Teaching When Your Schedule Changes


‘Tis the season for two-hour delays, school closings, end of semester exams, modified schedules, and everyone being sick. From January through March, there are a myriad of reasons you may not be able to teach a lesson exactly the way you planned it. Whether it’s because of shortened class times or smaller-than-normal class sizes, you need a plan of action for when your perfectly scheduled lesson just isn’t going to work out…but you also have to stay on schedule in order to cover all of your content.

Sometimes the best-laid plans…are for subs

First, if you are the one that is sick, make sure you set your sub up for success.  There are a lot of ways to ensure that your classroom will still run smoothly just because you aren’t there. I know we like to believe we are the only ones who can execute a lesson, but there’s also something to be said about leaving lesson plans so incredibly detailed that your sub can deliver the lesson flawlessly as well.

Re-visit your future lesson plans

Next, look at what you’re teaching in the immediate future. If you have a hands-on activity scheduled that normally takes an entire class period, but your class has been reduced to a 30-minute block of chaos, you may need to re-organize your week. Is there a future lesson you can switch with today’s lesson that may work better with the shortened time? If you were supposed to do a lab, can you do any of the prep work or initial calculations today? Collect background information? Make predictions?

Be aware of the amount of time you (really) have

Remember, if classes have been shortened to thirty minutes, you’re not going to have your students’ attention the full half hour. There will be late students because some teachers are determined to fit a 50-minute lesson into 30 minutes, or because the time between classes has also been reduced and there’s no way a student can get to your class on time from the other side of–or a completely different–building. There will be more small talk than you’ve ever had with your students about weather, roads, and disbelief that they even had to come in that day. Your 30 minutes is likely closer to 25 minutes (minus two minutes at the end of class because they’re going to pack up early even if they never do. Shortened schedules are so hard for students to wrap their heads around, and they’re anxious about getting to their next class on time.)

If you had a test scheduled, reschedule it.  Even if you think students will have no problem completing it and you planned to begin a new unit that day anyway, it’s not fair to the students. If a class has been shortened, they will come into class feeling anxious and worried that they won’t finish in time. If a large chunk of students are missing because they’re sick, the students who are there will air their concern that it’s not fair that the “sick kids” get an extra day to study. Use the day for an extra review or give a sneak preview of the next unit. But, no matter how much they beg you to take it, wait until they are on a regular schedule again before you give them the test.

No sniffles left behind

If most of your class is home sick with the flu,  have an activity on hand for smaller class sizes. Make it something fun–you don’t want to “reward” students who made it to class with a worksheet. No matter how much fun you think your crossword puzzle of anatomical terms is, kids want to stand up and move. And no, working with a partner does not make it more enjoyable. It’s still a crossword puzzle of anatomical terms, no matter how many people work on it at once.  Can you play a game? Take the anatomical terms crossword puzzle and make it a game where students get to write on the dry erase board. Pictionary with anatomical terms? Now we’re getting somewhere…

What’s your emergency plan?

One last tip: create emergency lesson plans for yourself. Yes, it’s extra work and we know many teachers don’t enjoy making them, but if you can create different lesson plans for different circumstances, you’ll be much better off on days that aren’t quite typical. Find a 25-minute hands-on activity that will get your students out of their desks and moving around the room. It should still be related to your content, but if you have a basic skeleton of a lesson plan that can be applied to different units, you’ll be ready for whatever scheduling curveball is thrown your way.