Prepping a Sub

I fell off my posting schedule, and then I got called in to substitute teach!

As a last-minute sub, the lesson was prepared for me (thanks, department!). And I do want to clarify, this was very last-minute – they called me while I was making lunch. I said that I’d be happy to do it, but that I already had an engagement with my kids scheduled for the whole afternoon. I wasn’t available to actually look at anything pertaining to class until dinner time. They said no problem, and they’d email me a lesson plan and materials.

Here’s what was great:

  • No Decisions
    I didn’t have to make any decisions about what to “cover” (sorry, I dislike that verb when it comes to teaching – I’m sure I don’t have to explain why).
  • Clear Priorities
    She was clear about what the top priorities were and that the other activities were low-priority suggestions so we’d always have something to do.
  • Clear Future
    I knew exactly what the students needed to know for the next class session: what their assignments should be, what quizzes they should study for, etc.


I don’t know if this is an Emily thing or a more universal thing, but I usually find other people’s lesson plans hard to use. Today was no exception.

So in case this helps anyone write notes to their substitute teachers, especially Future Emily, here’s what would make them more user-friendly for me:

  • A quick sense of the big picture.
    What are the big priorities? What are the big things we’re building up to in the next few sessions and in the whole semester? (e.g. “this week and next, we’re really focusing on citations.”) Yes, I’d get a sense of this from reading the syllabus, but there was seriously not time to read it before walking into this class.
  • A quick overview of the texts.
    Again, a last-minute sub doesn’t have time to read the whole syllabus. A summary sentence or two about what the scope of the course is (e.g. writing and grammar) and which coursebook ties to which one (e.g. Focus is our vocabulary book and The Other Wes Moore is our novel) would have helped me get my bearings more quickly.
  • Crystal clarity about past vs. present.
    I found ambiguity in the notes I received about whether “the homework assignment” meant the one that was due today or the one that I was assigning today. I also mistook the purpose of one of the readings she’d sent me: I thought it was an optional activity, but during class I realized that it was a reading they had already completed.
  • Suggestions of how to make use of my assistant teacher.
    The lesson plan kind of ignored that I’d have an assistant teacher coming in for the last hour of class. I made a hasty decision to have her lead half the class in a discussion while I lead the other half. It worked out great, but I didn’t really have time to consider any other options I might have tried in addition to or instead of the discussions.


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