American Association of Blind Teachers

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No matter how conscientious a teacher you are, there will be times when you cannot be in school, and a substitute teacher will have to take your place. Having a substitute can be especially hectic for a blind teacher because it will probably mean contending with things out of place in the classroom, changes in normal procedures, and extra print notes left behind by the substitute. Here are a few suggestions for working effectively with a substitute.

I have found it especially helpful to keep a folder in my lesson plan book just for substitute teachers. In the folder, there are printed instructions for the everyday classroom procedures that I expect the substitute teacher to follow, including attendance, classroom rules, my discipline policy, and anything else that is necessary to know in order to run my classroom effectively. It is important to keep these instructions as brief as possible because the substitute will probably not have much time to read them. Other items in the folder include: seating charts, a list of textbooks and other materials used and where they can be found, a floor plan of the school, the bell tone and class schedules, emergency evacuation procedures, and contact information in case the substitute needs to get in touch with me.

Many times, you may have a substitute who is not certified in your subject and, therefore, cannot teach your class. When this happens, it is usually better for the sub not to follow your regular lesson plans because he or she may teach the lesson incorrectly, and your students will have to relearn everything when you come back. This can cause a lot of confusion for you and your students.

I have solved this problem by developing what I call "Rainy Day Lessons," which require no teaching and little supervision by the substitute. These lessons include such things as supplementary exercises, assignments, games and puzzles related to the curriculum which students can complete independently. The substitute could also show a video. Students can be held accountable for material covered in the video if they are required to answer written questions about it as they watch. To make it easier for substitutes, I keep a box in my classroom filled with enough copies of puzzles, worksheets, supplementary assignments, and video listening guides for the students to use. Instruct the substitute to inform the students that all materials will be collected at the end of the class. If students are held accountable for their work, they will be less likely to cause discipline problems for the substitute, and the time will be better spent. "Rainy Day" lesson plans are also part of the Substitute Folder.

If you are going to be out for a prolonged period of time, a more permanent substitute will have to be called in. This person will usually be certified in your subject and should be able to teach your regular curriculum. If you must have a substitute for several days, weeks, or even a semester, there are many things that you can do to make things go more easily for your students and the sub. If you know about your absence in advance, prepare your classroom and your students for the substitute. Write very detailed lesson plans and make sure that a print copy of the Scope and Sequence for each course that you teach is available. Get all the materials in your classroom in order. Inform your students that you will be absent for awhile and make them aware of your expectations for them while you are gone.

If possible, introduce the substitute to your students before you leave, and let him or her observe and teach with you for a day or two. Unfortunately, emergencies and accidents do happen and you may not have the luxury of planning for a long-term substitute. This is why it is extremely important to make sure that your lesson plan book, Substitute Folder, gradebook, teaching materials, and classroom are kept in order at all times.

Whether you are dealing with a daily or long-term substitute, there are a few other things that you can do to insure that things proceed as normally as possible while you are gone and make your return to class less stressful. Leave a voice recorder for the substitute to record her/his printed notes and comments. This way, you will not have to contend with a lot of extra print when you come back. If you are gone for more than a few days, arrange for regular phone contact with the substitute. By doing this, you can help him or her with the daily operation of your classroom and you will not be overwhelmed with surprises when you return. Finally, inform your principal or supervisor of your preparations, policies, and procedures for substitute teachers. If you do this, he or she will be in a position to lend additional support to the substitute, and things will go more smoothly for everyone involved.

In sum,having a substitute teacher often means confusion and lost teaching time for blind and sighted teachers alike. Many students feel that they can take advantage of substitutes, and many subs end up giving the kids a study hall or, worse yet, teaching something wrong. With proper planning and organization, none of these things need to happen. It is your responsibility to make sure that learning continues in your classroom whether or not you are there.

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