Shortly after college I spent time working as a substitute teacher. I took short-term assignments due to a teacher’s illness or professional development opportunities. I enjoyed the work. I was capable of following a lesson plan and controlling a classroom. But the experience made one thing very clear – there is no substitute for a great teacher.
In their two years at Blackstone Valley Prep, my children have never had a traditional substitute teacher. They have not lost a moment of classroom time because their school is designed around the idea there should be no pause in learning.
So how do they do it? Do they hire teachers from Krypton? Are they holograms? Do they have access to a top secret flu vaccine? No. The secret is consistency.
Because I have twins in two separate classrooms, it is easy to see the regularity in the curriculum within each grade level. Each day, the twins come home having learned the same lesson and, thankfully, ready to tackle the same pages of homework. Our school also works hard to create a consistent school and classroom environment. While teaching materials may differ from grade to grade, the behavioral expectations for each student and each teacher are the uniform throughout the entire campus. My child never has to guess what a teacher expects of him and our teachers can substitute themselves into any classroom without having to rearticulate a behavioral standard.
Our school also “cross trains” all of its teachers. In the case of illness, maternity leave or any other unforeseen circumstance the teachers can substitute for one another. Our Spanish teacher can substitute in any elementary classroom. The physical education and music teachers are both trained reading specialists. Even the principal can jump in and teach if needed. While our classrooms are consistent in content, teacher training and student expectations, they can never be described as identical. Each teacher brings their own style and skill set to the front of the classroom. The interchangeable nature of their program allows BVP to forgo the traditional substitute teacher led study hall and enables my children to engage with varied teachers and teaching methods without losing a moment of quality classroom time. A rest has its place in a musical score, but not in school. No matter what their abilities, a substitute teacher breaks the rhythm of a classroom, and a child’s education should never skip a beat.
Tracey Dann is a 2012 School Reform Blogging Fellow for RI-CAN. Tracey is the proud mother of one second-grader and two first-graders at Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy. As a parent and substitute teacher, Tracy has seen what both traditional public schools and public charter schools have to offer for the children of Cumberland.