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NYC Helpline: How To: Develop as a Professional

What if I'm Absent?
by Theresa London Cooper

For many of us, our classrooms are our second home away from home. We have established specific procedures and routines and we maintain them in a particular manner for cleanliness, comfort, and safety.

I remember my first time being absent and returning to my class. Many things were out of place. Activities that I planned to do with my class had been done and the materials were used. From this experience, I learned to prepare for the substitute teacher. You might decide to try some of the following tips to make your return a more pleasant one.

  1. Have a conversation with your students before you are ever absent. If you have missed the opportunity, do it as soon as possible. Talk about the fact that you too may become ill and will be unable to attend school. Assure them in this case, someone will be there to take care of them in your absence. Help them understand that they can take responsibility for keeping their second home in order and creating a productive day.
  1. Assign specific roles to the students to maintain the current routines as best you can. Make sure the class knows which students are responsible for which roles.
  1. Prepare a folder for the substitute teacher that includes the following:
    1. A list of all your students with a seating plan
    2. The number of the fire exit that students use
    3. The number of the exit they use to go home
    4. A preparation schedule with the class lunch time
    5. The room number of the nurse’s office
    6. The list of students with assigned roles
  1. Create activities that will engage your students with key handouts. Think about activities that don’t require a great deal of preparation or many materials. Think about activities that the students enjoy and those things that you don’t often have time to practice, but would love to give your students more opportunities to do.
  1. Share your procedure with several colleagues on your floor so that they can support the substitute teacher by giving her small tips. You might want to leave the folder with one or two of them and the school secretary.
  1. In some cases, your students may be distributed throughout the grades. Certain students have great difficulty adjusting when their teacher is absent, particularly if she maintains good attendance. It is often helpful to create a list of teachers that match well with your students – perhaps former teachers. Suggesting an assignment for each of your students and a teacher with whom they have a relationship is a proactive way to prevent a stressful situation and support the staff present.
  1. Finally, it doesn’t hurt to have support staff visit during the day to let the students know that you, their teacher wanted the staff to check on them in your absence. Speak with the guidance counselor, school psychologist, paraprofessional and others who wouldn’t mine dropping in for 3 minutes.

I encourage you to try some of these ideas. Let me know what works for you.

Do you have a question or comment about this article? E-mail Theresa.


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