Preparing for the Inevitable: 10 things you should always have available for a substitute

I wrote in a previous post (Substitute Survival Guide) about my recent return to the classroom as a substitute teacher and I offered some advice for my colleagues who teach on an ad hoc basis. This post offers the flip side – what you can do as a classroom teacher to make life easy on your sub and your students.

There’s no one who can run your classroom as well as you. From the carefully organized bookshelf to the exact location of your favorite stapler upon your desk, everything has a place and purpose. You have the flow of the day calculated down to the minute, making sure everything is accomplished with enough time to fully explain the homework and wrap up the lesson. Even the climate and ambience of the classroom has been carefully cultivated. Perhaps it’s this personal attachment and investment with our classrooms that makes it so hard for teachers to allow someone to step in and take over – whether it’s for an afternoon dentist appointment or a 6-week parental leave. I hated calling off sick when I was a classroom teacher. Even more than the unplanned absences that come about from illness or emergencies, I would stress over writing down each detail for a upcoming day off for PD or an appointment. Sometimes, it feels like more work to prep for a sub than to just go to work!

Whether you leave your sub a well-detailed novel about what should happen in the course of a day, or you scribble, “Students should continue yesterday’s assignment – they know what to do” on a post-it (I’ve encountered a number of variations of both!), here’s a quick list of 10 things you can prepare ahead of time and have accessible for when a substitute comes to your classroom:

  1. Class rosters: Are all of these students supposed to be here? Who is missing?
  2. Schedule: When does that bell ring? What subject should you be teaching at that time? Most importantly, when is lunch!?!
  3. Homeroom Responsibilities: In addition to taking attendance, do you need to do anything else like collect lunch money or monitor the dress code?
  4. Supervisory Responsibilities: Do you have lunch, recess, hallway, or dismissal duty? If so, what does that entail?
  5. Lesson Plans: What are you supposed to be covering today?
  6. Emergency Procedures: What do you take with you for a fire drill? Where do you go?
  7. Behavioral Procedures: How do you handle misbehavior? Is there a system in place that you should follow?
  8. IEP / Special Education Information: Don’t violate FERPA, but who needs accommodations?
  9. Go-To People: What teacher nearby can help, or who do you approach in the office if you need help? Which students can you trust to give help?
  10. Support Staff: Is there anyone who pushes into the classroom for help? What is their role?

If you feel overwhelmed with the idea of creating a substitute resource file from scratch, there are a ton of planners, binder templates, and documents that you can download from the Internet to help you plan these items in an organized fashion. Here’s one that I created and offer for free download. Whatever you choose to use, make sure that this information is accessible – it’s really frustrating to wing it through the day, only to find the sub-binder on a shelf in the back of the room or the lesson plans on the floor under the desk where they were knocked off by the janitorial staff!

Once you have all of this work taken care of, don’t forget to take some vitamin C, eat a balanced diet, and exercise regularly so that you can use less sick days and just let that newly created sub-binder collect some dust!


Substitute Survival Guide

 

While I’ve been active in the education profession as a writer, consultant, and trainer for the past 6 years, I haven’t actually held a classroom teaching position in that time. Recently, I decided to avoid being disconnected from the classroom by taking up a position as a substitute teacher. In the midst of all the chaos – classrooms without plans, students trying to take advantage you, or getting called for a shift 15 minutes before the school day starts – I do really love subbing. I learn more about connecting with students, lesson delivery, and classroom management in a day or two of subbing than hours logged in university education or professional development. For those of you who share in this role as a substitute teacher, whether on-call daily or in a long-term position, here’s my top five tips for surviving subbing.

 

  1. Don’t undervalue your role. I get asked by students, “Why aren’t you a real teacher?” I usually reply with dramatically feigned surprise, “This isn’t real?!?” Subbing is seen as the bottom of the totem pole for education careers. There’s a mindset that if a substitute is below retirement age, then obviously they have this job because they just couldn’t land a full time job. Anyone over retirement age is just filling in for nostalgia’s sake or to cure boredom. Regardless of your reasons for subbing, you have a really important job. You need to provide stability in an unstable situation. Teachers need to be out of the classroom due to illness, professional development, family needs, or even for a vacation (yes, those a real!). You need to hold down the fort. Like a soldier taking over the post, you are responsible for this group of students – even if it’s for just a few hours. You are not “only a sub.” You are the superhero swooping in to hold back the chaos of routine disruption.
  2. Build relationships. Sure, you might just be a day-to-day sub in a different classroom, building, or even district each day of the week, but it’s still critical to connect with people (children and adults) everywhere you go. Every time you walk through the halls of a school, smile and greet people. You’ll find it makes your day generally more enjoyable. If you re in an elementary building, also make an attempt to get to know all of the “specials” teachers because chances are you will see at least one of them each time you work. Build a relationship with the building secretary; this is the person whom you see first and last each day. They wield an awful lot of power and act as the glue pulling everyone else together. Finally, try to get to know the children. Try to learn their names. Let them know you care. Too many children have adults come in and out of their lives and they never feel valued. In a class period, or over the course of a day show them how important they are.
  3. Observe to learn. Look around the classroom and the building. You can learn a lot about the school culture and classroom social environment by taking a few minutes to just look around. Don’t go through cupboards or desks in a snooping, invasive sense – but even a superficial evaluation could be enough. See what teachers are doing that works. Do you like a center strategy, library arrangement, job chart, or seating plan? Jot it down, or take a photo (but do NOT photograph students or their likenesses). Write down materials you like and consider writing a note to the teacher to ask where materials were purchased. If you are familiar with the school and are a frequent visitor, you can even ask to borrow a book or resource. Learn from each room that you are a guest in.
  4. Try it all. Go through your Pinterest board, web bookmarks, favorite blogs, or dog eared book pages and give a try to behavior modifications, bell-ringer activities, popcorn reading strategies, review games, transition ideas, and time fillers. Each day, you get a new set of students to be your guinea pigs for pedagogical experimentation. Keep a log book or chart noting the strategy you tried, the age level of the children, and pros/cons of your facilitation. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you come to learn what works well for you. This trial and error process can be critical research as you reaffirm your personal philosophy of education. You will know what you believe in because you have not only tried it with success, you know that it is better than other strategies that have failed for you.
  5. Keep a bag of tricks. What’s in my bag? Multiples copies of a daily evaluation sheet that I leave for teachers. (I use this Teachers Pay Teachers freebie: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Freebie-While-you-were-outA-Substitute-Feedback-Form-685967) I also keep stickers, a smiley face stamp and scented ink pad, pencils, erasers, and a box of crayons to share with students. The placement company I work for forbids giving food to students (it’s a liability given food sensitives, allergies, and dietary restrictions) but I know many other substitutes who keep crackers, pretzels, or small candies in their bag as well. For my own use, I also have hand sanitizer, tissues, cough drops, a granola bar, and a notebook. I also usually throw in a book to keep me occupied if I have a long lunch or planning period (those are the days to live for!).

 

Hopefully these tips can help my fellow substitutes embrace their role and arrive prepared to create a great day of learning for students!


Back to School Basics: Some Relationship Advice

Now, I know some of my teacher friends have argued that it’s hard to date and teach, but that’s not the relationship advice I’m here to give. I’m talking about the relationships you have with your colleagues in your building.

Do you remember the show Scrubs? It’s a favorite of mine. A running theme throughout the show is that JD, a new doctor, insists that veteran Dr. Cox is his mentor. Then Dr. Cox usually has some reason why he is unfit to be a mentor and brushes off this title. Throughout the years of the show, even as JD becomes older and more experienced, he is still seeking that mentoring relationship. He remains hungry for learning and advice, and seeks it from the person his gut tells him to follow. I can think of a few fellow teachers whom I have sought this relationship from and I can honestly say having been mentored in several different aspects of my career, I have grown exponentially.

I’ve been reading a lot about peer coaching and teacher mentoring programs, and how it is much more effective than traditional professional development. This is someone startling and saddening to see from my perspective, given that I own an organization with the primary purpose of providing professional development. However, we are carefully looking at this research and considering ways to incorporate more follow-up and coaching aspects into our PD sessions. Why? Well, consider this chart from Models of Professional Development: A Celebration of Educators (Joyce & Calhoun, 2010, p. 79).

While interactive, engaging professional development (which is one of our core principles) appears to have an impact in the short-term for teachers, without follow-up and further engagement the effects taper off with only 5-10% of teachers implementing what was covered in the training. However, if a peer coach is involved, the rate of implementation remained steady around 90%. That’s a big difference.

The Microsoft Innovative Teaching and Learning Research project states: Innovative teaching practices are more likely to flourish when particular support conditions are in place. These conditions include:

  • Teacher collaboration that focuses on peer support and the sharing of teaching practices
  • Professional development that involves the active and direct engagement of teachers, particularly in practicing and researching new methods
  • A school culture that offers a common vision of innovation as well as a consistent support that encourages new types of teaching. (Microsoft, 2011, p. 12).

 Consider those points and think about your professional practice. Do you share ideas with your fellow teachers? Do you seek out engaging learning opportunities? Does your school administration support your development and learning goals?

I am challenging you now: seek out a peer coach or a mentor in your school. Someone who can guide you, offer ideas, and support you. Even veteran teachers can benefit from this relationship. Or, perhaps, you can coach someone else. Here are some attributes to look for in a peer coach:

  • Is able to build trust with peers
  • Builds on what a teacher needs
  • Communicates well and listens to teachers
  • Is flexible
  • Provides a safe, risk-taking environment and is non-threatening, nonjudgmental, and accepting
  • Is recognized by staff as a strong / outstanding teacher (Foltos, 2013; Meyer et al. 2011).

Whichever side of the relationship you feel ready to be on – coach or colleague, mentor or mentee – take the time to recognize the power of this bond. Both teachers will find themselves learning from each other and discovering new ways to impact their classrooms.

Back to School Basics: Gooooooaaaaaaaallllllll!

With the gusto of soccer announcer Andrés Cantor, you need to celebrate your goals. Well, maybe before we start dancing in the streets, let’s back up a second and think about your goals. Sure, you can come up with all sorts of lofty goals as to why you’re a teacher: I want to impact the future. I want to be the reason a child becomes great. I want to create lifelong learners. That fluff-stuff is for your Philosophy of Education that you have to submit with your resume to get the job. But, now you’re hired, here, and ready to start off a new school year that may include new faces or new places.

In Teach, Reflect, Learn, Hall and Simeral (2015, ASCD) argue, “With so many professional responsibilities determined for us in education […], it is essential to our continued growth – not to mention our sanity – to have some semblance of ownership over our own development.” Do you even know what you want to do beyond pure survival? Setting goals outside of curriculum maps and mastery levels can keep you focused on your mission to, as Ghandi so eloquently put it, “Be the change you wish to see in the world” or whatever quote you pulled into your philosophy statement back in college.

Set one attainable goal in each of these areas outside of academics: student social-emotional well-being, professional practice, and personal balance. Here are some reflection questions to get you through goal setting:

Student Social-Emotional Well-Being

  • How will I make time to get to know my students?
  • How will I establish my room as a safe place for students both physically and emotionally?
  • What can I do to show students that I care?
  • What normative beliefs can I promote for respect, integrity, and kindness?
  • Research shows that one caring adult makes a big difference in the success of a child. How will I be that adult for a child who needs me?

Professional Practice

  • What topics do I want to attend training on?
  • Do I want to further my education and seek another degree or certification?
  • What new skill do I want to try? How will I learn the skill, observe the skill, or try the skill?
  • What professional books do I want to read?
  • Can I access a peer coach, instructional partner, or mentoring teacher?
  • What Professional Learning Communities do I have access to within my school or district?
  • How can I connect with other education professionals on social media?

Personal Balance

  • What projects around the house do I want to complete?
  • Do I have any fitness goals that I can work towards?
  • Is there a vacation that I am longing for?
  • How will I make time for my family and friends?
  • What limits will I set to not overwhelm myself with work while I am at home?

Remember, set goals that you can reach. They can small goals, such as, “Paint the bathroom over Fall Break” or tall goals, “Enroll in a Master’s program at a local university.”  Either way, you have to have a plan for reaching them. You can download many goal templates (I’m a fan of the SMART plan: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound) or simply write your goal on a sticky note. Choose what you are working for, and then go out there and get it. Pick a reward that you will celebrate with – even if it’s just jumping up and down in your classroom and screaming at the top of your lungs, “GOOOOOoooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaalllllllllllllllll!!!!!!!!!!”

Back to School Basics: Don’t Recreate the Wheel

I can’t tell you how many times I recreated the wheel as a teacher. I’d spend hours developing a worksheet, or labor over making sure I had all of the information for a form and then a colleague would say, “Oh I could have sent you one that I use!” or I see a teacher-friend on social media post a link to an online resource that was exactly what I needed. It’s frustrating to be sure. So, before you take your precious time to create a resource that already exists… check with the teacher next door, ask your friends, or look online. Make a pledge to yourself that this is the year you become more efficient and make use of your amazing colleagues who have blazed the trails before you.

If you school doesn’t already provide you with tracking forms, lessson plan templates, or conference planners, I’m sharing with you here some amazing, FREE options that are available online. The best part – these are forms that you can type directly into.

  • Student Tracking Forms: With daily, weekly, or class period options in addition to a completely blank form for you to customize, you can easily track everything from attendance to homework to lunch orders.
  • Lesson Plan Templates: Includes 6 format options: Snapshot Lesson Plan, Weekly Lesson Plan, Traditional Lesson Plan, Self-Contained Classroom Daily Plan, Thematic Planner, Unit Planner
  • Parent Conference Planners: Six different planning templates to help prepare for parent-teacher conferences: Traditional Parent Teacher Conference,  Referral for Student Services Conference, Portfolio Review Conference, Student-led Conference (teacher planner), Student-led Conference (student planner), and Parent Planner

Looking for something more specific? There are thousands of amazing teacher-created materials out there online – and many of them are free! Here are some excellent sources that I check when looking for resources:

P.S. While you’re browsing those resources, you may start thinking to yourself, “Hey, I have great lessons of my own!” Why not take some time to format the lessons and create your own shop on one or more of these sites. Don’t be intimidated – you don’t need hundreds of lessons (although you certainly go that route if you’re inclined).  Personally, with 21 products in shops on Syllabuy and Teachers Pay Teachers, I earned about $500 last year. That was enough to take the family on a weekend getaway – just by sharing things I had already created for my own use! So, while you’re looking to avoid recreating the wheel in your classroom and saving yourself some time – why not get your ideas out there and do the same for someone else… and make a little cash too.

Back to School Basics: Create a Classroom Tour Video

Lights, camera, action! Once you’re done preparing your room, it’s time get out a camera or your smartphone and create a guided video tour of your classroom. When you’re done, upload this video to YouTube, and share the link on a classroom homepage or social media site. If you have availability to student or parent email addresses before the school year begins, send the link out. You could also send this during the first week of school, but sending it before the school year begins helps students feel a little more comfortable and relieve the first day jitters because they know exactly what to expect when they walk in the door. This also introduces you to parents so they can put a face to your name – it is especially helpful with parents at the middle / high school level who may never come into contact with their child’s teacher.

Here are a few things you may want to cover:

  • The basic layout of your classroom. Show the student desks, your desk. Where are student accessible materials? Where do they turn in homework? Do students store coats, lunch boxes, etc in the classroom or in lockers in the hallway? Is there a restroom in your classroom? Cover all of these areas and any other relevant information you can think of.
  • Is there a place within your classroom, or in the hallway where you post information such as field trips, conference sign ups, or other important information? Be sure to highlight this area so that parents can find it easily!
  • Have someone record you sitting in a comfortable place within your classroom (or, be really hip and use a selfie-stick). Behind your desk may come off as a little too sterile or intimidating. Introduce yourself and convey your excitement for the school year. Share your goals for the year. Remind parents where they can locate your contact information (don’t share your contact info in the video unless you are keeping the link private.)

Creating this virtual tour should set the tone for your classroom. Let students and parents alike see your passion for teaching, and how you take pride in this space. Be confident and speak clearly.

Other information videos you can create for your own classroom vlog (video blog) series can include:

  • An overview of your homework / classwork / grading policies.
  • If you have a self-contained classroom, or your entire homeroom follows the same schedule, overview this schedule. If you’re tech savvy, you can overlay pictures over the different areas within the school that the children will visit or even walk the school as you explain where you are going.
  • A walking video of how to get to your classroom from the front door of the school. For students coming into a large, new school this can really alleviate some anxiety.
  • Explain personal electronics policy / computer usage within the school.
  • Video screen navigation of how to access student grades online, locate information on the class website, or social media links for the class.

Post in the comments what other ideas you have for “How to” or informational videos teachers can create!

Back to School Basics: Proceed to Create Procedures

Over the next week or so, I’ll be posting some basic tips for getting your new school year off to a great start. We’ll get this party started with talking about procedures.

A colleague of mine once told me the first two weeks of school in my classroom was like attending bootcamp. I drilled my class on the proper procedures on everything from entering the classroom to throwing away garbage. There was a procedure for clean-up and a very specific procedure for morning meeting. However, after these first few intense weeks of learning routine, my classroom was a well-oiled machine. My substitute teacher plans did not have to be so detailed because even my 4 year old students could run the day on their own. It was only content and thematic elements that the sub needed to plug in. The First Days of School by Harry Wong, a text revered by many teachers, extols the glories of well-thought out procedures as does many other great texts on classroom management.

For those of you who aren’t a drill sergeant or a severe type-A control freak naturally graced by the ability to carefully plan every anticipated outcome and construct a seamless flow of behaviors, here’s a quick series of questions you can ask yourself to establish effective procedures in your classroom.

  1. What day-to-do routine behaviors are carried out in my classroom?
  2. What is the ideal outcome of each behavior?
  3. What are the particular steps to achieve this outcome?
  4. What do I need to do to prepare or have available?
  5. What are the specific expectations of the students?

Once you have determined what procedures you want to put in place, take the time to thoroughly explain the expectations to your students. Model the proper procedure, and don’t forget to give the students a practice run! Repeat the expectations aloud as they are practicing. The more they hear, see, and do, the sooner it will become second nature. In time, your classroom will be more efficient and your students will be more responsible as they master procedures and meet expectations.

Recommended books which address setting up procedures:

  • The First Days of School by: Harry Wong
  • Tools for Teaching by: Fred Jones
  • Skills Streaming Series by: Ellen McGinnis and Arnold P. Goldstein
  • What Great Teachers Do Differently: 14 Things That Matter Most by: Todd Whitaker

Media Literacy – More than just using Ed Tech

I spent an amazing day earlier this week at “Yes, And… A NAMLE Preconference Symposium on Media Literacy Education in Early Childhood.” If you’re not familiar with NAMLE – National Association for Media Literacy in Education – (I wasn’t), you can check out their website. I received a free invite to the symposium and conference and, because I never turn down free learning, I was pretty excited to go. In my mind, this session was going to be about getting preschoolers on iPads and other fun tech. What I didn’t realize was there is WAY more to media literacy than knowing how to connect to the WiFi. I had a few Oprah-worthy “a-ha moments” as I sat in the room where 10% of the  attendees were subject matter experts and book authors.

The session started with NAMLE’s founding president and symposium faciliator Dr. Faith Rogow. Behind her on the projection screen was a horse running a beach. She gestured to the screen and asked us, “What do you see?” Answers seemed obvious: a horse, a beach, waves, the ocean. Then she smiled and said, “It’s a PICTURE of a horse.” As the chuckles subsided, I hadn’t yet realized how well that statement set the stage for unveiling a whole new way to consume media.

NAMLE makes it very clear from their core principles that media literacy is a mindset, a way of thinking, and a way of interpreting all media around us:

The purpose of media literacy education is to help individuals of all ages develop the habits of inquiry and skills of expression that they need to be critical thinkers, effective communicators and active citizens in today’s world.

Habits of inquiry and skills of expression. This is way more than being tech savvy. Critical thinkers, effective communicators, and active citizens. This is 21st century skills meeting a healthy dose of creativity with a sprinkle of well-needed cynicism.

Look at that graphic I posted above and all of the higher level thinking skills going on there! We’re talking about those top rungs on Bloom’s Taxonomy! Cyndy Scheibe of Ithaca College’s Project Look Sharp shared three very important rules for constructivist media decoding (a way to encourage students to examine diverse media):

  1. Always start with your goals
  2. Consider your audience
  3. Ask, don’t tell – then probe for evidence

It seems pretty simple – but these three rules can apply to so much more than evaluating media. We spent a large portion of the day on the importance of questioning. Instead of accepting what children say to you, ask : How do you know this? Where did you learn that? Why do you think this happens? Where can we look to learn more? The focus was not just on getting children to soak up knowledge like  sponges, but to think carefully about the process of researching and learning, and carefully drawing conclusions based on multiple sources of evidence. Oh yeah, and we were STILL talking about working only with preschoolers. Think about it – the preschool years are so full of wonder and inquiry about everything from categorizing dinosaurs, to learning the letters in my name, and wondering how boogers got in my nose before I pulled them out with my finger. (That last one truly came from a former student of mine.) It only seems logical that we can extend this inquiry and “let’s find it out” mindset to media.

We talked in the symposium about how in every television show, commercial, or YouTube ad there are actors wearing costumes – even if it’s an average looking person dressed in everyday clothes. There was equal talk of getting children to show what they know in multiple ways – through pictures, images, voice recordings, tweeting and even blogging. Yes, we talked about preschoolers blogging – and it’s being done with great results! We talked about getting children to be careful consumers of media from how they look at a cereal commercial on TV to what advertisements are on a website. Gail Lovely of Suddenly it Clicks shared experiences of using iPads to create dual language picture and audio books to help children preserve their Cherokee culture and language. We ended the day sharing tips and tricks for “tweaking” our professional practice to help encourage media literacy and be more mindful of how we present and create media within the classroom (these were videoed and will be featured on NAMLE’s YouTube channel). The backchat on Twitter was full of great quotes from the day along with link after link for more resources. We had become intent on sharing what we know and working together. A list of media literacy outcomes (pic below) was shared and we were challenged as a group to analyze this list and wonder what else we should share. Totally different than just a day of presentation, this was a true collaborative experience.

Over 8 hours, I was immersed in a roiling sea of great minds colliding with novices, swirling through resources, links, and examples, and surmounting in waves of discovery. Together, this group was able to excite and engage my mind and get me excited to share what I saw and heard. Upon reflection, it was a type of engagement that I have only experienced on several other occasions. I thought I was going to get the general, “Use tech as a tool, not a treat” lecture… instead, I learned how to probe with questions, use media to support learning, and make children critical thinkers. It was mind-blowing. I’ll wrap up here with a quote from Dr. Vivian Vasquez of American University:

We want them [children] to be able to think more deeply about media, culture, and the world all the time – not just when we demand it of them.


 

Here are some links that can help you if you’re interested in media literacy at ANY age level and links for using technology appropriately with young children:

Lesson Planning: The differences between teacher prep and practicality

I saw a picture on Facebook one morning and had a good laugh about it. It was one of those “e-cards” with the text:

  1. Find your plan book
  2. Hear email… check it
  3. Each chocolate
  4. Chat with coworkers
  5. Surf teaching sites
  6. Try again tomorrow

Then I started to think about the process of writing lesson plans… and wondered why this is such a stressful part of our jobs as educators. (Cue the flashback sequence) When I was in college, the lesson plan template for pre-service teachers was a three page form that needed filled out. For each lesson. As a freshman, I learned the importance of activating prior knowledge, and always taking the time to provide closure. I started college the year NCLB was passed, so we also spent a good amount of time learning about standards. As a sophmore, in came the greuling process of learning to write clear, measurable objectives that did not include the words know and understand. (Wherever you are, Dr. Stephen Ransom, I thank you for drilling that into the heads of students at Mercyhurst University because in every position I’ve held since graduation, someone has complimented my awesome objective statements.) Junior year it was all about being super creative, using manipulatives, designing project oriented lessons, and integrating technology.

When you’re only submitting lesson plans for a professor to review, or popping into a local elementary school to complete one class period it all seems fine and dandy. Sure, I can fill out three pages to complete a 40 minute lesson. Let me consult my Bloom’s Taxonomy verb chart, flip through the standards binder, and come up with a cute little demonstration or activity. As my senior term in student teaching progressed, filling out that lesson plan form was EXHAUSTING. In a Kindergarten classroom, there were 14 different “lessons” that were going on each day. When it came time for me to plan and implement on my own for the last two weeks of the placement, that came out to 84 pages of lesson plans! I rememeber sitting in my car in the parking lot, head down on the steering wheel, silenty sobbing because I was so overwhelmed and drained by everything. How on earth do teachers do this?

Being the crazy-driven-overacheiver (you can read that as “obnxious”) person that I am, I graudated after the first term of my senior year and in less than a week of finishing up being a college student, I walked into a classroom as a subsitute teacher. In a 10 minute introduction to my new job, the principal showed me the essentials: bathroom, teacher’s lounge, the classroom I was in that day. She then said, “Oh here’s your lesosn plans.” It was a single sheet of paper. One sided. For the whole day. Where were the objectives, the procedures, the activating prior knowledge activities!?!? English class’s plan wasn’t even a full sentence: Personal narrative about walking outside. WHAT?!?

It took until my third year of teaching until I was able to master the art of the block lesson plan. I could print the entire week’s plans at a glance on a single sheet of paper that I taped to my podium. My standards were listed in a separate spreadsheet file where I had all of the designations listed and I filled in the date next to the standard when it was addressed. Any long-term projects, center activity plans, or asessements were in a separate binder.

Now here’s the moral of my lovely little story: While filling out a form to structure lesson plans taught me how to break down a lesson and plan the essential elements – it was HIGHLY IMPRACTICAL when it came actually teaching in a classroom. Most teachers have less than an hour of planning per week (during school time at least, we all know you’re working long hours at home too!). What my teacher education program, and many others, still miss the mark on is teaching you how to succinctly and effeciently write your plans so that (a) you know what on earth you’re going to teach (b) a sub could figure it out (c) it still meets any requirements set by your school/ district / state.

In the comments I want to hear from you: What’s the one piece of advice you have for teachers struggling with lesson planning?