The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Subbing for Myself

I had a substitute teacher in my classroom on Tuesday afternoon while I was attending a monthly inquiry group meeting. There were some aspects of the afternoon that did not go as well as I had hoped, and so I spent a considerable amount of time yesterday discussing with my class what they could do better in the future. I purposefully avoided getting into any details about Tuesday, though, because I wanted the class to realise that every day truly is a brand-new day with brand-new opportunities to make positive choices. So instead we talked about kindness and the impact our actions, for good or bad, have on other people. I used a story by Jacqueline Woodson, Each Kindness, to illustrate the point. Several students were familiar with this story because we used it as a building-wide read aloud last year.

Then I told the class that they would have an opportunity to practice there skills at being kind to a substitute again pretty quickly because I was going to be gone all day on Thursday (today), too. I am a member of a district task force examining effective strategies and tools for integrating technology in the classroom. As our building instructional technology specialist, it is a major focus of what I do. This has become even more important since I received my classroom set of Chromebooks and have been working with other teachers to use them in our instructional practices. I wanted the students to know I would be gone so that they could start to plan and mentally prepare themselves for having a different teacher for the day.

But then I got a message from my principal this morning letting me know that the district’s substitute teacher line had still not located a sub for me yet, so she needed me to plan on being at school after all. No problem! On my way to school, though, I had a thought: what if I subbed for myself?

Longtime readers of my blog know that I worked as a substitute teacher in Champaign for three years. During that last year, I was also a substitute in the Mahomet-Seymour school district and in Urbana (although I actually only subbed in Urbana for two days). Also during that last year, I started blogging about my adventures in substituting, which is actually how this blog came about. (I transferred all of the subbing posts to this blog, but the old blog is still active and I get the occasional visitor there still.) After I got hired, I decided to keep the blog going, although I changed the name and the focus. With all of that experience as a substitute, I got very good at stepping into a classroom with little notice and doing all I could to command attention and respect for the short time I would be with the class. I worked with students from early childhood all the way through high school. It was a wonderful experience that taught me a lot about what works and what doesn’t work as a teacher in general and as a substitute in particular.

One thing I found helpful was to introduce myself to the class early in the morning. Not first thing, since they always had several other things going on (attendance, lunch count, bell work, etc). So this morning, after my class got settled and the morning announcements were done, I introduced myself to the class.

Good morning! My name is Mr. Valencic and I am your substitute teacher for today! I believe that your teacher, Mr. Valencic, told you that he would be gone today, so none of you should be surprised to see that I am here instead of him! To start off, I thought I’d tell you a little bit about myself. Like I said, my name is Mr. Valencic. I know that my name can be a bit challenging to remember, though, so if you prefer, you may call me Mr. V or just “sir.” You may not call me “hey you,” “mr. teacher dude,” “dude,” “bro,” or “you-with-the-curly-hair.” You may call me Mr. Valencic, Mr. V., or Sir. I, in turn, will do my best to use your names, but I may also call you “sir” or “ma’am” as a title of respect, just as I expect you to respect me.

I am a certified teacher employed by your school district to come in and teach when your regular teachers are gone. I am not just some guy who wandered in off the street because I woke up this morning and though, “Gee, I’d love to spend my day with a bunch of rambunctious 9- and 10-year-old children!” I am a teacher and I have been teaching for several years now. You have probably even seen me around in the halls from time to time.

I have some plans here that your teacher, Mr. Valencic, left for me. I see that he says that you should have done journal writing this morning and that we have P.E. later in this morning. I am going to do my best to follow his plans as best as I can. If he says that you are supposed to do something, then that is what he wants you to do. If he has not told me to do something then you are not going to do it. It is really that simple. However, I want to point out that, as much as I know I may look and even sound like Mr. Valencic, I am not him! So if I do something different, that’s okay! We are going to have an excellent day today! When you all go home at three o’clock, I hope that I will be able to leave your teacher a note letting him know how well everything went and telling him that I would be delighted to come back again anytime!

Now, let’s go over the classroom expectations you have here.

I then went through the expectations posted in the classroom: Be Respectful, which means to use kind words, raise your hand, listen to the speaker, and ask to borrow materials. Be Responsible, which means do your own work, follow directions, ask for help, and accept consequences. Be Safe, which is to KHFOOTY (keep hands, feet, and other objects to yourself), give others space, walk with a purpose, and use a chill pass. Throughout the morning, I referred to the sub plans that I had left and asked students to explain what they meant so that they could show that they knew the expectations for the day.

My principal was able to get a sub for me in the morning, and she arrived as we were getting started with P.E. I went over the plans with her and then took my leave. I am pretty certain that at least some of my class thought I had lost my mind. They were looking at me like they thought I was crazy! What did I mean, I wasn’t their regular teacher! Of course I was! But I think they also got the point I was trying to make: it doesn’t actually matter who the teacher in the room is; the classroom expectations, the procedures, the routines, they are still the same. Did my class have a fantabulasticaliciously #awesomesauce day while I was gone? Well, no, they still had some bumps along the way. But the day was much better than Tuesday afternoon had been. I was able to catch the sub at the end of the day when I got back to the building and we talked about what went well during the day and what wasn’t so great. I was really glad to see that she had left me detailed notes that focused on the positives, though! I think that some substitute teachers forget that the students are still children and they are still learning to navigate the world and deal with changes, especially changes that they don’t like.

And who knows… Maybe I’ll sub for myself again!

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