Teaching Tips for Substitute Teachers

Whitney Gordon
Whitney Gordon

Despite the widespread notion that students view substitute teachers as an opportunity to disregard the rules, you have decided to brave the substitute trenches. Let’s start with the most important facts: You are an integral part of our schools, and your job is no easy task. Walking into a classroom as a substitute can feel like stepping into quicksand. There are, admittedly, several factors beyond a substitute teacher’s authority, but you can assume some practices that will make your days in the classroom run more smoothly. Below are some teaching tips that will help substitute teachers be successful in the classroom.

Be Early

This is simple yet impactful. Arriving at school early when substituting gives you time to set the foundation for a productive day. Parking and navigating the building alone may require some time. Furthermore, arriving early allots time for you to greet the teachers in surrounding classrooms. These teachers will be your most valuable source of information, and should be able to clarify general questions about the day’s lesson plans.

Set Expectations Early

As a substitute, you don’t have the luxury of extensive time to train students on your expectations. Therefore, it’s important to set your expectations early in class. After introducing yourself, review procedures for hall passes, electronics, etc., and clarify behavior expectations. You should not speak in a scolding tone that assumes students will misbehave, but you should be firm yet optimistic.

Know the Rules

When setting the expectations for the day, it is vitally important that you are familiar with the policies and procedures of the school. Beyond knowing the school rules, familiarize yourself with consequences, and know which consequences are within your authority as a substitute. Reference school policy when redirecting students and setting your expectations — this helps to establish you as a member of the school team and will strengthen your classroom management.

Keep Students Engaged

Idle time is like kryptonite to classroom environments. It is important to engage students from bell to bell. Follow the lesson plan as closely as possible, and ensure that you understand the instructions before class begins. Unfortunately, there will be times when the lesson plan ends before class does, so a substitute must be prepared. Go into every classroom with activities on hand that you can implement if the lesson yields idle time. These activities should be light and fun while maintaining order. Let students know up front that if there is extra time in class, there will be a fun activity.

Leave Feedback

Always leave feedback for the teacher, both positive and negative. This feedback should not only highlight student behavior, but also how you implemented the lesson. If students finished the assigned work early, for example, let the teacher know. Leaving effective feedback can help you be successful in the future when substituting for that teacher or school.

Substitute teaching is challenging yet rewarding. Though usually short-lived, your time in each classroom is important and indubitably appreciated. Proactivity is the key to limiting substitute teacher stress.

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