Substitute Teacher Tips
By: edHelper Staff
Updated: Jan 24, 2022
It takes a special kind of person to be a substitute teacher. Going into a brand-new classroom in a brand-new school surrounded by kids and staff you have never met before can be downright scary. Many substitute teachers dread going into a new classroom, but that's often because they aren't prepared for the experience.
Substitute teaching can be extremely rewarding. Being a substitute teacher can help you gain teaching experience and get a full-time teaching job, and you can truly impact young people's lives.
Whether you're going into a classroom as a first-time substitute teacher or have been at it for a while and are frustrated, you can do some things to make substitute teaching more rewarding and fun.
Don't Take the Lesson Plan Too Seriously
It's always a good idea to look at the lesson plan left by the regular classroom teacher to see what they have planned. Whether it's teaching a new lesson, passing out worksheets to practice an old skill, or watching a movie, you want to try your best to follow the lesson plan.
That doesn't mean you have to follow the lesson plan. No teacher wants to return to their classroom to discover that some of their students were sent to the principal's office or that the sub left a lengthy note about why the day didn't go well. Not only can a day like this make teachers worried about taking another day off in the future, but it also means that they have to address the issues with their class before returning to their routine.
If the lesson plan isn't working, don't be afraid to try something else. The regular classroom teacher would much rather hear that you extended silent reading or went outside in the afternoon for an extra recess if it means the day goes more smoothly, even if you had to skip parts of the lesson.
Introduce Yourself to Other Teachers Before the Day Starts
Before the kids start arriving, try to introduce yourself to some other teachers. They can provide you with insight into what your class is like, where the students are in the curriculum, and any behaviors you need to watch for.
Don't be afraid to ask whether they have additional materials you can use to fill time if you need it. They can support you too. If you have a student whose behavior is hard to manage, you're having trouble finding a manual in the classroom, or even need to take a quick bathroom break, it is helpful to know who to ask for help before you need it.
Come Armed With a List of Games and Activities
Every substitute needs a list of games and activities, no matter what kind of classroom you're subbing in! That way, you always have something to do, even if the regular classroom teacher didn't leave a complete lesson plan or you can just tell that the kids need a break.
Always have a few worksheets in your bag that you can use. You can also look for worksheets in the classroom because most teachers have piles of extra activities. If it means having a smoother day, the regular teacher won't mind at all that you used them! Just make sure you leave them a note and try to make more copies before leaving at the end of the day.
Focus on worksheets that allow the kids to practice skills they already know. The students are much more likely to work quietly if they are practicing familiar skills rather than getting frustrated trying to learn a new skill from a substitute teacher they just met.
Fast Finisher worksheets are great too! They can include everything from math practice to word finds, puzzles, and even coloring pages.
Being prepared with some brain break activities is a good idea too. All students need breaks from using their brains, and as a substitute teacher, you might discover the kids need breaks more often than the teacher suggests in the lesson plan. Get the kids up and moving with activities like the following:
#1 - Playing freeze dance
#2 - Playing charades
#3 - Doing yoga
#4 - Taking an extra recess
#5 -Doing some jumping jacks
There are tons of ideas out there, so take time every so often to see what you can find online, as well as taking ideas from other teachers and substitutes you run into. Pick the ones you like and write them on a list so you always have a way to keep the kids you're teaching busy and engaged.
Be Real With the Kids
Your attitude matters just as much as the content of your lessons or activity list. Many kids aren't receptive if you exert too much authority, but you'll also have a rough day if you let the students walk all over you. Instead, focus on being real with the kids.
For example, if you're doing roll call and don't know how to pronounce the next name, don't try to pronounce it and act like it's not a big deal if you got it wrong. Tell the students you're looking at a name you aren't sure how to pronounce. Chances are, they know exactly who you're talking about, and they would be happy to pronounce it for you!
Tell the students if you're feeling nervous or if you're confused by a worksheet, and be willing to laugh at your mistakes. The more you can show your students that you're human, the more likely they will be to connect with you, making your day go much more smoothly.
Let the Kids Choose Whenever You Can
Having a substitute teacher can be scary for some students and annoying for others. That's because it takes them out of their normal routine. The more you can give the students control in the classroom, the more comfortable they will feel, and the more likely they will be to follow your directions.
Let them pick the next activity, which book you read aloud, or whether they want to correct their own spelling tests or trade with a neighbor. They will love being able to have some input on their daily activities. This also allows you to demonstrate respect for the students, which is something kids of any age appreciate.
Release Your Expectations and Remain Flexible
As a substitute teacher, you're there to serve the students in the classroom you're subbing in, but you're also there to serve the teachers and the administrators in the entire building. That means your day may not go exactly how you expect.
Be open to the surprises that come with being a substitute teacher! For example, you may be asked to cover for another classroom during what would have been the regular classroom teacher's planning period. You may arrive at the school and be asked to substitute in a completely different classroom because that's where they need the most help.
Not all surprises are frustrating. You may discover that the teacher you're subbing for won't return the next day, so you can sub in the same room again. You may discover there's another teacher in the building who will soon need a long-term substitute, giving you the chance to get to know the students and the staff in the building better. Embrace the unexpected, and you'll have a much better day!
Know That What You're Doing Makes a Difference
You aren't alone if you feel like a ghost who flits in and out of a building while the teachers, administrators, and students barely notice, but know that this isn't the case. The work you do as a substitute teacher really does make a difference.
Even if you never meet the teacher you subbed for, know that your presence made it possible for them to take time off. The administration appreciates not having to spend their day figuring out which teachers can cover a class for a missing teacher when a substitute isn't available, and chances are, you made a bigger impact on the students than you thought. Substitute teachers very are important!
If you want the chance to make a bigger impact, you can leave a nice note for the teacher and let them know that you would love to sub in their classroom again. Tell the other teachers that you would love to spend more time in the building if they ever need a substitute, and let the principal know that you would love to come back again. If you're able to return to the same building, you can get to know all the students, and you'll start to feel like you're a member of the team.
Being a substitute teacher can be scary, but it doesn't have to be! When you follow the tips in this list, being a substitute gets easier, and it can even be fun!