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.