Tips for Substitute Teachers

As a teacher, I absolutely HATE being missing a day of school. It is hard for me to be absent because of my students. When I am there, they know they cannot get away with anything. I love playing around with my students, but they know where I draw the line.

When I am not there, they are going to do whatever they can to get out of work. They will convince a sub to do things they know I would never allow them to do. I always pray that I will not get sick or be away for any reason because I will spend the whole time worrying about students and what is going on in my classroom.

More issues happen in my class when I am not there because there is not enough control with the sub. I wish there was a class that all subs can attend to give them the tools they need to succeed when they are in a teacher’s classroom.

I have seen my share of subs throughout my teaching career. Here are a few tips from my experience that I would give to all subs entering a classroom either for the first time or some that may not know what a teacher expects.

Get to school early.

This is really important. Just like many teachers, I leave very detailed lesson plans. I leave step by step instructions so that they students day will be as close to a normal day as possible. Getting to school early allows you to get yourself acclimated to the classroom and school surroundings(bathrooms, office, etc.). It also allows you to make sure you have time to get coffee if you need it. If you didn’t know, coffee is a must have for a teacher. Keeps us moving. 🙂

I am aware that sometimes getting to school early does not always happen so I always leave a note in the front of my sub binder. I leave a note for the teacher telling them to tell the students to read a book so they can sit and read the plan for the day and be familiar with them.

However, there may not be time for that in all sub plans, so getting to school early is vital.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Teaching solo in a classroom can make you feel like you are an island. You can feel very alone and there is no one to help you. Especially as a sub, it can feel doubly lonely.

BUT…….fear not, sweet sub…….there is hope.

One beautiful aspect of the teaching world is that most teachers around you are willing to help IF YOU ASK FOR IT!

When my teacher friends have a sub, I make a point to talk to their sub to make sure they have everything they need. I check in with them throughout the day to make sure things are going smoothly or if there are issues that feel out of their control.

You will not always have someone that will come to you because days get busy. If you feel overwhelmed or in need of some assistance, you need to let someone know. Do not be afraid to let another person into your struggles. Substitute teaching is at times harder than a regular teacher because they students are going to test you, but you need not feel like you are in this alone.

Remember you are NOT the students’ friend.

I remember I had a long-term sub in one of my classes in high school. The regular teacher was on maternity leave for one-third of the semester. This class was only a half semester class, and it was a MISERABLE. The sub was too busy trying to be the cool teacher and being a friend to the “cool” students that she did not always see what was going on in the class. She cursed in front of us and was just extremely unprofessional. There was no respect established due to her trying to be on our level.

This one is HUUUUUUUUGGGGGGEEEEE!!! You cannot come into the classroom and expect to be the students’ friend. They are going to test you to see what they can get from you. If you cave and give them what they want, it will be an extremely hard day for you.

You have to put your foot down and be the bad guy in many situations. I tell my students all the time that they are allowed to be mad at me. I am aware that they will not like me one hundred percent of the time. My job is to educate them and prepare them for the world and that means getting them to do work when they do not want to.
You do not have to be liked by the students.

I listen to the students’ reactions when talking about subs. If they say “they make us do work” or “she’s mean”, those are the subs that I choose. My students love that about me (heehee). I know that means the sub did not give in to what they tried to do.

Have a positive attitude and confident in your authority.

When you enter a classroom, come in like you own the place and you know what you are doing(even if you do not know what you are doing). Students feed off the attitude of the teacher. When I am in a bad mood, the students feel it. The same will be with out.

Come into each day with your head up and walk in your authority. The day goes by a lot quicker and the students are a lot happier when the sub has an amazing attitude.

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do what is on the teacher’s plans.

I saved the best one for last. This one is so important.

When a teacher is not at school for a day, it means a lot more work for the teacher when they get back. It is an unexpected setback in our plans which means hours of work trying to rework plans and tests that we originally spent hours planning.

I have had a few subs that did not get this concept. Here are some examples of this:

1. I needed my students to spend the class time answering a study guide for history because we were going to answer it together the next day. I did not want to just give them the answers so this time was vital in them doing the work on their own. I got back the next day, the students had very little done. They said the sub was interested in the Bermuda Triangle and wanted to watch a video about it. She used the class time to watch it. I was set back two days in giving the test which set my next week’s plan behind.

2. I needed my students to finish some worksheets because it was quiz grades. The next day, the sub left me this note, “I taught the students respect and discipline.” That is great and all, but I needed those worksheets. This also set me back two days. Not fun.

I understand that the students are not always cooperating and the assignments might not get FULLY done. I like to see that most of the work was completed as much as they can. I also take into account that the students will just be lazy at times and grade accordingly.

But PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do your very BEST to get done what is on the sub plans. The teachers will GREATLY appreciate you because of this.

With all this being said…..

I have a great respect for substitute teachers. We know how hard you have it because we know our students. They will test any new teacher to see what they can get over on them. We know it is hard. Know that we appreciate everything you do. We need you. Do not give up.

1 thought on “Tips for Substitute Teachers

  1. Great advice. I love how you listen when the students say ‘the sub made us do work’. Those really are the best subs. I remember my first few days subbing. It was really scary. I always appreciated when the teacher left thorough lesson plans. My first day subbing ever, there were no lesson plans left at all in 6th grade. Luckily, I was so nervous, I’d prepared a binder of games and activities. I had to use every single one of them that day. Guess who became the regular sub for that classroom. Thank you for this useful substitute guide. There isn’t enough guidance out there for subs.

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