When Students Don’t Behave for the Sub

So I’m sitting at my desk grading papers before school like I do every day. This is actually how I stay on track with my grading…usually. But this time I had spent about 20 minutes trying to grade one student’s simple homework assignment when I realize something is wrong. I can’t seem to focus and my stomach aches. Oh no. Now, bear in mind that I spent the first week back to school in January out sick with the flu. That thing is nasty this year. And my foot has been in a boot for 3 weeks due to an exercise related injury. So coming down with some mysterious illness only a few weeks after recovering from the flu felt like the cherry on top of a fantastic start to second semester (if only).

My gut reaction is to tough it out. After all, it’s just an uneasy stomach. No biggie. I’ve had much worse, believe me. I have first and second periods as preparation time so I just continue trying to ignore my pain as the homework stack before me stubbornly refuses to grade itself. Second period rolls around and I stand up to sort some papers. Woah. I can’t seem to walk straight. Has the ground always moved around like that? At the same moment, I realize that with the wave of nausea I just experienced, it would not be out of the realm of possibilities for me to hurl. Crap. 

I immediately text my husband: “Hey babe I’m feeling really uneasy this morning. Like I might be sick.” to which he replies “Like stomach? Cause I’m feeling icky too…” Suspicion confirmed. We’ve got the stomach flu. Or something.  Now, just because I had confirmation did not mean I was going home. What is it about teachers that we have to be practically knocking on death’s metaphorical door to want to go home?

Anyways, I unsteadily walk over to the bathroom. This walk has lead me to the conclusion that I seriously might hurl in class. In front of my students. That thought alone had me walking down the hall to request a sub. Still, I don’t want to be a bother. I tell her I’ll stick it out until lunch. She looks me up and down and say “I’ll get you a sub for the whole day.” Sometimes it’s nice when others make decisions for you.

I pull up a trash can next to my desk and hastily scribble down some lesson plans. It’s mostly a test day so the only real lesson plans will be for my sophomores. They’re working on document analysis posters for a future essay. I leave the materials with the sub and rush home to sleep the day away. Happy ending, right?

Except I get an email from my sub a few hours later. My third period was unruly and did not follow directions. They talked over him. They were rude. Ugh. Now I’ve got to figure out how to discipline my students when I return. They’re usually great for subs (mostly because I’m really strict about it) but this time their behavior was totally unacceptable.

What to do? What to do? Oh, yeah. Google. So I spent some time browsing how other teachers deal with bad sub behavior. But nothing seems to fit my situation. So I took a nap. And awoke with the best idea of my life. I wish. Instead, I spent most of the next day and a half thinking about it.

Here’s what I came up with:

  1. Write an apology letter to the sub. Usually, I have a problem with group punishment. There are always individuals who didn’t do anything wrong and it’s unfair to make them apologize for something that wasn’t their fault. According to the sub, almost the entire class was being unruly. So I’m giving two options for the letter. If they know they did not behave in a respectful manner, they must write down specifically what they did, why that behavior was unacceptable, and what they’ll do in the future to improve. And, of course, apologize. If they did not have disrespectful behavior, then they need to write a letter thanking the sub for being a guest teacher in the classroom. I’ve found that when you ask kids to really examine themselves and their behavior, they have a lot more self awareness than most adults give them credit for. They almost always have enough self awareness to select the right option.
  2. No brownie points. Brownie points are a fun way to reward my classes for good behavior, thoughtful insights, positive comments towards peers, and funny jokes. If they get to a million brownie points, I make them brownies. Silly, right? But actually they care a lot about winning brownie points. And I give them out like crazy when they have good behavior for subs. So when all of my periods get brownie points except the unruly one, it does make them pause and evaluate their behavior. Maybe just for a moment. But still-I’ll take it.
  3. Make a T-Chart with acceptable and unacceptable classroom behaviors. I have them brainstorm with their neighbors and come up with their own list. Then, I take volunteers and create a class list. Then, they must circle the unacceptable behaviors the class demonstrated for the sub and make goals for the class’s behavior for the next sub.
  4. The assignment is still due. My third period wasted the entire period not working on their poster. The poster is due by Friday. By not giving them any additional time to work in class, they are forced to come in during lunch or after school and put in the extra time if they want to complete the assignment and get a good grade.
  5. Participation points. My first year teaching, I had the most challenging class that I’ve ever taught. Classroom management was a joke and I could not get those kids to listen. They tortured subs. It was terrible. So I started a participation point system where they received points every day for their positive behaviors, productivity, and contributions in class. It took a few weeks, but when their grades started to go down, most of them shaped up. I don’t use this system anymore, but it’s a good one to keep in my repertoire.

So here’s my list. What other ideas do you have?! Comment to let me know. I’d love to be inspired by you 🙂

With Love,

Mrs. P

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