Sincerely, Your Substitute Teacher

Dear Teachers, 

We see you. We see the work you put in. We see the sacrifice you make in providing your classroom with materials paid for out of your pocket. We see the extra janitorial work you do before, after, and even during class. We respect the amount of time you put into the learning of these students, spending hours before and after class writing lesson plans, making anchor charts, calling parents, and prepping for upcoming days. 

When we walk through your classroom we see smiles on your student’s faces. We see their excitement for learning and how hard you’ve worked to get them to this point. Your love and respect for your students are tangible by the way they talk so highly of you. We see how much you care about them too by the work you’ve put into each detail, their personalized name tags, the extra study chart you made when you realized they didn’t quite grasp concepts right away. We see it in the way you leave us notes about specific kids and their behaviors we need to be aware of- the students who are more difficult or the students who are big helpers. You know them, you know who they are and what they need. We see the sticky notes you leave for yourself about upcoming community events your students are in or the reminders for passing out those extra homework papers you’ve made at least 5 copies of this week since they all seem to mysteriously disappear in backpacks. 

We know you’re still an excellent teacher even though you had to take a sick day, or a personal day for conferences, vacation, or to visit family. We know you miss your students just as much as they miss you. We see what an accepting and inviting culture you’ve created in your classroom by the need your students feel to have you back.

We as substitute teachers are privileged to enter your classroom for sometimes as little as a few hours a day. We are given a tiny window of your space and we respect your noble work. So teachers, dear teachers, we see you. We respect you, and we are proud of you. Keep doing the great work you are doing, because you are the best teacher for this classroom. 

Sincerely, 

Your Substitute Teacher 

What If Inquiry-Based Teaching Isn’t Always The Right Answer?

Inquiry-based learning has become more of a common practice throughout schools. It encourages asking questions, thinking deeper, and applying the material to personal lives. Inquiry-based learning is flexible because the student is the leader for where the conversation and learning leads. It can have higher engagement because the student can take the material where they want it to go. 

This type of learning is so beneficial in some studies. However, are there times when inquiry-based isn’t best? What are the parameters for inquiry-based versus direct instruction? 

Teamwork and group projects are where inquiry-based flourishes, students can collaborate, ask questions, and use the skills developed in inquiry learning to look deeper into the subject. 

Science lessons based on experiment and discovering new ideas is also a great platform for inquiry. 

Discussions on subjects are where inquiry-based can blossom. Promoting questions with long or different answers can assist in deeper inquiry, instead of direct, one-word answer questions. 

However, are there times inquiry-based learning isn’t the best way? Where does direct instruction fit into the school day? Here is a great rule of thumb- throw out inquiry-based as soon as you see a student struggling. It’s important to note that struggle is good when using inquiry because it can lead to more learning breakthroughs for the student. The struggle that causes red flags is the kids who are constantly struggling, the kids on a lower reading level than their peers, or the ones who cannot seem to grasp the concept enough to participate in these discussions. This is where direct instruction needs to happen. 

Imagine a struggling child who is constantly poked and prodded with questions about letters and sounds in order for them to inquire more about it, eventually leading to them knowing what the letter names and sounds are. If they are already behind, more inquiring isn’t going to help them. It’s a powerful tool to directly tell them what something is and how it functions over and over until it clicks. Once they can grasp this complex concept, they can continue to move up and work on each concept until eventually, they can participate in inquiry discussions. 

Sometimes, kids don’t need more questions, they just need direct information. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge advocate for inquiry-based learning, and plan to write more on the subject matter. But I am also an advocate for doing what is best for the student. 

What is your rule of thumb for direct versus inquiry learning? 

Let’s All Remember Our Heroes This Veterans Day

Veterans Day is on Monday, and with any important holiday, a great picture book is a must. It doesn’t matter if your students are 2-year-olds in a daycare, or 18 years old in college, a powerful, informative picture book can always be applicable when used correctly. 

Veterans Day is now more widely known as, “Head over to our stores for our 50% off Veterans Day sale” It has become a commercial holiday used to boost sales and place the United States flags on their ads as if that honors the men and woman that served our country in some way. Veterans Day is so much more than a 50% off sale and needs to be treated that way as well. 

It’s a day to celebrate and remember those who gave their all, sometimes even their lives, so that we can continue to live in peace and comfort we have today. It’s remembering those families that suffered weeks and months without their dads, or the kids who attended their first day of school without their mom because they had parents serving across seas. It’s a chance to feel empathy for the families who have packed up and moved so many times in a year that they have lost track of what cities they’ve lived in. It’s a holiday all of us need to remember a little more. 

I have read multiple books on Veterans Day, and after all of my readings, one book sticks out to me because of the emotional pull it brought out as I read. America’s White Table by Margot Theis Raven goes through everything placed at the White Table, the rose, the lemon, the chair, and more, then explains what it represents and why. 

Katie, the young girl in the story helping her mom set the White Table, is told a story of her uncle who served in the war and ended up as a Prisoner of War (POW) but eventually was able to escape and help a friend escape as well. Hearing his emotional story helped Katie see the importance of the white table. 

“It was just a little white table… but it felt as big as America when we helped Mama put each item on it and she told us why it was so important.”

-America’s White Table

I was somewhat ashamed to find out after reading this picture book that I did not know what each of the items on the White Table was for, I just knew it represented a solider somehow. Let’s change this for our students that also do not know the purpose of the white table. Let’s not just teach out kids numbers and letters, let’s teach them about our heroes of this country this Veterans Day. 

A few other great Veterans Day books: 

The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans by Barbara Elizabeth Walsh

H Is for Honor: A Military Family Alphabet by Devin Scillian

Proud as a Peacock, Brave as a Lion by Jane Barclay 

How do you honor Veterans Day in your classroom? 

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