Substitute Teacher Planning in the Digital Age


I'm out of school this week. Again.

It's been a crazy year. Knee surgery, the flu (Next time the nurse sends out an email about the flu shot, I'm going to listen!), and more than a few professional development days in between.

Now, I'm in Austin, TX, to give a workshop at SXSWedu, and while I hate to miss another week with the kiddos, it's an exciting opportunity that I just couldn’t afford to pass up.

While compiling my substitute teacher’s plans for the week—a task so dreaded that it sometimes compels teachers to go into work when they should be home resting—I realized something that has made the struggle of being away feel much more manageable:

Technology has revolutionized the sub plan.

When I started out as a sub, I would usually arrive to the classroom to find a note and a VHS copy of Dangerous Minds or Stand and Deliver to show five times in a row. Basically, it was all filler until the real teacher got back.

But now, my students don't have to miss a beat, and their learning is uninterrupted whether I'm on a planned trip to a conference, or suddenly sidelined with the flu. I can stay connected to my students and their education without any filler in sight.

I'm able to email plans to my sub with all of the links he or she will need for lessons, and CC my subject partner so she can hop in as needed for support. I can post resources to my blog, and students can reach me quickly with any questions. Depending on time zones, I can even Skype in to deliver content, or have conferences with the kids.

As luck would have it, this week my eighth graders are in the middle of a unit that has them exploring the opportunities and challenges that technology brings to our lives. (We use the terms "opportunities and challenges" rather than "positives and negatives" in our health class because with something as integral to our lives as technology, we can’t afford to think in black and white!)

During one of this week’s lessons, they’ll form small groups and create lists with all of the “opportunities and challenges” they can think of.

It’s my hope that during these brainstorming sessions, my students will realize that my ability to teach them while I’m a continent away—sharing their work and learning with other teachers from around the globe—definitely counts as an opportunity.