Eliminating Substitute Nightmares

November 9th, 2011
Image © by whatnot | Flickr | Used under Creative Commons license.

When a children's class teacher is unexpectedly absent, the options are to recruit a substitute teacher on the spot or to combine two classes. In some cases, combining may be the only choice; but it places an unfair burden on the other teacher and should not become a long-term emergency plan.

On the other hand, being faced with a roomful of active children can be a nightmare for the person who had expected to enjoy participation in a class of his or her peers. Having an emergency plan for last-minute volunteers helps the substitute teacher and the Sunday school superintendent sleep easier.

Prepare for a Substitue

Planning ahead eliminates many substitute nightmares. Make teaching easier for someone who must fill in for you by following these suggestions.

1. Keep the classroom neat and orderly. An organized classroom helps the substitute teacher find what he or she needs for the session. Have the teacher book and any student materials organized and in an obvious place. Store pencils, crayons, scissors, glue, and paper in a central location. Label baskets, drawers, and cupboards; and keep supplies and materials in the locations labeled for them. Eliminating unnecessary searching for supplies and resources adds to a substitute's peace of mind.

2. Keep a churchwide substitute list. Create a list of persons who are willing to substitute. These may be former teachers who are presently on sabbatical or people who were asked to teach but who were unable to make a regular commitment. Recruit persons for the specific age levels with which they feel comfortable.

3. Adopt an adult class. If your church has several adult classes, suggest pairing each one with a children's class and allowing the children to meet the adults through joint class sessions, parties, and/or service projects. Then when you need a substitute one can be pulled from your adopted adult class. These people become a pool of teachers who already know your students. Class adoption also provides opportunities for intergenerational fellowship.

4. Keep a current teacher book in the classroom. If your absence occurs on short notice, your substitute may not have time to pick up the teaching material from your home. An additional copy of the manual in the classroom allows the substitute a guide to follow even without a complete set of plans.

5. Keep an updated attendance book or chart. Having an updated attendance record allows the substitute to look up any student he or she does not recognize. The record will also tell who is a regular participant and will help the substitute know who needs special attention as a visitor. Young children enjoy putting a sticker on the chart and this can be a beginning activity as children arrive.

6. Keep some· activities ready. Students often have favorite activities that they would like to repeat or activities that could be adapted to a new topic. Keep some time-tested activities in the classroom to supplement lessons that run short. Store reusable activities in an expandable file for easy access. You can also set up a file of ideas on index cards and store them in a 4-by-6 file in the classroom.

7. Arrange for a substitute in advance. When your absence is not of the unexpected variety, ask someone early enough to provide the substitute preparation time to feel comfortable in her or his role. Invite the substitute to visit the class, meet the children, and learn the routine of the session. Give the individual a lesson plan and discuss it with him or her.

Prepare as a Substitute

Emergency substitute teachers can make the task easier on themselves if they take certain steps. Pass these ideas along to all persons who may sometime have to act as an emergency substitute for you.

1. Recruit extra hands. Ask someone from the class you regularly attend or one of the older youth who love children to substitute with you. Additional people are especially important in classes with a number of small children.

2. Explain the situation to the class. Tell the class where their regular teacher is and why a substitute is in their room. Doing so eases their concern and allows them to focus on the new situation. It also provides an opportunity for the class to pray about the situation if it involves sickness or any other area of concern.

3. Open with a game or singing. Ask your helper or a mature member of the class to keep the class busy with a game or song while you look at the teacher and student books for ideas.

4. Make nametags. If you do not know the people in the class, have the students make nametags. They can use any paper in the classroom to cut or tear an interesting shape that tells something about themselves or about the lesson. Have the students tape the nametags to their clothing. This activity gives the class a personal touch as you call the students by name. Be sure to make a nametag for yourself as well.

5. Take attendance. If you find an attendance book, this task will be easy. If not, write down the students' names and indicate which are visitors so that the regular teacher can follow up on new people. 

6. Allow time for sharing. Every student needs an opportunity to talk in class. Asking how the week went lets you know something about the class. Carefully prevent any one student from dominating this time, however.

7. Ask the class about their regular routine. Giving the class a chance to tell what they regularly do in Sunday school reviews for them what they have learned in the past and lets you know where to begin. But be wary of students who say that their regular teacher brings ice cream every week or lets them socialize for the entire session.

Prepare for Combined Classes

Sometimes there may be no choice but to combine two classes when short-staffed. If you are the teacher who is asked to take on the extra class, be frank with the person who is asking. If you have plans that would be devastated by the addition of another class because of lack of supplies or space limitations, say so. Likewise let the asker know if you do not feel comfortable handling the larger number of students in a combined class.

Don't be afraid to ask for additional help for the larger class. Sometimes adults will be more than happy to help as long as they don't have to teach the class.

If you agree to combine another class with yours, here are some tips:

1. Encourage students to work together on projects. Cooperative learning can provide new experiences for everyone involved and can help keep any of the students from feeling excluded. Ask your students to share student books in pairs or small groups. Older children can assist younger children with craft projects and games. More-experienced children can help newcomers with class routines and learnings from past sessions.

2. Teach to the middle of the class. If combining the classes results in a wide age range, teach to the middle of the age span. Doing so keeps the younger students from feeling that everything is over their heads and the older students from feeling that their intelligence is being insulted. At some points you may find it useful to have the older students explain the material to the younger students.

3. Review previous lessons. If every class in your church uses curriculum from the same series, the classes will have similar topics on any given Sunday. When classes are combined, you can still use your prepared lesson and adapt it to the age span present. Reviewing prior lessons with the entire group shows them that  they have something in common.

Being prepared for any situation makes Sunday morning surprises easier to handle. Planning ahead will send absent-teacher nightmares into dreamland.

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