You’ve been looking forward to the first day of school all summer long. Suddenly, bad news: you have to miss the first week or even possibly more!
That was a situation faced by one of my Facebook followers.
“I’m freaking out!”
“I just had major surgery and won't be able to return to work right away. While my sub is awesome and I love and trust her, how do I prepare lessons for her for kids I've never met? And what about when I get back to work? Do I have to redo systems and routines?
“Any advice would be super awesome.”
Well, I don’t think I can call any advice I give “super awesome” – maybe just plain awesome – but I’ll give it my best shot! Here are my tips for surviving a delayed first day.
Get to know your substitute teacher
This is probably the most-critical part of the plan. It would be best if you could choose someone you’ve worked with before, but if you can’t, then make an effort to call them or meet them. It’s a little job interview where you are trying to determine her background, strengths and weaknesses – you’ll need to know these for the next steps.
Lesson planning and prep
Look, there is no way you can plan more than one week of lessons, especially if you are incapacitated in any way. You just won’t know the particular needs of the kids or how their schedule may end up. So focus on the first week only.
Work with the sub to plan lessons she is comfortable with, based on your little “job interview.” Even though you've never met the kids, you'll get everything pretty close to optimal based on your own knowledge of the grade level.
After week one, it’s best for your sub to create the plans since she'll have her finger on the pulse of the kids' needs. Just be sure she has the year-long guide and she understands where to find the teaching materials.
She has the same education degree as you, after all, so she should be fine (although, of course, she won’t do it as well as you would!).
Setting expectations about setting expectations
After your recovery, you do not want to enter the classroom two weeks later and have a heart attack! To avoid behavior that does not meet your high standards, it’s best to set some expectations with the substitute teacher about your preferred classroom procedures.
Don’t worry about every little nuance… only you can bring that kind of magic to a group of students! Instead, focus on the most important aspects of classroom behavior that – in your experience – children in this grade level need to learn from day one.
All you can really do is suggest to the substitute that these are your biggest priorities. She’ll handle it however she sees best – or, in reality, to the level of her capabilities. Simply expect that you’ll have to do some resetting of expectations when you show up, but hopefully this will be minimized with some up-front planning.
Staying in touch long distance
I suggest emailing every day with a little message about what you are doing and include photos of your house and yard and pets… the same kinds of things you might share if you were there in person. Students will be reminded daily about your excitement to come and meet them.
If you suspect your recovery will not allow this, then I suggest writing out some messages in advance and providing them to your sub.
Bonus points for creating PowerPoints or Prezi’s to share with them! And super bonus points if you can arrange a Skype session or two.
Coming “home”: Transitioning back to the classroom
Kids can get pretty freaked out by changes this big, and the lower the grade, the bigger the freakout.
It’s a good idea to push your admin to pay your sub for half a transition day, so on your first day back you are co-teaching in the morning. A few hours is enough to transfer the kids’ loyalty and attention to their long-lost, never-before-seen teacher. Why? Because you are going to make it fun and they are going to love you!
On your first day back, make it a celebration: First Day of School – Take Two! On that day, make plenty of time for students to tell you all about what has happened while you were gone. Tell them about what you heard from the substitute teacher about them.
Build community and reset expectations. Do a read-aloud. I suggest one of these team-building books. And most importantly, teach some lessons to keep the learning going.
Before you know it, they’ll be in the swing of things as if there was nothing out-of-the-ordinary bout their new school year.
I hope this gives you some ideas to work from. And please… get well soon!