I was gone two days this week because my fiancé had back surgery. Two. Whole. Days. This may not seem like much to most, but I teach special education with some very routine-oriented students and this was a huge whammy in their little lives.
I know we want our classrooms to become autonomous and for kids to be flexible when life happens to their teachers, but sometimes I think we forget about how important we are in their little lives.
I began preparing them for my absence the week before. And thankfully I had begged and pleaded with one of our amazing substitutes (that the kids know) to take my class both days and that even with two of my kids having a paraprofessional with them, I spent quite a while creating meticulous plans otherwise there is no telling what I would have come back to.
But even though those two days went off with very few challenges, it was the fallout that I came back to that was absolutely draining. Trying to get my class back on track with our ‘regular’ routine after throwing them into a ‘flexible’ routine took two days and then it was the weekend.
I say all of this to brainstorm ways that we can make these necessary absences easier on our students. Believe it or not, they depend on us so much more than we realize and many of them so need the stability of us being with them because of the instability they experience at home, especially if we have a large population of foster kids in our care.
Staff absences can’t be avoided, and really shouldn’t be to make sure that teachers are taking care of themselves. If we are sick or need a mental health day or are attending professional development then being absent is a necessity. We cannot neglect taking care of ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally and professionally just because of our classrooms.
Saying that these are three ideas that I put into place when I need to be gone:
First I prepare my kids way ahead of time, if possible. I’ll even do a countdown on the board. I try to be as detailed as possible in letting students know what is going on and what to expect while I’m out. I’ve only had to be gone one day this year when it wasn’t planned. My classroom was a trainwreck. When I got back I went over procedures and what to expect if that ever happened again. I also made sure that I had two responsible kids that the other students could go to for reassurance. Just as we have procedures for lining up, tornado and fire drills, going to lunch and so on, we need to be sure we have prepped our kids for the procedures that need to happen when we are absent.
The next thing I made sure of was my lesson plans and assignments were as detailed as they possibly could be. I do not expect my subs to do much teaching since my classroom is totally differentiated. I need them there for crowd control and safety. I put together a ‘package’ for each student including instructions on what he or she needs to do. Sometimes this package includes a game to play with a friend along with assignments to complete. Other times it includes assignments along with instructions for what needs to be accomplished on the computer. I also include a schedule of what the day needs to look like for each child. I don’t do this to micromanage, I do this to attempt to keep my special education kids on some type of anticipated routine. The afternoon before I leave I write a message on the board with my list of expectations. When I get back I follow up with a reward for great behavior.
The final thing I do is I DON’T STRESS about the absence. I like to be in control and I have a specific way I want my classroom to run, which is fairly free-flowing. This stresses out many substitutes and my paraprofessionals, but it is MY classroom and it is the best environment for my students. While I am gone, I do not stress about what is going on. I focus on whatever I am doing, whether that be healing or helping a family member or educating myself to become a better teacher. I can do nothing about my classroom while I am not there. It is totally out of my control. If something goes south,I know my principal or counselor or department chair will handle it. During the time I am gone my classroom is NOT MY PROBLEM. I will deal with it when I return.
What strategies do you have in place for when you are gone from school?