Dear Guest Teacher

So here are a few confessions and some truths:

  • I have a lot of anxiety about being away
  • Many of my students share this anxiety
  • Often, I choose not to be away even when I should be because it just seems easier all around. I have a few oh my, my, my stories from previous years that contribute to this feeling.
  • While my students are delightful, happy and excited about learning, many of them could also be described as impulsive and as finding change challenging.
  • The reality is that when a lot of the magic of a classroom is based on relationships, and someone new comes in in a leadership role, things can go off course. Normal “substitute” stress that has nothing to do with the capabilities of anyone. It’s just the way it is.

But, this year I have decided that I need to be human. And sometimes I am sick. And sometimes I have to go to the dentist. And sometimes I have an exciting learning or teaching opportunity elsewhere. I need to be away sometimes. My students need to be able to manage.

So I decided to involve my students in the process more. When I was away at the end of September, we planned for a Guest Teacher collectively. Did I think this would ensure that all would go perfectly smoothly? No. I have young students. Impulsivity, anxiety and change is still impulsivity, anxiety and change no matter how prepared one might be. But, did I think our collective ownership of the day would lead to the day having more potential for calm, happiness and learning? Yes!

And so over the course of about a week, we spent a little of every day planning for our guest. Everyone, including adults who might be in the room wrote an introduction sticky note. (** We are the self named Harmony Class because when we talked about what it meant to have three grades in one room, one brilliant child observed, “It’s like a harmony.” And the name has stuck! :-))

 Dear Guest Teacher Planning collectively for a substitute There's a Book for That

Each child took a moment to share something special about themselves and that helped us to remind each other that not only are all of us special and unique but that the teacher would be too. We had a chance to meet someone new.

 Dear Guest Teacher Planning collectively for a substitute There's a Book for That

I put up a blank day plan that had times and activities using large chart papers. Everyday we spent a little bit of time filling in details together. For example, what should we do in math that would be successful? The students chose to play Gridlock, a game they had played before to practice coordinate systems. Everyone voted that this would be an activity where we could be engaged and independent.

Eventually, our day plan looked like this. While I filled in the chart, student input was included for each activity. They reminded me of routines, important details and special instructions.

 Dear Guest Teacher Planning collectively for a substitute There's a Book for That

For some procedural details, students added their own sticky notes to elaborate on our directions. I love the lunchtime directions, particularly this one:

“Stay for a bit but not a lot to make sure we are calm.”

 Dear Guest Teacher Planning collectively for a substitute There's a Book for That

So . . . the verdict?

Well, some things went beautifully . . . Ā I received this tweet from one of the Support Workers who spends time in my room:

The note from my Guest Teacher started like this:

“Thanks for the day plan. You have a very sweet group of kids. Everything went as planned.”

It ended like this:

“I enjoyed my day with them.”

In the middle it referred to an “incident” – I’m okay with that. Truly, even when I am there, we often have an “incident” šŸ™‚ Or two . . . Perfection was not our goal. The beginning of owning the day together was. As was respect, building community and learning how to welcome guests into that community.

The next day in Writing Workshop we had two prompts: Think about your day with the Guest Teacher, write about something you felt proud about and share a “work on for me” thing. Many students shared that they were proud of their hard work, that they were kind and polite to the teacher and that they did many activities as planned. Ā A general “work on for me” theme was about improving listening, and being more quiet at carpet time. One little guy said he needed to work on being more patient. The noise at times had frustrated him. Students were honest and reflective.

So would I do this again if I am know in advance I am going to be away? Absolutely.

My reflections would be this:

I felt proud of my students for working together to plan a day for a Guest Teacher to share the room with them. Ā A “work on thing” for me would be truly relaxing and knowing that we did our very best to prepare for a smooth day. I mostly relaxed whereas in the past, I never did. Again, the goal was not a perfect day but rather working towards developing more responsibility and independence. That road is a long one and we need to travel it one step at a time. This collective planning allowed us to sprint ahead here and there!

19 thoughts on “Dear Guest Teacher

  1. This is brilliant. I smiled, nodded, agreed at all you shared. Last week after I had been away for a day I hesitated to open an email from the TOC worrying what incident I would need to deal with. It turned out that all was well with only a couple ‘minor’ issues. Whew. But I have had many not so happy notes over my teaching careers.
    Over the past two years I have involved the students in many decisions made in our room. Why I have never thought of this is a bit surprising. Thank you for sharing this wonderful concept, I will be introducing this idea right away.

    • Thank you Anne-Marie! I am sure many of us feel similar anxiety about this whole process. It is so tricky! This for me was a way to jump in with both feet and embrace the whole thing fully. Honestly, I barely worried while I was away as I felt – we all did our best and the not the best could hopefully continue to be part of the learning process! Thanks for your comment. Much appreciated!

  2. The beginning and end of that note are all that matter. No matter how great a class is and how perfect plans are, there will always be events that come up. No one is perfect. Sounds like it was a successful day. Woo hoo!

    • Completely agree. I have realized that no matter how well we prepare – it is not a reflection on anyone if it doesn’t go well in parts. However, when it’s smooth, we can all take credit! šŸ™‚

  3. Reblogged this on Amanda Hassen and commented:
    This type of student inclusion truly helps them feel that they are a part of a learning community. What a great way to tech them about ownership and responsibility. I wish I could have been a fly on your classroom walls as I am sure your students were all beaming with pride.

  4. I love this student inclusion. As an Ed tech and a parent of a child who has had incidents on substitute days I think this would work really well for him. Congratulations on seizing the opportunity help kids learn to accept change and see the positives that can come from it.

    • Thank you so much for your comment Rebecca! I appreciate this feedback from a parent that this would be helpful. I know many of my students get very anxious at the idea of someone new in the room – this did help ease the anxiety. It is so hard when someone is there and in charge and doesn’t know routines. Hard for everyone – this helped kids be a part of it all!

  5. It is a brilliant plan, Carrie. I enjoyed every.single.word! And sticky notes too. One of my ‘go-to’ phrases always when something isn’t working for a teacher is “ask your students” to help solve the problem. I truly believe they will. Your empowerment of the class is impressive. Thanks very much for sharing!

    • Linda – Thanks so much for this! I agree with you – often kids know best! I was very pleased with how much the students embraced this and took part so seriously in the planning.

  6. I love this! I involve my kids in so many decisions already, why not this brilliant one?! Although my kids are a bit older, many of the same issues arise, especially when particular students succeed because of strong relationships. Thanks for the inspiration, I’ll be trying this very soon!

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