Tag Archives: substitute teachers

One Size Does Not Fit All (Grade Levels)

In a recent post, I wrote about my wife (“Mrs. M”), a substitute teacher who needed to be always prepared for the mysteries and challenges her day might present.  For Mrs. M., knowing the grade level and age range of the students she is about to teach is probably the most essential piece of the puzzle.  Which resources to use, which strategies to employ, even which clothes to wear—these are all influenced by the expectations she has of what a kindergarten-classroom experience will be versus what a day in sixth grade might bring.  (For example, Mrs. M. brings plenty of stickers and picture books for younger students, while she likes to assign writing prompts and read Louis Sachar’s Sideways Stories books to grades 3 and up.)  Sure, there is some commonality to the two experiences, but if you were to create a Venn diagram with “Teaching Kindergarteners” and “Teaching 6th Graders” as your labels, the center-circle overlap would not need to be nearly as large as the outer areas.

This is not so different from how we approach our work in the world of educational publishing.  One of the first questions to ask when reading a manuscript or beginning the editing process is, “What grade level is this for?”  Once this question is answered, several other answers fall into place:

•  Which point size to use:  12 pt. vs. 14 pt.  (The younger the audience, the bigger the letters should be.)

•  Which font style to use:  serif vs. sans serif.  (The younger the audience, the fewer frills and flourishes those letters should have.  And it even goes further than that:  a font may seem perfectly suitable but then have a strangely-shaped lowercase “a” or capital “Q,” for instance.  Young students have just learned their letters a certain way, so it wouldn’t be fair to ask them to recognize alternate versions.)

•  Which write-on lines to use:  regular vs. primary  (Primary write-on lines are those big, wide ones that have a dashed guide line going across the horizontal middle.  They take up a lot of space on the page, and many are needed for each question.  Young learners write with such large letters that they can only fit a few words on each of line.)

•  Which art style to use:  cartoon vs. realistic.  (A smiling, whimsical walrus would most likely be inappropriate for an upper-level science book.)

These are just a few of the cosmetic things we try to keep in mind when we design the layout of our pages.  Content, of course, must also be considered and tailored to the specific learning level we are aiming to reach.  In the end, we are hoping to create the perfect balance between what best helps teachers teach and students learn.

We do get occasional feedback about some of the finer points of page layout, and we would love to hear from as many teachers as possible.  Do you have any suggestions for ways we can make our books easier and more practical to use for the grade level that you teach?  Here’s a topic to get you started:  name lines.  Would you prefer to have a designated space on the page that says “Name:  __________,” or would you rather that space used for an extra question?

There’s No Substitute for Being Prepared

The spring and fall of 2009 have been trying times for California teachers. Even those with several years of experience entered the month of March on an anxious note, with their jobs in jeopardy amidst news of statewide budget cuts. As the temperatures of summer rose, so, too, did the number of pink slips handed out. And while some teachers who lost their positions were eventually rehired in the fall, many weren’t. The result: a lot of highly qualified teachers who are now sleeping nearer to their cell phones, waiting for an early-morning employment opportunity. This is the life of a substitute teacher.

As the husband of one such teacher, I get to experience the daily uncertainty firsthand. And the intrigue only begins when my wife (let’s call her “Mrs. M”) gets that 6:00 a.m. phone call. What school? What time? What grade level? Will she be singing and teaching sight words to excitable kindergarteners, or will she be multiplying fractions and discussing ancient civilizations with sassy sixth-graders? Either way, her workbag has to be packed and her clothes have to be hanging on the door, ready to go. That 6:00 a.m. phone call sometimes doesn’t come until 7:15.

When she arrives at the school, there are more questions in need of answering: Where is the classroom? Does she have bus duty? breakfast duty? recess duty? lunch duty? And, most importantly, of course, just who are these 30 small people with big personalities who are about to walk through the door?

A clue to how the day will go usually comes in the form of the notes the teacher has left. Are the lesson plans for the day included? Do copies need to be made? Did the teacher leave instructions about the classroom policies for bathroom breaks and pencil sharpening? (Maybe. Probably. Almost never.) And will the activities scheduled for that day actually take up the allotted time? Here’s where being the wife of an editor of educational materials can be a real bonus.

Two series of books that Mrs. M swears by are the Mind Twisters series and the Mastering Skills series. The Mind Twisters books give her plenty of ready-to-use, content-based time-fillers that get students to use their critical-thinking skills. Best of all, the students like doing these puzzles, riddles, and mazes so much that Mrs. M can use them as rewards for good behavior. The Mastering Skills books are handy because they’re great for reviewing grade-specific, standards-based skills.

The single most valuable resource Mrs. M has at her disposal, though, could be the Substitute Teacher Handbook. This one-stop guide is brimming with teaching strategies, classroom-management tips, and emergency curriculum, and it includes entire sections on working with special populations and being a professional substitute teacher (including FAQs and legal responsibilities).

While there is nothing that can make a substitute teacher’s job easy, there are resources like these that can make the substitute teacher more prepared. And you don’t have to be an expert in fractions or the Peloponnesian War to know that being prepared is at least half the battle.

Sub Grab-Bag: What Every Substitute Teacher Should Have

What might you need on the job when you don’t know anything about it? This happens every day when you are a substitute teacher. Here’s a list of things you should consider having with you on every assignment:

  • Paper clips
  • Marking pens
  • Name tags
  • Seating chart forms
  • Ream of duplicating paper
  • Literature selections
  • Emergency lesson plans (see Chapter 5 in the Substitute Teacher Handbook for these)
  • Whistle
  • Sun hat or sunscreen
  • Jogging shoes or flats for P.E. and recess duty
  • Assignment calendar
  • Time sheet
  • Small cooler or lunch box and thermos
  • Change of clothing (in case teaching assignment changes after your arrival)
  • Copies of instructional materials that you wish to use with the class
  • Stickers or ink stamp and pad (primary & elementary levels)
  • Index card of “sponge” activities for students to use after they finish their assignments (see previous post)
  • Copy of your own discipline plan (laminated and ready to post)
  • Special objects or items that you would like to use with the class that may motivate them during the day, such as stickers, award badges, certificates, and incentive charts
  • Teaching journal
  • Blank forms of a regular classroom teacher report (to be completed and left at the end of the day)

More substitute teacher resources.

Tips for Handling Substitute Teachers

There are times when you will not know, in advance, that you will be absent from your job. There may not be enough planned for a substitute. Having a substitute folder is definitely a plus. Have one that you can keep in your desk drawer or in a special spot with your lesson plan book. Inside the folder you should include the following items:

• class list and seating chart
• class schedule
• brief description of your duties and the days you have duty—i.e. lunch, dismissal, before school
• list of dependable students to carry a message to the office or another teacher
• description of your daily routine, such as how you take up lunch monies, how students should be dismissed, manner in which the office can be reached in case of emergency
• notes about the discipline/management system
• special notes on any student behavior
• special information on students—such as frequent need for bathroom or medication given at office
• names of all the staff or names of teachers in the area
• substitute time fillers and special work
stickers or special treats for good behavior
• an evaluation form for the teacher to fill out

The substitute will appreciate all the information and you will not have to worry about your lesson plans and how the day is going. Your lesson plans should be as complete and clear as possible. Note where books can be found and on what pages the lessons are found. Also, make a note as to whether or not you want your substitute to grade papers and designate a spot for them to be placed once they are finished.

For more tips on how to handle substitute teachers, check out: