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The Substitute Teaching Survival Guide: Grades 6-12 (Josey Bass Teacher Series)


The Substitute Teaching Survival Guide
Grades 6–12 Emergency Lesson Plans and Essential Advice

When substitute teachers are assigned to a classroom, they often have no directions, no lessons plans, no information and little hope of success. The Substitute Teaching Survival Guide offers substitute (and regular) teachers of grades 6–12 a welcome resource for planning and implementing a productive day of student ...

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The Substitute Teaching Survival Guide
Grades 6–12 Emergency Lesson Plans and Essential Advice

When substitute teachers are assigned to a classroom, they often have no directions, no lessons plans, no information and little hope of success. The Substitute Teaching Survival Guide offers substitute (and regular) teachers of grades 6–12 a welcome resource for planning and implementing a productive day of student learning.

The Substitute Teaching Survival Guide is filled with helpful suggestions and tips for maintaining order in the classroom and includes 67 ready-to-use emergency lesson plans for language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science targeted for students in grades 6–12. Written for both the experienced and novice substitute teacher, the book also includes 152 suggestions and a daily outline of activities. The book can also be used by regular classroom teachers and principals who want to plan ahead for classroom absences, or by anyone who has to quickly cover a class.

Designed to be user-friendly, the book is organized into eleven chapters and printed in a lay-flat format. The chapters include:

  • The Role of the Substitute Teacher
  • Discipline
  • Lesson Plans
  • Your Comfort Level
  • The Importance of Substitute Teaching
  • Is Substituting for You?
  • Emergency Lesson Plans
  • English Lesson Plans
  • Math Lesson Plans
  • Science Lesson Plans
  • Social Studies Lesson Plans

This book gives substitute teachers the key information and essential tips that will make the difference between a good day of teaching and a disastrous day.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780787974114
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 2/28/2005
  • Series: J-B Ed: Survival Guides Series , #29
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 144
  • Product dimensions: 8.48 (w) x 11.04 (h) x 0.49 (d)

Meet the Author

John Dellinger, a recipient of the Distinguished Teacher Award, is a retired Denver Public School teacher who taught for 28 years at the middle and high school levels. After retiring in 1992, he was a substitute teacher for seven years before shifting his major focus from teaching to writing.

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Read an Excerpt

The Substitute Teaching Survival Guide Grades 6-12

By John Delinger

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-7879-7411-0

Chapter One

Lesson Plans

The making of lesson plans is something over which a substitute has little control. The making of a lesson plan is the domain of the regular classroom teacher. The substitute is expected to carry out the lesson plan that he or she is given. Sometimes the plan is easy to follow; at other times, the plan is extremely difficult to execute.

The regular teacher should remember that the plan is not for the regular teacher, but for another person. The plan should be clear, concise, and have enough road marks, but not bog down in endless details that may confuse rather than aid the substitute. A well-made lesson plan left for a substitute is a partnership agreement that will benefit both the regular teacher and the substitute while fulfilling the ultimate objective of educating students.

A good lesson plan for the regular teacher is not always a good lesson plan for a substitute. For the regular teacher, who is totally familiar with the students, the subject matter, school procedures, and other school-related matters, the plan may be very easy to successfully implement. For a substitute, the same plan may be a swamp, ready to drag the substitute under the murky waters of classroom chaos.

What are the dos and don'ts of making good lesson plans and carrying them out? What kind of lesson plan is best for achieving maximum results for thepartnership of regular teacher and substitute teacher?

Plans should be readily available and readable. Sometimes teachers jot down, scribble, scrawl, whatever, a set of blurred, poorly written instructions on whatever scrap of paper happens to be available. A student who handed in such a sloppy piece of work would be in danger of receiving an "F." The lesson plan doesn't have to be perfect, but it should be easy to read and able to convey quickly what the substitute is to do.

Some teachers will write the lesson plan on the board. That is fine, but what if a student, the school custodian, or someone else erases it? No lesson plan. "Help! What do I do now?" If a duplicate copy, written on paper, exists for the substitute, no problem. Writing a lesson plan or parts of a lesson plan on the board can be beneficial to a substitute, but only if a backup copy exists.

The same is true for plans that may be written on an overhead transparency and left on the overhead projector. What happens if that piece of plastic is lost or misplaced? What happens if a student comes in and slips that piece of plastic into a notebook and the sub never receives it and has no idea where it is? Is it possible that a student might intentionally smudge out what is on the transparency while the sub is taking attendance? In most cases, students are not out to destroy a lesson plan, but strange things can happen in a classroom.

Sub plans sent in by fax are also at risk of disappearing. What happens if the computer doesn't work, if the office doesn't give or send the plan to the substitute? Many things can go wrong or take up a sub's time in trying to locate the fax. No lesson plan and it's panic time for the substitute!

Then there is the teacher who says, "Call me at home and I'll give you the plans over the telephone." This creates multiple opportunities for misunderstanding what the teacher wants the substitute to do. A written set of plans, where the teacher has to sit down and write the plans, is far more reliable than plans that have been copied from a telephone conversation while the teacher is usually ad-libbing them.

Another lesson plan that can easily vanish is a lesson plan that depends totally on student participation. "Shawn and Michael will debate Jennifer and Melissa today. Don't worry; the kids will do it all. Just take roll and sit back and enjoy the debate. It will take all period."

What debate? Melissa was absent and Michael didn't feel like debating anyway. Jennifer said that Melissa had all of their debate notes and she couldn't debate without her. It's panic time for the substitute!

Student participation lesson plans are fine for a sub, as long as a backup plan exists. "If for some reason Shawn, Michael, Jennifer, and Melissa can't debate today, give out Worksheet 122. Have the students write their answers on the worksheets and collect them at the end of the period."

When a lesson plan is designed for student participation, it should not be overly complicated and should not overly involve the substitute. The regular teacher might be able to handle multiple tasks while having students participate in an activity, but a sub, who is trying to figure out a lesson plan, maintain discipline, and direct students in the activity, should not be required to take a major part in the activity.

Sometimes a substitute is given the instruction "Read the narration to the class as the kids read aloud the play." This unnecessarily constricts the sub's ability to control a class-the sub is expected to monitor the behavior of the class while having his or her nose tied to a book. For the regular teacher, who knows the kids and is familiar with the play, this is fine. For the sub, who is trying to stay with the play, Charlie may be talking to Joe in the third row while Susy, who has lost all interest in the play, is demanding a pass to the bathroom. The sub has to be able to monitor class behavior. Tying a sub to any particular task that keeps the sub from monitoring class behavior should not be a part of any lesson plan.

Sometimes a lesson plan will call for the substitute to grade students. "Give each student a participation grade. I usually give the students up to five points per day for participation. Mark the participation points in my grade book."

No! No! No! A substitute should never be required to enter a grade for a student. That is the responsibility of the regular teacher who has set the criteria for grading and knows the students. There are too many variables involved with the substitute doing the grading. "Ms. Lesser always gives me five points, even if I only say one thing. I deserve more than the two points you gave me." Having a class correct papers after an assignment is a different matter. "Ms. Boatright wants you to exchange papers as you usually do. She left me the answers and I'll read them to you while you correct the papers." The sub is not overly constricted in reading the class answers and can still monitor the behavior of the class. The sub is not entering grades in a grade book; the sub merely collects the papers after the correcting is done.

There is only so much that a substitute can do in a period. The chief task of a substitute is to maintain order while instructing students on what they are to do. There is no time for a substitute to give grades, complete a checklist on each student, or engage in any activity that takes the substitute's focus away from ensuring that the classroom is an orderly place of learning.

The definition of "orderly place of learning" has in recent years come to embrace an even larger array of activities. Some might say that what students do, particularly in middle school, is "play games." For many teachers, the quiet concentration on a math problem or the "No talking; read the story by yourself." has become a full-blown activity with students doing everything but running up the walls. Good or bad? Opinions vary.

The regular teacher, who may do fine with a class doing "full-blown-games," should not expect the substitute to carry out such games with the same expertise. If you are a substitute who is faced with an overly complicated game or "wild activity," do the best that you can with it, but if you can't handle it, don't. You may have to modify it to keep the kids under control or completely shut it down if necessary. Hopefully, no teacher will expect you to grade such an activity.

Teachers' grade books are best not made available to a substitute. Grade books and attendance books are too precious to risk with a substitute, even when grades and attendance have been transferred to a computer. The substitute would not intentionally lose, misplace, or alter the grade book, but it could happen. Students have been known to take advantage of a regular teacher's absence to try to alter a grade book. Why risk it, when there is no need to risk it?

Substitutes should not grade; therefore, there is no need for a grade book. Substitutes should leave a list of absentees for the regular teacher, as well as submit absentee names to the attendance office, if so required. As long as a substitute has a class list (often a computer printout, supplied by the office) and a seating chart (supplied by the teacher), a substitute can perform the functions of "non-grading" and taking attendance.

Henry David Thoreau left to posterity the great cry "Simplify!" Henry lived in the woods and never faced a class of twenty-first-century students, but his nineteenth-century recommendation on life is very apropos to leaving lesson plans for a substitute.

Simplify-do not leave overly complex lesson plans for a substitute. The regular teacher has no need to impress the substitute with a brilliant lesson plan that shows the substitute how knowledgeable the regular teacher is. The substitute, who thinks that he or she is bored with just passing out a worksheet and having the kids do it, should remember that substituting is a job-you are not there to be entertained. Most subs will thank the regular teacher for leaving something that is easy to accomplish while permitting the sub time to monitor student behavior.

Teachers will sometimes leave a notation similar to the following: "You've got an easy day. Just show the video to all my classes." Easy day or not so easy day? It depends.

Most substitutes today are familiar with a variety of audiovisual equipment. Usually AV assignments go well, providing the equipment is available, works properly, the substitute knows how to operate it, and the class has been properly prepared for an AV assignment.

It is the responsibility of the regular teacher to see that the substitute doesn't have to run all over the building to get a VCR or some other piece of equipment. It is the responsibility of the regular teacher to have adequate assurance that the equipment will work properly before a lesson plan is left for a substitute involving the equipment. If the piece of equipment has peculiarities that may make it difficult to operate, instructions should be left for the substitute. "The VCR only works on channel 3 on both the TV and the VCR. Student announcements come in at the end of period 2 (9:33-9:38) on channel 58. You will need to switch the cord on the back and then re-switch it when the announcements are over. A number of students in the class know how to make the switch. Kevin, Carey, and Liz have been informed that they will be doing the switching for you."

For a regular teacher to prepare an AV assignment, sometimes it takes almost nothing, depending on the maturity level of the class and what it is the regular teacher wants to accomplish with the assignment. Some classes are relatively mature: "Have the students watch the last forty minutes of Romeo and Juliet. The video is set where you need to start. Sorry, but this VCR has no working 'counter' on it, so you will have to watch where you come in and then rewind to that point for the next class."

For some classes the regular teacher may leave something similar to the following: "Distribute the question sheets before you start the video. Make sure that the kids all sit in their assigned seats. Have the two students in the front corners move to the back seats in their rows, so that they can see the TV. Have students write answers on the question sheets during the video. Collect question sheets at the end of the video. Leave me the names of students who are not paying attention to the video."

A regular teacher should never "throw a video up in the air for a substitute"; in other words, a video is not for the purpose of allowing students to move by their friends, sit and talk, and socialize while absorbing nothing of the video. Videos should not be used for the purpose of killing a class period or giving the students a free period. Videos are instructional devices, and the regular teacher, when leaving plans for a substitute, should build into the plans for a substitute whatever it takes to ensure that the video is instructional.

As with any other assignment that can vanish, a backup assignment should be provided. "If something happens that you can't watch the video, have the students answer the questions on pages 95 through 98 of Grammar for Today, the red grammar books on the shelf in the back of the room. Collect work at the end of the period and check to see if we still have a total of thirty-three books on the shelf."

The regular teacher, in preparing a lesson plan, should not "overbook" or "underbook." It is difficult to know just how much time it will take to complete an assignment; usually, the more experienced the teacher is, the easier it is to judge how long a particular assignment will take students. If there is doubt, it is better to "overbook" than to "underbook."

A substitute who gives an assignment to students that only takes fifteen minutes in a forty-minute period is in trouble. On the other hand, there is no need for a lesson plan that lays out an hour and a half of work for a fifty-minute period and instructs the substitute to collect it at the end of the period, thinking that it will keep the kids so busy that they will not have time to get into trouble.

Why have the substitute collect work at all? Kids often do better for a substitute if they have an end-of-period deadline. If it is not due until the next day, the kids have a greater tendency to play around in class. "I'll do it at home tonight. I'd rather talk to Jamie now. I can't talk to her tonight, but I can do my work tonight."

A lesson plan that usually works well for a substitute has one part that takes up most of the period and then is collected at the end of the period. A second part of the assignment is open-ended and is not collected by the substitute: "Ms. Galviano wants you to get into your reading groups and read 'The Flight of the Dove.' The handout I am going to give you has seven questions on the end of it. You will have to answer them as a group, on a sheet of paper with all of your names at the top of the paper. Don't write on the handouts. When you have finished, turn in the paper and the handout. That part of the assignment is due today. After you have finished that, do this week's vocabulary assignment, which starts on page 202 of your vocabulary books. That is due at the beginning of the period tomorrow."

Long periods, particularly "block periods" of an hour and a half or so, may require more than one activity to keep the focus and interest of the class:

1. (30 minutes) Have the students watch the video "Birds of Brazil."

2. (30 minutes) After the video, have them write down descriptions for three of the birds. They choose the bird's and the description for each bird should be about a page (one-side).

3. (20 minutes) Have students read descriptions to the class, without using the names of the birds they are describing. Other students listen and write down three characteristics of each bird. When the class has correctly identified the bird, the students add the name of the bird to the three characteristics.

4. (10 minutes) During the last ten minutes of the class, have each student, on a clean sheet of notebook paper, draw his or her favorite bird and list its characteristics. Collect what they have done today, with the exception of their drawings, which will be due at the beginning of Wednesday's class.

Of great help in explaining an assignment to a class, particularly a multiple-part assignment, is for the substitute to list on the board the main parts of the assignment. That way you won't get a multitude of questions similar to "What do we do after the video?" and "How many birds did you say we had to write down and what are we supposed to write?"

When having a substitute give a test, adequate instructions should be left for the substitute:

Give the attached test on Chapter 20.

Students may not use their books or notes-have them take everything off their desks except their tests.

Test will take approximately twenty-five minutes, but some may take longer or less.

Have students write on the test.


Excerpted from The Substitute Teaching Survival Guide Grades 6-12 by John Delinger Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


1. The Role of the Substitute Teacher.

2. Discipline.

3. Lesson Plans.

4. Your Comfort Level.

5. The Importance of Substitute Teaching.

6. Is Substituting for You?

7. Emergency Lesson Plans.

8. English Lesson Plans.

9. Math Lesson Plans.

10. Science Lesson Plans.

11. Social Studies Lesson Plans.


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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 2, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A college degreed professionals assessment.

    The book was one of the best one's I have read about substitute teaching and I highly recommend it to any non-certified degreed professional that is interested in subbing. The lesson plans are more than adequate, John Dellinger's common sense approach was easy to understand and not written in a condescending tone. One of the best things he mentions is making up your own sub folder and can attest that its great having your own supplies ready to go when you step into the classroom. The only negative thing is that the book doesn't address how to handle unruly student behavior that is motivated by racism to the detriment of the learning process or the learning styles/view towards education by various ethnic groups. These were the main problems I encountered while substitute teaching in both the inner city and suburb based schools. Overall is it was a pretty good book and recommend it very highly.

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    Posted March 8, 2010

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