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A Day in the Life of a teacher teaching on call: ensuring students receive the best education when a classroom teacher is absent

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Teachers teaching on call are essential to keep a school running. Many teachers teaching on call start their days with an early morning phone call asking them if they would like to fill in for an absent teacher that day. 

But Simona Cuzzetto began her first year as a substitute teacher in charge of a class of Grade 2 students for an extended period of time at Mount Pleasant Elementary. 


Cuzzetto begins her day at the school around 8:00am. She likes to start early to ensure she is prepared well in advance of the students’ arrival. From 9-9:30am, students gather for a sharing circle, where they can talk about what they did the previous day or how they are feeling. While the class schedule differs depending on the day of the week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the students follow their sharing circle with about an hour of math.  

After math and recess, Cuzzetto generally schedules inquiry time, which she describes as a period to ‘think, wonder, and connect’. The class is finishing a unit on identity. “It gets the kids to reflect on their past experiences, something that sparks their curiosities is what inquiry is – something that they want to know more about and learn more about,” she explains. Music usually follows, taught by another teacher in the school. During this time, Cuzzetto preps for the afternoon, emails parents who have questions, or does work to support students learning remotely.  


During break time, Cuzzetto uses lunchtime to mark students’ work, get books from the library, or plan. 


The afternoon begins with 30 minutes of silent reading every day except on Mondays, when students have computer class. After that, Cuzzetto does a read aloud or a literacy activity. Depending on the day, gym or computer class follows. On Fridays, Cuzzetto leaves most of the afternoon open for free time or art. From 2:45-3:00pm, students clean up, do class jobs, and write in their agendas.  

In addition to teaching the students in-person, Cuzzetto brings remote students into the classroom using video call on the Microsoft TEAMS platform three times a week, so they are part of what is happening. She notes it has been a challenge to keep that connection with some students learning from home.

After school 

After students leave, Cuzzetto cleans up the classroom, sets out the plan for the next day, prints, photocopies, and marks students’ work.

Travis Robertson’s experience with the District goes back a few years. After a couple of contracts as a teacher teaching-on-call in Vancouver, Robertson spent two years in China, and was recently rehired at the District. He is in charge of a class of Grade 4 students at Champlain Heights Elementary for a few weeks. 


Robertson arrives at Champlain Heights Elementary at least an hour before the students to mentally run through what he planned for the day and ensure he is prepared. Given his current assignment is three weeks, he knows the students and can predict how the day will unfold. “If I’m a teacher teaching-on-call and I’m going into a single classroom, I think more important than playing out the day is trying to find information on the kids too – if you can see anything about who they are and if there’s any strategies to handle them,” he says. 

The first item on the schedule when students arrive is a discussion about a motivational quote he writes on the board. Following that, the class launches into first period.

When he is called early in the morning to cover a single day, Robertson often uses lessons and ideas from a box he keeps with him for all his assignments.


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the students eat lunch at their desks. Robertson monitors the class ensuring students sanitize their hands before and after eating, and stay in one spot. He also ensures they sanitize their hands a third time after returning from outside. 


Robertson notes he particularly enjoys afternoons as it is the part of the day when the students do activities that take a little more time than subjects in the morning. “Like today, we did a science experiment and we really had the time to set it up and talk about it and do it. I try to do activities when possible with a bit more movement. We went outside for that experiment, for instance. You have many more possibilities in the afternoon so that’s why it’s a science/social studies time because you can really get deep into a topic,” he explains. 

Robertson says he loves to see a child gain confidence and to know he has played a role in that change. It is clear both Robertson and Cuzzetto are passionate about their jobs, and give their all to ensure students continue to have the best quality of learning, even if they are with a class for only a few weeks or a single day. 

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