Dec 28, 2011

Posted by | 14 Comments

You are Replaceable!

Ok, I’m not trying to make you feel bad or anything, but you are replaceable!

You may be wondering what I am talking about. Let me explain.  When I first started teaching I had this phobia of being gone (anyone else- I know you are out there). I thought there was absolutely no way anyone could do my job for me and I would write every single little detail into all of my sub plans.  I remember being so embarrassed my first year. I wrote in the sub plan exactly how line up, how to get the kids attention, and what to say like a script. Then, a veteran retired art teacher happened to land the job for that day and it was pretty laughable. She didn’t need all of that, she was a teacher for crying out loud, she knows how to do the basics of teaching!   Each year this controlling nature got better and better for me, as I realized that things do come up, I have meetings to attend, I do get sick and have to be gone.  I quickly realized that people are capable, they can problem solve, and while it’s great to be organized and prepared, they’ll figure it out and if they can’t, it will all be ok.

My “this will all be ok” mentality really hit home when I embarked on planning for my 3 month maternity leave.  I could only do so much to prepare for the day I would go into labor, for this day would not determined by me, but by nature.  I would not return the next day, and someone would have to fill in and pick up the pieces wherever they were left.  Someone else would be making decisions for my students and working in my classroom for three months, and it’s ok.  I don’t regret all the planning that I did, and I don’t regret how long it took to get everything lined up. It’s really given me piece of mind to NOT think about school this whole time and be able to focus on my family.

Now, as I think about going back to work in one month, I know I will need to keep this laid back attitude about being gone. Kids get sick, you get sick,  family needs you and I can’t be in 5 places at once.  This will sure be a new transition, but I think this progression of loss of control has taught me that yes, I am replaceable, and although no one is “Me,” or will do things just the way I would, things are ok and life goes on.  The students are learning, the art department meetings are being run, and nothing has crumbled and fell to the ground without me.

I am replaceable. Sad but true. And it feels kind of nice at the same time. Weird.

Do you ever worry about being gone? What coping strategies have you come across?


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  • Erica

    Hi – I have been reading your blog a lot lately and I really enjoy it as I am a similar art teacher. More personality A than B. I like how you take this profession so seriously because I haven’t always sensed that other art teachers do.
    I went on unexpected bed rest and talk about a nightmare for a control freak. I don’t remember exactly how I handled all of the details. I know I didn’t do as much as you did because I had 3 co-workers to explain the projects to him. But, in retrospect, maybe that is why it felt like a major fail once I got back.
    I was out all of May/June and so I had my mom drive my dumb butt all the way to school to get my grading. Mistake number 1 – I should have had the sub grade. Mistake 2 – driving up there to do my grading for the quarter at all. I should have asked someone to determine their final grades. I don’t have any idea why I didn’t give them all B’s. I sadly graded each piece they produced. The work was miserable. I reflected the grade I would have given them if I were their teacher. Mistake 3. Kids that might have ended up w/ A, B, C were now failing my art 1 class. I put the F in their final grade, shrugged my shoulders, and enjoyed my baby.
    I went back to work at the end of Aug like all of my other co-workers. Now this is my 3rd year. And much to some of these parents happiness they now had someone to call about their child’s grade from art LAST year. It was only a few people, but I had to come up with a plan quickly to help those kids fix their grades. It wasn’t the world’s biggest pain, but it was a huge lesson to LET GO. Had I let the sub grade their assignments and figure out their final grade…yes, they would have all gotten A’s. But, why would it have mattered in the end?
    I took myself too seriously. I still do. I have been asked to do standards based grading at my current job and I have spent far too much time grading work these past few months. I am happy to be on vacation so I get my systems in perspective. I can’t continue work as many hours as I have been. I will burn out.
    I don’t know where I am going with this now! But, I did want to warn you, shall I say, that things are probably not going to be as you left them. Let your sub do their job (which might be yours, but that is OK!) and I am glad you know all of this. But, be prepared for the after math. The day we drove up to get the work. There were BOX CUTTERS on the floor, laying around the room. There were actual art projects that needed to be graded in corners and under desks. It was a MESS! It wasn’t good for me to see this when I was supposed to be on bed rest and it wasn’t my problem. I know why I worried about all of this 5 years ago, but I wish I would have just stayed away until the time was right. Best of luck returning to your FT job!

    • Jessica Balsley

      Us type A’s need to stick together, don’t we! I am so happy we can find some common ground together and keep learning from one another. Your story reminds me to remember the transition back may not be as easy as one might think and I needed the reminder!

      • Ingrid

        I’m glad to know I am not the only type A art teacher!! I have an incredible accumulation of sick days because I can’t stand to be out at all. I don’t like coming back to what a sub left behind, but because I only see students ~40 minutes a week, I feel like missing a day of actual instruction is a big deal- I resist leaving sub plans that are a video, or some kind of time-filler fluff…

  • Cathy

    Wow, I’ve been teaching Visual Art for 23 years, and still have much angst about “leaving my class to a sub”! Even though you take hours to prepare for a sub, it never seems to work out the way you think or hope it will.
    I too, have returned to my classroom to find that the sub “suggested” ideas for the students on their work and then it’s ruined. There is just no good way to ensure this won’t happen, so I’ve resolved myself to just prepare and let it happen. You can always pick up with your kids when you return and get them back on track. Good luck in your future years of teaching, and have fun!!!

    • Jessica Balsley

      Thank you, Cathy, it’s good to know I am not alone and this may never completely go away, but I guess that means we care, doesn’t it?

  • Kim Hyman

    I always thought I had a fail-safe for any day I might be out. I developed a sketchbook with assignments and student friendly instructions so all the sub had to do was supervise and encourage the students as they worked. I pre-teach the sketchbooks at the beginning of the year and I’ve always been successful and felt okay knowing I would be out and returning from a day out. I was out for a PD a few months ago and learned that all subs are not created equal. This one totally ignored everything I had prepared for her and handed out coloring book pages. Okay, I can accept the kids just colored all day but then she had them keep them so I could “grade” their work!!! Needless to say, I felt like a tirate but instead told the kids to take them home that I would not be grading their coloring pages.

    • Jessica Balsley

      Great idea, Kim! Luckily I have a wonderful sub with an art degree, whew! But on those random days, I know it can be a free for all.

  • Tobie

    I was the totally opposite. I found out I had The big B cancer and need 4 weeks off to re-cope from surgery( which I did amazingly well). I left NO sub plans I work at 2 sister private school. My mentor the owner of the school was the art teacher for 30 years so she took over one school. The other school hired a women from an ad. 4 weeks off seem like an eternity for someone who has been nonstop and never sits down. But I had no choice and I got to be with only 3 people my husband and boys and it was so quiet and nice. I figured they would love that random women so much I would be replaced. When I came back I found out my students did not have art for 4 weeks because that woman could not handle my schedule and left before the day was through! My mentor on the other hand had my students paralyzed with fear to even try anything on there own. I was with her the week I came back and they where like art student zombies working so slow and unsure.I was so surprised. Life is busy and noisy again and the quiet 4 weeks is just a blur.

    • Jessica Balsley

      I am glad you are doing well. What an experience for both you and your family, my heart goes out to you! Sounds like mess you were in with the classroom, but your health was the most important. I need to sit and enjoy a few of these quiet moments, for they sure won’t last long.

  • Clare

    I used to worry…..but after having my son 3 years ago…..that all changed. I had one sub that did not follow the lessons…..but I did some damage control and all was good. But I made up a sub binder that I now put in my clearly labeled “Sub Tub”. All the teachers have Sub Folders in the main office. There have been days that I have had to leave early…….because my son got sick. These things do not make me any less of a teacher. But my family comes first…..I still love my students and provide them the best….but things come up…..and the art room still stands on days that I am not there!

    • Jessica Balsley

      Well put, Clare! Thank you for the reminder that being gone from work doesn’t make me a bad parent and being a parent doesn’t make me a bad teacher. Lots of new things to learn and make peace with as my family changes!

  • Josey

    Wow, so good to read everyone’s comments! Even after 13 years, I still stress a wee bit when turning my classroom over to a substitute, but it’s getting easier. I’ve finally figured out that I’m less worried when I dig into my “emergency sub tub” and just let my replacement have some fun with my students as they work on some easy, enjoyable, non-messy art projects. My emergency lessons are pre-typed, ready to go with examples and related resources, and include a general classroom management/art room procedures page. When I return to my classroom, we get back on schedule with our projects that we were previously working on, and my kiddos have had a nice little break doing a fun “make-n-take” project. I still worry about how things “should” go….but as everyone else has figured out, life goes on, and it’s really ok to let someone else walk (scurry?) in your shoes for a day, or week, or whatever you need.

    • Jessica Balsley

      Good solution, Josey! We have such a set curriculum and limited time, that in the past I was able to have an emergency folder of other activities, but now, if they miss one art time I won’t be able to easily catch them up, which makes it a lot harder to be gone.

      • Anonymous

        Jessica, I agree – it does put a crunch in my curriculum too. But I guess I weigh the options – less stress for a substitute, easier for my kiddos, and way less headache for me. And as much as I’d prefer to keep to my set curriculum and schedule, the results are often less than stellar when a sub takes over. It IS a struggle to catch those classes up – but it does get done. I think the exception would be a long absence from the classroom – then all bets are off! BTW, I really enjoy your blog. Such great information and ideas!! Thank you!