I don't always get to meet the teachers I sub for, so when I do, I generally get some good information and advice. At the very least, I hear some good stories!
This week, one of my jobs was in a 1st/2nd grade combination class. The teacher warned me ahead of time that they would be difficult and that I'd have to come on strong from the very first moment. As it turned out, they weren't too bad. They were chatty and had a hard time sitting in their seats, but I've had harder groups. And I was only there until lunchtime, so that made it a nice day.
Anyway, in my discussion with this teacher, she told me they'd had some really bad substitutes at the school. I always hear horror stories about bad subs, and I really don't understand what can be so hard for some of them. In my experience, I've always had lesson plans and the day planned out moment to moment. I seldom have to use up time on my own. (And now that I've said that, I'll probably have a bunch of jobs with no lesson plan!) My hardest day was a one where the teacher had been out the previous two days and written the schedule on the board, with instructions to just pick up where the previous sub had left off. That got a bit ridiculous, since the kids argued about where they were on each subject, but I made it through the day.
These "bad subs" this teacher told me about were all in situations where the classroom teacher doesn't leave lesson plans. Teachers can be so entrenched in their own systems that they don't write them down. If there's an unexpected absence, there may be no sub plans. The error on the part of these substitutes that got them blackballed was in asking the principal what to do in the absence of these plans.
Now, while I can see the panic that would arise from having a classroom full of kids and nothing to do with them all day, the one thing you never want to do is make someone look bad in front of their boss! I have no idea what these people were thinking. Really, both sides are guilty. If a classroom teacher doesn't write day to day plans, she should have a generic substitute folder with activities and a schedule in case of an emergency. And a sub should be ready with at least a few ideas to fill time if necessary, without panicking.
I can only imagine that the sub's intentions may have been to get further instruction from somebody in charge. However, pointing out that the person you're supposed to be helping isn't doing her job is never a wise strategy. It comes off as passive/aggressive. I once worked for a company where people would send emails to "remind" each other of things, and cc managers "just so they're in the loop." What a manager sees in this case is a red flag that she has to oversee something that in reality she probably don't need to be involved with. It makes for a terribly nasty work environment where everyone is trying to make everyone else look bad, under the guise of looking polite. It undercuts autonomy and is really a form of "tattling," a habit we all try to break kids of.
In fact, because substitute teachers go in so blind to the work environments, I've grown to be on the side of not even asking other grade-level teachers for help unless instructed by the teacher for whom I'm subbing. I once had the teacher next door pop her head in first thing in the morning, only to find she was a little bit irked about the teacher being gone yet again. I inadvertently compounded the problem by asking if she knew the location of the worksheets that were mentioned on the sub plan, but that I couldn't locate. She went right to them in a corner under a shelf, and went into a tirade about how every time that teacher had a sub, the sub couldn't find the worksheets.
Nobody said that substitute teaching was easy. And because we're on our own so much in a sea of politics, attitudes and rules that differ from place to place, you have to have the strength to improvise and adapt to whatever comes along. And sometimes, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. So, my personal strategy is to stay under the radar unless I'm absolutely sure I'm shining.