When a Substitute Occupies "A House of My Own"

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Working under the direction of a substitute teacher, SWBAT read a portion of the essay "A House of My Own" by Sandra Cisneros and answer a set of questions about the essay.

Big Idea

When the cat is away, the mice will behave!

The Task

70 minutes

I have left my students with a substitute teacher today, along with a task to read a portion of the essay "A House Of My Own" by Sandra Cisneros. This is the Introduction she wrote for the 25th anniversary edition of the book.  

I have created a set of questions for my students to address (A House of My Own), all of which focus on ideas and concepts we have been exploring throughout the unit on The House On Mango Street.  I believe I have assigned just enough for my students to remain busy and engaged for the entire class session; I plan to complete the essay with them when I return.  If there is any time left in the period, then they may complete any peer response workshopping that may be still be unfinished.

Since I am unable to articulate this lesson's progression with authenticity, as I will not be the one to deliver it, I thought it might be useful to itemize how I prepare my students for success with a substitute, when I know in advance that I will be absent:

  • Stressing behavior expectations is key.  I explain to my students that there will be consequences if, when I return, I find that their names have been listed by the substitute as students who made it difficult for the substitute to do his/her job.  In the past, I have stopped grading the work of any such students until a full page apology letter is written and delivered to a substitute.
  • Appointing "Student Ambassadors" instills a sense that normalcy will be maintained in my absence.  I select two responsible volunteers, one boy and one girl, per period to be my "eyes" while I am away, as well as to assist the substitute with any needs that will make the class session run more smoothly.
  • Leaving simple yet thorough Lesson Plans is critical for setting the substitute up for success. I make them organized, easy to follow, and am sure to leave a clean classroom environment in which to function.
  • Creating a meaningful task for my students to complete in my absence is essential for student buy-in, so that they see that it does in fact matter that they remain focused on and complete the assignment.

Most teachers will admit that it is more stressful to be absent from teaching than it is to be teaching. I have found that establishing clear procedures and expectations for my students in the event of my absence can help to alleviate some of that stress!