Tips for Being a Successful Substitute Teacher

Anyone who has ever substitute taught knows that it can be both rewarding and challenging. Many times the substitute teacher is considered successful if he or she is able to simply keep control of a class. Surely, every substitute teacher strives to do much better than that.

General Tips
Here are some general tips to help you to smoothly assimilate into your new environment:

  • If you want to substitute teach at a particular school, get to know the secretary there. It is often her job to arrange for substitute teachers. Even if she doesn’t have to arrange for a replacement teacher, she is frequently asked for suggestions.
  • If you want to do long-term subbing, make that known to the school office and to the teachers you sub for. When you talk to them, provide each school with a copy of your résumé.
  • Say “yes” as often as possible. When you will be out of town or on vacation, call the person who is responsible for securing subs. Make sure he or she knows when you will return and call him or her as soon as you do.
  • If you don’t want to work on a particular day, let the person in charge know in advance. If you answer and say “no” too often, you’ll stop getting calls.
  • Keep a file on each school where you sub. Include administrators’ names, a map of the school, a list of faculty, and a copy of the school’s rules and procedures. Keep notes about individual teachers and classes. Indicate class rules and routines, whether the teacher leaves a sub folder and lesson plans, what classroom expectations are, how the class behaved, and so on. Keep copies of all your teacher reports.
  • Proper preparation for substitute teaching is essential. Your arrival time at the school can be essential to the smooth functioning of your classroom. Taking the correct materials into the classroom can mean an extra five minutes added to your teaching time with the students because you don’t need to spend that time looking for essential teaching supplies.

At Home

  • Answer the phone on the first ring. The person calling is very busy and usually has many positions that need to be filled that morning.
  • Be cheerful when you get a call at 5:00 A.M. Keep in mind that there is a person at the other end of the phone who had to get up much earlier than you in order to call you.
  • Keep a pad of paper and pencil by the bed to write down the assignment. It’s very easy to forget something when you have just woken up.
  • Arrange your clothes the night before. Make sure you have all the items you would need and that they are clean and freshly pressed.

When You Arrive at School

  • Arrive at your assignment earlier than requested, especially if it’s the first time you’ve been in that particular teacher’s class. Have your Sub Grab-Bag (in upcoming post) with you. Check in with the school secretary and see if there are any duties, assemblies, or anything else unexpected that you might need to do.
  • Treat the school secretary with the utmost respect. He or she can be your best friend. If you are going to make anyone angry with you at the school, don’t let it be the secretary.
  • Obtain any keys that might be necessary and check the teacher’s mailbox for announcements, attendance sheets, and so on.
  • Obtain the bell schedule, in case your teacher has not provided it for you in his or her notes.
  • Find the location of the restrooms and the teachers’ lounge.
  • Look around at the physical set-up of the room. Find the plans, rules, evaluation chart, and supplies you will need.
  • Follow the plans that are left for you. Don’t disregard them and do your own thing. If you have questions, ask other grade-level teachers.
  • Write your name and the assignments on the chalkboard.
  • Have an activity ready for students to do as soon as they enter the room.
  • Finally, go next door and meet that teacher. Ask if you can send a student to his or her room, if necessary. This isn’t showing weakness—it’s just the opposite: it says that you are preparing for any challenge.

Moving Through the Day

  • If a seating chart is not available, make one as you take attendance.
  • Learn the names of as many students as possible. Learn at least a few names immediately.
  • Follow the teacher’s lesson plans as closely as possible. Supplement with your own activities only after the assigned work is done.
  • Let only one student out of class at a time, with a hall pass of some sort. Bring your own, if necessary.
  • Take notes throughout the day about incidents you want to share with the classroom teacher. Whenever you’re unsure of what action to take, err on the side of caution.
  • During the break time, go into the teacher’s lounge and meet other teachers. If they seem “standoffish”, ask questions about them. People are often willing to talk about themselves if you show interest. Tell them you are available if they should need someone to substitute. This is how you get more job assignments.
  • Walk around the room. Students understand that if you move into an area of the room, you will take possession of it. On the other hand, if you never walk around the room, you’re letting them know that they are in charge there. Also, moving around the room allows you to speak to the students for both control and social purposes.

Before You Leave

  • Before the children leave, have them clean the room. This can be fun and easy. If, for example, you are reading a story or doing quiet seat work the last part of the day, ask for two or three volunteers to clean up the floor. You will be surprised at how well they will do because they were “chosen.”
  • Complete a teacher report form. Include a list of students who were absent or went home early.
  • Make the classroom look as it did when you arrived. Make it even neater, if possible. Teachers love this.
  • Grade any work you can. If you are in doubt as to what the teacher wants, leave it, but make sure it is stacked neatly. Try to keep track of who finished what and leave that information for the teacher, too.
  • Leave a full report about what you did and did not cover as far as lesson plans are concerned. Also mention student behavior, especially positive things. If any major negative episodes occur, write down what happened and also let another teacher or the aide know about the incident.
  • Go through the office and return the key. When you are there, ask if you will be needed the next day. Tell the secretary how much you enjoyed your time at the school or maybe what you learned during the day and how you hope to return for another assignment. Even if you are exhausted, don’t let her know: she’s had a hard day, too.

For more tips on how to be a successful substitute teacher, check out the Substitute Teacher Handbook.

8 thoughts on “Tips for Being a Successful Substitute Teacher”

  1. Shel

    Very helpful list! I recently found this online Teacher Community that helped me out with my own checklist. Have you ever come across one before? It helps me find answers from others experiences, especially the lesson plans!

  2. Diana

    Thank you so much for these tips. Next week will be my first week as a sub and Im terrified out of my mind!! Only good thing that eases me is that I know the staff so far and they seem like a friendly bunch. These tips are definitely saved not only on my PC but also on my phone for any future references.

  3. Levi

    Thanks so much! This is very helpful. After a decade in the business world, I’m making the transition to the classroom and education. I appreciate all the tips!

  4. Gail Hill

    Great tips! I am applying to become a substitute teacher, after retiring from the Criminal Justice field. It’s a huge transistion. I can use as many tips as I can get! Thanks!

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