come late to class sing a few bars of their favorite song… You get the picture.
Adopting new procedures for a day or a few days is no great challenge for your students, yet it helps maintain your professionalism and authority in the classroom. You are also far less likely to hear the complaint, “But our teacher let’s us do this…” Many times such statements are bogus, which makes it all that much more important to establish your own procedures while you are teaching. Your response can be as simple as, “I’m sorry, but Mrs. X is not here today so we will be following my procedures. You are welcome to take it up with him/her when they return.”