How to Support a Guest Teacher During a Teacher’s Absence
Throughout the school year, there will be times when you will be absent. Whether your absence is planned or unexpected, prepare for these instances at the beginning of the school year by using the following structures.
About the Term “Guest Teacher”
Unlike the more common “substitute teacher,” this title conveys a sense of authority, welcome, and respect. After all, they are a teacher and a guest of the class. This simple change in terminology can help set everyone up for a better day.
Prepare an Informational Folder
Help your guest teacher get acquainted with your classroom and school by providing the following important information:
- School instructions. Include instructions for emergency procedures like fire drills. It may be helpful to include a map of the school as well.
- Student information. Include individualized student information such as allergies, 504 plans, IEPs, or other information. Provide a seating chart and student pictures if possible, too.
- Names of adult and student helpers. List at least two adults—grade-level colleagues, instructional assistants, or other colleagues—the guest teacher can seek out if help is needed. It is also helpful to identify a few reliable students who can help with explaining procedures or directions as needed.
- Classroom procedures. Inform the guest teacher of specific classroom procedures such as signals for attention and procedures for the restroom. Encourage the guest teacher to review these routines with students during Morning Meeting.
- Morning message. Write a message for students on chart paper or a slide. Direct the guest teacher to post the welcome message in the morning before students arrive. See the sample below to help you get started.
- Extra activities. Include copies of enrichment activities for students who finish assignments early or to use as fillers if needed throughout the day. Activities could include crossword puzzles, a picture book to read aloud, word searches, math riddles, sudoku puzzles, or similar activities. When possible, introduce and practice these activities with students before your first absence.
Begin the Day With Community: Morning Meeting
Have the guest teacher start the day with Morning Meeting. Set a positive tone for the day with the following structures:
- Name tag greeting. Place all student name tags in the middle of the circle. The first student should retrieve a name tag from the middle and greet that classmate. The student who was greeted then picks the next name tag. Continue until all students have been greeted. Use this as a chance for the guest teacher to learn students’ names and encourage students to wear their name tag throughout the day.
- Partner sharing. Partner students to complete three rounds of sharing. Give partnerships one to two minutes to discuss each question. Have a few partnerships share an idea with the whole group before moving to the next round.
- What is one way you can respect yourself and your learning today?
- How can you be a kind and helpful classmate today?
- What are some ways we can help (insert guest teacher’s name) today?
- Activity. Have students play a game—such as Coseeki or Four Corners—that requires cooperation and self-control. Practice the activity with students prior to your first day away.
- Message. The guest teacher can read the message aloud to students. He/she can also use this time to remind students of classroom procedures and to preview the schedule for the day.
Structure the Day for Success
Keep in mind the developmental needs of your students as you plan for the day. The following tips may be helpful:
- Minimize “new” learning. Since the guest teacher will most likely have limited knowledge of your students and their learning styles, as well as the content you are teaching, plan for review activities whenever possible.
- Encourage energizers. Provide the guest teacher with some low-risk energizers that can be used when students need a physical or mental break during the day.
- Manage materials. When possible, make copies of handouts and leave teacher manuals and answer keys on your desk. If your class uses a learning management system, such as Google Classroom or Canvas, post assignments for students to minimize materials for the guest teacher to manage.
End the Day With Reflection: Closing Circle
End the day with a closing circle. Have students share ideas with partners or the whole group by using the following prompts:
- What is one way you respected yourself and your learning today?
- How were you a kind and helpful classmate today?
- What are some ways you helped (insert guest teacher’s name) today?
Encourage the guest teacher to record the ideas students share in a note for when you return to school, providing a snapshot of how the day went.
Taking time to prepare an informational folder, beginning the day with Morning Meeting, organizing the day with students’ needs in mind, and finishing the day with student reflection will help to create the conditions for a successful day for your class community.
Andy Moral is a coauthor of Empowering Educators: A Comprehensive Guide to Teaching Grades 3, 4, 5 and Seeing the Good in Students and the author of the Quick Coaching Guide Replacing Direct Teaching With Active Teaching. He teaches fourth grade in Council Rock School District, located in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
Sample Morning Message
Welcome (insert guest teacher’s name) to our fourth grade classroom! We are excited to have you join us today for our day of learning. We have three classroom rules:
Our schedule for today is:
Recess & Lunch
We will do our best to follow our rules, to support each other, and to make it a great day together!
Room 118 students