Flipping lessons for subbing: a solution for absent teachers

When you work at a school, there are always inevitable sick leaves; sometimes they come in waves. Depending on the school system, there might be a very appreciated and handy permanent sub around. However, this is not the case in many schools (I speak for Colombia), which tend to ask teachers from the same Department to sub for their colleagues; when this is not possible, whichever available teacher is asked to take the class, regardless of the subject of their expertise.

In my experience leading a school languages department, when a teacher of the same subject couldn’t take over, the class was relinquished to a teacher from a different department, who most likely did not manage the topic being taught and, therefore, ended up teaching their own subject or putting students to do anything that would ´”keep them busy” until class time was up.

Substituting becomes a very tricky matter when the subject is complex or when the life-saving last minute subsitute does not speak the language the subject is being taught in. As a result, time is lost and then the absent teacher must devise ways to play catch-up, which just adds up to the whole stress of not having been in class in the first place. Tricky stuff.

As the head of the department, when someone in my team was absent, I was the first option for substitutions. If I was told with at least a half hour I could spare, I would check the lesson plans and make sure I was faithful to the content needed to be taught. If I had more time, I would plan the whole class with extra material and even handouts. If I had no time, I would try to read as much of the lesson plan, in the few minutes I had before getting to the classroom, to improvise the best I could. Whichever the case was, in many cases (though not all), it was up to me to decide how I would approach the class. It was challenging, sometimes stressful and definitely demanding.

What I learned from this experience is that teachers don’t like to have to think of how to substitute, unless it is what they are being paid to do… and frankly, I believe they shouldn’t have to do so. They are so busy already having to plan their own classes. But more than that, it is our responsibility as teachers to provide as much meaningful learning opportunities as possible. And guess what? I learned that providing a flipped lesson for a substitute allows you to continue doing so, even when you are not around.

So having been on the other side (the subbing side) allowed me to gain perspective. That meant that when it was my turn to be subbed, I made sure the teacher had everything needed to take over my class. For this to occur, I initially excluded explanations from the equation. That way, the teacher could focus on monitoring and taking care of the class as students worked. Later on, as I got more into flipping my lessons and eventually flipped a complete (Public Speaking) course, when the moment came in which an important topic had to be covered in that precise class I would be absent in, I made sure it was be covered by me (through flipped content) and the substitute’s job was more about monitoring students’ work instead of having to explain anything at all. For the flipped substitute lessons, I had videos ready for the explanations, workshops set up in edmodo and students’ acknowledgement that the class continued with my lead even if I was not physically around to lead them. It made things easier for the substitute and for me, since it was as if I had never missed the class in the first place. This gave me peace of mind.

If you’re wondering how to do this, the way you can plan a flipped substitution lesson will depend on the resources you use and what you are teaching. Nevertheless, if you feel comfortable recording yourself and students have some type of video access, then you can ask the substitute to show the video of you giving the explanation of the content or of the instructions for what they are to do in class. If this is not within your possibilities, then any other video that fits your quality standards can also be shared. If you use an LMS, have a blog or use an online tool to communicate with students, then you can set the different material there. Remember, flipping is about providing direct instruction to students in different forms (podcast, reading, slides presentation, hyperdoc, etc)… not just a video.

Whether you are the absentee or the substitute, I have no doubt you will definitely appreciate the flip with the quality and meaningfulness it will add to the substituted classes.

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