June 14, 2018
So many people have asked, “What do teachers do in the summer?” that I thought I’d answer that in my blog.
Yesterday was my first full day of summer break. I filled it with what you might expect — I read on the back porch (10 more chapters into War and Peace), I walked with friends, and I did laundry. But I mostly went to my routine appointments that I had put off for several months. I started the day with a mammogram — only 2 months overdue — and ended it with a trip to the dentist — only 5 weeks overdue. And in between I made phone calls to schedule more appointments. And I am not alone in the teacher rush to make appointments during our summer break — most teachers do this, postponing routine physicals, dentist appointments, etc, simply because it is too hard to miss school days.
This isn’t because I don’t have days I could take off for medical reasons. My district is generous with sick days, and I now have a little more than half a school year saved up. I could take all the days I need to make these appointments anytime during the year.
The real reason teachers don’t take time off from work for routine appointments during the school day is that it is too much work to be away from the classroom. Substitute plans take hours to write. I have developed a template method, and my sub plans STILL take me about 2 hours to write for every day I’m out of the building. My template plan is this — at the beginning of the year, I write a basic sub plan template. I include emergency instructions (fire drill, lockdown, etc), students who need extra help or understanding, dismissal information, classroom rules and routines, and class lists. This template gets copied every time I need to write new sub plans, and I simply tweak it with dismissal changes, class helper changes, and adjust the class lists as students move in and out. That saves at least an hour of writing for every sub plan I have to write.
Because I teach at a departmentalized school, I only need to plan lessons for language arts and social studies, and then repeat the same lessons for a different class after lunch. That helps tremendously with writing sub plans, but they are still hard to write. The trick is finding activities students can do basically on their own that will be engaging enough so they won’t misbehave, but easy enough that they won’t need much instruction. Then I have to identify any problems that may come up with the lesson — primarily technology based — and teach a few key students how to troubleshoot these issues. For example, our social studies website has crossword puzzles that help students identify key vocabulary. It is an engaging activity which forces the students to reread the articles looking for the words that match the meaning given as the clue. They enjoy it and it is a pretty easy activity to leave in sub plans. However, sometimes the crossword puzzle fails to load — I don’t know why but I figured out that if you simple delete the browsing history on the student’s Chromebook, it is fixed. It is simple enough on paper — but then I have to teach several 9 year olds in both classes how to find the settings, scroll down to advanced settings, and click through all the steps to delete the history – and then make them the classroom tech gurus to help everyone one else in the room — and hope that they aren’t absent (or forget) on the day I’m out of the room also.
But the real issue with writing sub plans is that often they are not followed — not even a little bit. Sometimes subs are not available, or they cancel at the last minute and the class has to be dispersed. But sometimes subs just don’t do what is on the plan. My favorite was when a particular sub was in my room and told the class my plans were stupid — then had them work on memorizing the states and capitals instead — not an objective in my state for my grade (or any grade since my WATCH can tell me the capital of any state or country in less than 3 seconds). So everytime I take a day out of the classroom, not only do I need to write meaningful lesson plans (copied to all administration in the building and all the teachers on my team), but I have to plan for those lessons to be completely ignored, which puts my class behind the pacing guide every time. (Kids, I’m truly sorry that instead of spending the 45 minutes I planned for writing your essays, the sub told you stories about her dog, but the district says we have to move to another topic on Monday, so your paper is still due tomorrow. Have fun tonight…..).
Yeah — that tooth cleaning can wait…….
I have to say, not all substitute teachers are that bad. Karen, Linda, June — I’m looking at you. But the good subs are usually taking the long term jobs in my building, and are booked up months in advance. And I understand being a substitute teacher is HARD. I was a substitute for 4 years in my district, so I know how difficult it is to come into a classroom just before the students, have to read and understand the plans, figure out technology that is new and different from classroom to classroom depending on the model and age of the device, and then be ready for a full day with students in 10 minutes or less. And most do try — but it is a very hard job.
So next time you wonder what teachers do on the summer break, remember that they are probably catching up on all the appointments everyone else makes during the year.