Dear Barbara ...
I've created the Dear Barbara column as a way for subs to get answers to questions about any subbing topic or suggestions that may help you solve a specific problem in substitute teaching.

If you'd like to submit a question, please click here and be sure to include your name and home town. Answers to the best questions will be published here.

How can I avoid having my class fall apart during the last ten minutes of the period?

Dear Barbara,

I have been subbing at our middle and high school for a few months now. The students know me, and I feel like I have their respect.

When the classroom teacher leaves enough work, the day goes well.

But some teachers leave assignments that take twenty to forty minutes to complete, and the period lasts fifty minutes!

I hate to see the behavior fall apart, when things have gone so well for most of the period. Do you have any advice on how to avoid that noisy last ten minutes?

Vernon, CT

Dear Justin,

Students get into trouble when they have nothing to do. When classwork is completed, most teachers tell their students to read silently. They would prefer to talk! As the noise level escalates, you (the sub) need to control the volume. Now you become “the enforcer”. This is a job title you will want to avoid.

My advice is to spend as much time as possible, at the beginning of each class, introducing the lesson. Leave just enough time for students to finish their work before the bell rings. This kind of pacing can be a challenge, but you will improve with practice.

Here are some ideas to help you stretch out the first ten minutes of class:

1. Put your name on the board and introduce yourself. Tell students something about yourself, to make a connection.
2. Ask students to review yesterday's assignment for you. Tell them you'd like to know what they have been working on in class.
3. Go over all directions slowly. Check for understanding.
4. Begin the work as a group. This sets a tone to enhance interest, and gives them confidence to begin working independently.
5. While students are working, walk around the room and give assistance when needed. This shows students you care about their success.
6. If some students finish early, have a fun worksheet on hand, such as a crossword puzzle, wordfind, or sadoku. Have a variety of worksheets available.

If you are aware of pacing your lessons, the rewards will be worthwhile for you and your students!


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