Before I became a teacher, and worked in the private sector, if I had to miss a day of work for whatever reason–illness, doctor’s appointment, personal matters, I would just take off. If I had sick time, I got paid. If I didn’t, then I would have to take the pay hit.

Becoming a teacher complicated things, to an extent. I got time off during the school year for things I needed to do. These 10 days can be used for personal illness, family illness, and personal necessity. I can also split the time off into half days or even roll them over into the following year, if need be, as necessary. In fact, for the first 9 years of my teaching career, the only day I had taken off was to be the best man in my best friend’s wedding. I worked throughout, sick or well. But when my mother grew sick the year she passed away, and later when Kate came along, I began to have to tap into my sick time, but even with the usual skirmishes with the need to take time off for days that Kate gets sick, or needs to go to the doctor, or loses her child care when her preschool shuts down for its schedule (which doesn’t match either my wife or my own), I can still boast about 65-70 sick days saved up as each school year kicks off.  (And also, as a cancer survivor, in case of a relapse, I’m covered as well, but I digress…)

When you are a classroom teacher, a sub day is not just time away. It’s also composing lesson plans for a substitute who takes your place in the classroom for the day. It is a major pain, from the stand point that I either know who will be taking my class and don’t know them.  Teachers generally begin to cultivate relationships with favorite substitutes. Of course, the good ones are often themselves only marking time for their own hiring for their own classroom. For instance, 2 great substitutes I’ve worked with wound up gong that route to their own jobs; my school hired one and my wife hired the other. My district has one “great” sub who has built a reputation as the sub that everyone wants to have. As such, he’s in demand and it’s extremely rare to score him if you have to take some last minute time off. (Our automated subfinder is set up such that you can request a specific substitute or the computer can randomly assign a sub to your classroom. I generally prefer to request certain subs and only settle for the automated assignment as a last resort.)

So when I compose lesson plans for a sub, I factor in who is taking the class. One of my preferred subs this year is a young woman who has her credential, and works as a classroom aide during the day, in order to use her afternoons to get her work down for her Speech Specialist credential. She’s has been my aide for an hour each day this year, and both myself and the kids have grown comfortable with her. When I take off and have the chance to get her for her half-day assignments, I am confident enough to have her actually teach independent lessons. Now while you would think that all substitutes should be able to do that, teaching a lesson cold to a class you’ve walked into for the first time, is not easy. I’ve also come to know my kids to understand the dynamics of having your regular classroom teacher out of the room. So if I have an unknown substitute, I generally plan my time these days to have the sub mostly proctor activities with my kids that require a minimal amount of instruction. I specifically work with my kids throughout the year to show them how to independently do specific seat work for just these sort of situations that arise. On a given morning with my sub, they might be working on Historical Atlas activities, their writer’s notebooks, chapter activities, Scholastic News stuff, etc. I deliberately overbook the day, to keep the kids active on something. I know that my kids work at different speeds, so I also figure that into the equation.

But this year, I began to notice with a few of the subs, one in particular, that if I left too large of an amount of work behind, the substitute felt compelled to rush the kids through all of the work material. Unlike subs with whom I worked, who knew enough to pace the work, and simply stop on their own if I left behind too much stuff, this year, this specific sub and a few others were racing to finish everything. Realizing this in debriefing my students the next morning, I began to add instructions to pace the work–stuff put towards the end of a list and at the bottom of the pile were less important items that could be used again, or not at all.

The key to the work the sub would use therefore lay in the instructions I left behind to pace the work.

But in order to follow sub plans, a substitute needed to read the plans.

This past Friday, with my attention fully focused upon my sick little girl, I left sub plans and rolled the dice for whomever the computer chose to give me.  As it turned out, it was the same teacher who originated my concern about rushing the kids through their work.  I didn’t think twice about it however–as I had left instructions in my plan!

Arriving back at school yesterday, Monday, I searched around for my plans, expecting to hear about which of my kids had had issues, or if anything else out of the ordinary might have happened.  With the rain in SoCal this past weekend arriving last Friday however, I was in the mood to be considerably more charitable for my students.

But not so much for the sub.  As I learned later, from both my students, and from my aide, she pretty much went “rogue” with the work I had left, and was determined to push the kids through all of it.  I could tell that she didn’t even give my introductory brief that I leave even a cursory glance, for in that she would have seen my caution to NOT worry about getting everything done.

I marched up to the office to complain to the school’s secretary and to get contact info to get a hold of this substitute directly.  Instead what I learned astounded me:  I could “write up” the sub, just as if she had been one of the naughty students who might have misbehaved.  Stunned, gleeful, and filled with bloodlust at this point, I took the form and headed back for my room.  My kids, milling around my classroom, saw forms in my hand and grew worried.

“Who are you writing up?”

“The sub.”


I guess I am supposed to feel bad.  But by writing her up, maybe that will be something that I wrote for her that she’d be forced to read.


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