When You’ve Lost the Battle

In my first few years of teaching, I didn’t want to use my sick days. If I woke with a fever, I foolishly believed it was more trouble to pull the day’s sub materials together than to just drive to school and face the day. In the spring of my first year, a ruptured ear drum didn’t even keep me from school. It wasn’t until an allergic reaction to the antibiotic launched an angry, blotchy rash all over my body – and, like an idiot, I still came to work – that the principal’s secretary took one look at me, shook her head, and sent me home.

Guess what? My classes rolled along just fine for three days without me.

I learned early (thanks to prodding by science teacher/PD professor/friend Clif Simms) that a sub tub is essential. Think of it as insurance – or Mayhem repellent. Once you have five days of generic lesson plans and the class sets of photocopies tucked in that tub, it’s nearly guaranteed that you won’t actually need them. The universe has a wacky sense of humor. Don’t build a sub tub? You’ll certainly wake up vomiting at 4 a.m. some time this semester. Build your sub tub? It’ll comfortably collect dust under your desk – in my case, for years.

Now, I’m not talking about planning for expected absences. When you’re attending a workshop or taking a long weekend to be in your sister’s wedding, you’ll obviously have the heads-up time to tailor specific sub plans for each of your classes and your calendar will keep rolling. Instead, this sub tub contains survival materials for those “just in case” days.

You know you need one, so let’s build your emergency lesson plan substitute teacher tub!

Step 1: Set up a plastic tub, crate, or empty file drawer.

Step 2: Write a generic five-day lesson plan that can be used in all of your classes. Yes, I use the same emergency sub plan/materials for all my classes.

Step 3: Make those copies! (FYI – Best time to be a copier hog? 3:15 p.m. Friday. Please, we’re all begging you, do NOT make these copies before school on a Monday morning.)

Step 4: Fill the tub, crate, drawer.

Step 5: Hide that smug smile from your friends across the hall. If they know you’re one of the few teachers who’ve actually built The Tub, they’ll want to “borrow” your folders and you know you’ll never get a complete set of those babies back. Loan out the tub with caution, my friend.

In my tub, you’d find these five lessons, chosen because they’re easy to deliver, not part of the regular curriculum, and still rigorous enough to keep everyone focused for a full class period. Each is entirely self-contained, so there’s no need to teach them in any particular order.

“The Veldt” – a classic Ray Bradbury short story with materials to help students think about and discuss the consequences of our tech-dependent culture

“Marionettes, Inc.” – another Ray Bradbury thriller that helps students sharpen their literary analysis skills while also making personal connections to the idea of human cloning

Art of Camouflage – a non-fiction lesson that focuses on an inventor who has created the next generation of “digital” camouflage that is much harder for the human eye to detect than traditional camo designs

The Busy Trap – another non-fiction lesson where students analyze a piece from a New York Times columnist who wants us to reconsider the frenetic busyness of our lives

Shark Attack – a Listen & Learn podcast-based lesson focusing on sharks, including a story of a 9-year-old girl who survived an attack and information on research and prevention efforts

Since I don’t usually use any of these in a typical year (again, sub tub = sick day insurance), I enjoy the bonus of sometimes dipping into the tub in late spring when state testing schedules mess with the calendar and I need a placeholder lesson. Last-minute class prep? Done.

In addition to my five, here are a bunch of other standalone lessons (the first two are free, the others just a few bucks) that’d be good sub tub choices:

Analyze a Jason Reynolds’ Speech – a high-interest 10-minute video of a commencement address and questions to help kids dissect Reynolds’ rhetorical tools

10 Supreme Court Cases Every Teen Should Know – a two-day jigsaw lesson where small groups learn about important cases and teach the details to their peers

The Case of Tony the Tiger – a 19-minute podcast with discussion questions

Deep Dive in a Tar Pit – an 18-minute podcast with discussion questions

Sweet Dreams – a New York Times article about delaying school start times with discussion questions

Billions in Change – a 45-minute YouTube documentary with discussion questions

The Princess Bride – a four-day lesson plan that includes argument, literary analysis, and creative writing tasks

Now, go fill that tub and tell Mayhem to move along. Teach on, everyone.

10 thoughts on “When You’ve Lost the Battle

  1. Every year I think of doing something like this… maybe this post will actually get me to get it done! 😊

  2. Do it, Mrs. Mikos. Do it now. You’ll feel so much better – promise! 😀

  3. Barbara Garvey says:

    I have 191 sick days with 21 years in. I never take sick days because I have always said it is more work. I have colleagues who are out all the time. I need to take better care of myself. Maybe if I do this, I won’t feel so bad about calling out sick.

  4. Um…does having 191 sick days mean you can retire an entire year early? If your school year is 180 days, I’m thinking the answer must be a big ol’ YES! Seriously, though, you DO need to take care of yourself, Barbara. An occasional mental health day can do wonders for your energy and stamina – not to mention sometimes we do actually get sick and need to rest.

  5. I have your listening skills activities set up on my desk for my emergencies!

  6. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about, Daodow! 😀

  7. Jackie Flynn says:

    These are amazing plans!
    I teach two grades, and I’m always scrambling for text that supports what we’re doing. I think my students would enjoy these readings!

  8. Lori Ruiz says:

    I have used your lessons quite a few times for sick days (and for regular class of course)! It’s so easy to provide this to a sub without too much extra instruction. 🙂

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