Most teachers don’t want to take a day off from school during those precious first few months of classes. You’re getting to know your students, setting expectations, and creating a feeling of normalcy so when your students walk in your classroom, they always know what to expect.
And if you’re teaching in a STEAM classroom, you are also teaching students how to use new equipment and creating a hands-on environment that not only gives students a chance to create on their own…but is so because it’s carefully monitored. You’re teaching, exploring, creating, and troubleshooting one class period at a time.
But eventually….you’re going to need to take a day off and that means you’re going to need a sub. While many teachers try to leave subs instructions with an “easy” lesson of showing a video or giving students a test, it’s actually these hands-off lessons that cause the most problems. And if you’re teaching in a STEAM classroom, chances are you’re on a tight schedule to get a project completed. Students may have to sign up in advance to use different equipment, and if they can’t use it because you’re gone, it may throw the entire semester off. That’s a lot of pressure.
So how do you prepare for a sub when you’re in a STEAM environment?
Have a little faith in your sub
For many school districts across the country, substitute teachers need to not only have a bachelor’s degree but also have a teaching license in order to work. That being said, if you know you are going to have a sub who is a trained professional, give them a little credit and an opportunity to use their teaching chops. If there is a handbook for using equipment, leave it out for them. If there is no handbook, consider working with your school to create one that explains how to use the equipment easily; it could even be a good class project. Substitute teachers don’t just want to sit back and play solitaire for eight hours. They want to teach. Let them.
Overplan your lessons
If you normally teach in 45-minute blocks, give subs enough activities for a 90-minute class. This way, if the class breezes through each mini-lesson, subs don’t have that awkward 20 minutes of letting students “talk quietly as long as they stay in their seats” (This is just asking for trouble!).
Find your go-to sub. Seriously. The most jarring part of having a substitute teacher is that it messes with a student’s idea of routine. If students enter your classroom and see a substitute teacher that they’ve had before, it helps with that transition. New subs take a while to warm up to students. But subs that have been working in your school district awhile are worth holding on to. Also, if you teach a specific content area or age, look for subs that specialize in that area as well. If you are teaching in a STEAM classroom, find a teacher with a background in education technology.
Revise your emergency lesson plans
Yes, they’re usually due before the first day of school, but it’s always a good idea to revise them once you know your students. Maybe a worksheet and video were what you started with, but as you get to know your students, you learn that they enjoy creative writing or scavenger hunts. You already know that one-size-fits-all lessons don’t exist, and that applies to your emergency lesson plans, too. Once you know students feel comfortable with the technology they are using in the classroom, make sure to incorporate that as well.
Tell your co-teachers
Whether your co-teachers are by grade or by department, let at least two of them know you are going to be out. They can check on the sub to see how it’s going and also make sure students are staying on-task. At the very least, let the teachers who teach next to you know you are out. Also, if you have teachers use the same technology in their classroom that you do, see if they can help the sub out when needed. If a 3D printer suddenly isn’t working, then make sure your sub knows who to call.
Have a backup plan
Any lesson involving technology needs a backup plan. Whether students are using high-tech equipment or conducting research on the internet, you need to have a backup plan.
Talk to students about expectations
Let them know what behaviors are allowed and what the consequences are for not following classroom rules. Also, if students are going to work in groups, go over expectations with students for group work BEFORE you have a sub. The first time students work in groups should never be when you’re not present. If you’re in a STEAM classroom, students should feel comfortable using all of the equipment on their own. In the same vein, never let the first time someone uses a piece of equipment be when you’re not there to help. You can also check to see which students excel with different pieces of technology and assign them as “helpers.” They may know how to troubleshoot tech better than adults do. By giving students responsibilities in your classroom, you are helping to build their self-esteem and creating leaders.
Welcome subs to your class
Leave a note with expectations as well as a teacher’s name they can contact if they have any problems. It can be scary to walk into a classroom as a substitute teacher. It can be even scarier to walk into a STEAM classroom filled with technology they’ve never seen before. But if you set them up for success and let students know your expectations, you can set the bar higher for your subs and your students. Then, when you finally DO have to be away from the classroom, you won’t have to spend the day worrying about what’s going on in your absence. After all, every teacher hopes to come back to a positive note from their sub accentuated by smiley faces, not an all-caps account that was written in frantically-illegible handwriting of how the day went.