A few months ago, a colleague of mine posted this on her Facebook status: “I don’t know why I leave such careful sub plans. They lose their minds the second my back is turned.”
Remember when you were a high school student? Did you clap your hands with glee when you saw a stranger standing at the front of the room? “We have a sub!” someone else yells blithely, running down the hall away from class, knowing he can strut into class fifteen minutes late and the sub will never know who he is. Someone may even opine that it’s possible the teacher is DEAD, in which case it would behoove the school to give them all automatic A’s. “Seriously, dude? Oh, man, that would be so cool.”
It will probably not surprise you that this English teacher, as a student, did NOT clap her hands with moronic glee at the sight of a sub. I didn’t. I thought what all teacher’s pets think, “Oh NO! We have a sub! Now we’re going to have to do a bunch of meaningless drudgery and we won’t learn anything!”
It was very Lisa Simpson of me.
Thus, I left work for the students that I hope helps reinforce the lessons I’ve been teaching this week (a review of the English verb system and an introduction to writing an autobiographical narrative), but I’m keeping my expectations low. While I believe that I’ve armed the substitute with everything s/he will need to run the class (a seating chart, instructions for the “lesson,” a stack of referrals), I can already picture the students grinning ear to ear as they file in late, take any seat they choose, talk loudly through the explanation of what they’re supposed to be doing. Basically the way they treated me the first day of school. Before they were sure I was a keeper.
For my substitute, I highlighted on my seating chart the students whom I most expect to be difficult. I always hesitate to do this, because a person who isn’t well-trained in dealing with teenagers might be overly confrontational with the highlighted students and make the problem worse. It’s also good to go into a classroom with no expectations you might project onto the students. I never let teachers who had my students in the previous level go over my rosters before the first day. Unless they are on probation for assaulting a teacher (and sometimes they are), it’s nothing I can’t discover for myself as I build relationships with them.
But it’s not like the troublemakers aren’t going to make themselves known as troublemakers right away. Hell, I knew their names at the end of the first hour of the first day. It took me two weeks to learn all the names of the agreeable kids.
Before I left the room, I cleared my desk, locked up my teacher’s editions of the texts, hid the mousepad that is a collage of pictures of Baby V off of Photobucket (students like to steal things that will hurt the teacher to lose), took all of the dry erase markers and overhead pens and put them in a drawer (they’ll take the caps off and let them dry out), collected all of the class sets of textbooks from on the students’ desks and put them in my locked office, then erased the board except for these words: “If the substitute teacher writes down your name, you will have detention EVERY DAY NEXT WEEK.”
When I was a child, my mom and dad often left us with babysitters. It was understood that when my parents returned, the babysitter would be giving them “a report.” A good report meant no loss of privileges. A bad report would lead to dire consequences. No tv. Losing my favorite books or toys for a day or two. Having to stay inside instead of playing with my friends. I dreaded the “bad report” like grim death. All my mom had to say as she left the house was, “I better not get a bad report,” and I behaved like a dream child while she was gone.
My students, not so much. The punishments that administrators dole out don’t faze them. At best, an assistant principal will yell at you for a few minutes. Maybe it will get a bit more serious and he’ll call your mom and then SHE’LL yell at you for a while. If you’re really lucky, though, you’ll get suspended and get to stay home, sleeping in, playing computer games and eating for a few days.
Detention, on the other hand, really upsets them. I take away the one thing they value: THEIR time. For my detention, they’ll lose ten minutes of their 15 minute nutrition break sitting in my class if they’re in my morning block of classes, 10 minutes of their 30 minute lunch if they’re in my second block. They HATE it. It solved my tardy problem. I have faith that the threat of a whole week of detention will appropriately curb them.
One final thing I left for the substitute: a little note. “Take heart,” I wrote, “my students are really quite wonderful people, especially one-on-one. Walk around and talk to them as they work. You will really enjoy them. And don’t feel bad if they give you hell. They lose their minds the second my back is turned.”