You’re sipping tea in front of the TV hoping to catch up on some of your favorite shows. You’ve already taught your lessons for the day and have the rest of the afternoon off – or so you thought.
Suddenly, you receive a frantic call from your headmaster/instructional supervisor/insert person who assigns lessons here who is in desperate need for a substitute teacher. So, you set your cup of tea aside and say yes. You’ll do it. After all, you can always use the extra cash. But then you realize the lesson you must teach is in less than two hours, and you have zero time to prepare. In less than five minutes, you go from peaceful and relaxed, to a nervous wreck! Although you can never tell when you will be asked to sub for another teacher, you can always be prepared ahead of time, for each and every case. Here’s how you can prepare:
What to Do If You’re Called to Teach a Class at the Last Minute
Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to teach a group of students you have never met before. The first thing you will have to do is find out as much as you can about them:
- Students’ ages
- English proficiency level
- Books and materials they are using
- Any recommendations/suggestions? Or special cases? (Maybe there’s a foreign student who does not speak the group’s native language.)
Do not assume you will be given this information up front. Your supervisor may be too busy or flustered, dealing with several other problems, and may only tell you what time the lesson is. Be sure to ask these questions and ask for any other information you deem necessary. Grab a pen and write all of this down.
Find out What You Have to Teach
In the big unknown that is a surprise lesson, this is obviously the most essential piece of the puzzle: what exactly will you do with them?
There are TWO basic options: you can either teach them according to plan or you can review what was previously taught to let the regular teacher pick up where he/she left off. For obvious reasons, the second option is the ideal one, and the one that most schools accept. However, you may be asked to continue with the lesson as planned.
What to Do in Case of Option 1You don’t have to be exactly like the regular teacher; you don’t have to imitate him/her. Don’t be afraid to bring your own personality and teaching style to the class.
Say you are told you have to continue with the lesson as planned. You should expect to be given either the teacher’s lesson plan/notes or be told where to start the lesson, i.e., Chapter 10, Unit 2. In any case, your lesson will never truly be like the regular teacher’s because he/she most likely has a series of habits in place. Don’t be afraid to make this lesson your own. You don’t have to be exactly like the regular teacher; you don’t have to imitate him/her. Don’t be afraid to bring your own personality and teaching style to the class.
Now that this is clear, try this. Find out what the main learning goals are for this lesson in particular. For example, a quick glance at the book tells you that the main goal for Unit 2 of Chapter 10 is to talk about plans for the future. So, as long as you meet this lesson goal, everything that you do in class, i.e., the activities you propose or the games you play, will be carried out to meet this main goal. When the regular teacher returns, he/she can be satisfied his/her students practiced and learned what they were supposed to.
What to Do in Case of Option 2
Say you are told not to introduce anything new and just review what they previously learned. Do not mistake this as babysitting. Yes, you can play lots of different games and do plenty of fun activities, but these should not be meant to simply pass the time. Take the book and find out what some of the previous learning goals have been. For example, you might see they learned to talk about events in the past just a couple of units ago. It stands to reason they could use a review of the simple past of irregular verbs. This should narrow down the kinds of games you can play and the types of activities you could use.
Grab Your Super Set of Teaching Materials
Every ESL teacher should have a Super Set of Teaching Materials, a box or bag of items that will help you teach anything, any day, any time, whether you’re teaching something new or reviewing. In my box, I typically have:
- Board markers, in an assortment of colors
- At least one pair of dice
- A basic board game with colored or numbered boxes, with no writing in it
- A few rubber balls, in different sizes
- A set of index cards with verbs (just the verb in its base form, no tenses); two sets are better than one
- A set of blank index cards
And this is just the starter’s kit! The more experience you gain, the more you’ll add to your set. Be sure to include items that can be adapted to any language point or verb tense, like the basic board game. You change the rules to suit any group at any level.
Hope for the best and prepare for the worst? But what is the worst that could happen? The students won’t “like you” because you’re not their teacher? They won’t want to do the activities you propose? They won’t behave because you have “no authority”? If these scenarios are the worst that could happen, are they really that bad?
Don’t hope for the best. Do your best.
And being prepared for any surprise lessons that come your way certainly helps!
Are you often asked to teach lessons at the last minute? How do handle this? Share your experience below!