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Every Teacher Should Substitute Teach First

Updated on March 14, 2012
This was the schedule I was supposed to be following on my worst day of substitute teaching.
This was the schedule I was supposed to be following on my worst day of substitute teaching.


After my experience substitute teaching on Monday, I came to the conclusion that every teacher should have to substitute teach before accepting a full time position. Some teachers do not realize what it’s like to be a sub and just walk into a different classroom every day. If everyone had subbing experience, it would more adequately prepare teachers for leaving plans for a substitute.


On Monday, I had a job lined up to substitute as a high school intervention specialist (special education). The job had been posted several days earlier, so the teacher had planned to be out. Usually, scheduled absences are the best because the teacher has time to leave good plans. I have subbed in high schools before an as an intervention specialist. This wasn’t going to be anything new for me, and I expected a normal day.


I was wrong, and should have realized it from the second my alarm started going off at 5:40 that morning. I woke up to the sound of rain and looked out to see the cloudy, gloomy sky. On top of that, I had a headache. I had subbed several times in this district, but I had never been at this high school.


When I arrived, I struggled to find my way around the maze that they call hallways. After stopping for directions a few times, I stumbled my way into the main office. However, I picked a bad first day to be in that building. It’s Ohio Graduation Test (OGT) week. Yes, a standardized state test given to all freshmen and sophomores for the first two hours of school, with shortened periods and adjusted bell schedule the rest of the day. Since that was clearly not enough, the teacher failed to leave me plans.


This is the reason why every teacher needs to experience life as a substitute first. The worst situation to go into as a substitute teacher is not having plans. Being in a special education room, the students were unable to help me out either. I was entirely on my own. To compound that, the teacher left me her schedule for a normal day and not the special OGT schedule.


What is a substitute supposed to do when they have no plans left for them? I could not just give the students a study hall their entire time. That can work in some situations, but in this one, it was out of the question. I had to search around the room before the students arrived to try to find something for them to do. Luckily, I found some stuff to do to occupy the students. The only thing going my way was the shortened periods.


Clearly, this should serve as adequate evidence as to all teachers serving as subs first. Common sense alone should tell you to leave plans for the sub. While I am not privy to the reason plans were not left, I am confident there was not good excuse. The teacher had ample time to prepare for the planned absence. Did they just not care enough to leave plans?


I have learned some pretty substantial things when subbing. I feel as though I will be better prepared when I have my own classroom and students. I will know the questions subs have coming into the classroom. I can leave detailed notes and plans. I can warn them about potential behavior problems from certain students. I will always provide a substantial amount of work for the students to do so that the sub isn’t left with nothing for the students to do. I will leave passwords to log on if I expect them to use my computer and multi-media. There are so many little details of every day teaching that are overlooked because they occur as part of the process. Sometimes, those seemingly minute details are crucial to running an efficient class.


Yes, there were definitely extenuating circumstances that compounded my bad day of subbing. Generally speaking, I have very good plans left for me when subbing. However, it only takes one careless teacher to make a bad impression. I think if most teachers understood what it was like to be a substitute, they would leave fantastic plans. Unfortunately, not all teachers have had that experience. I am just thankful for my time subbing so that I will leave well prepared plans for substitutes in the future.


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    • profile image

      secret peace 5 years ago

      I just recntly graduated from college and just started subbing in mid August. I soon realize, I was over my head with subbing. My degree is not in education which makes it worse. I believe most teachers do not realize, if I have to spend half of the day on classroom management how are the children learning? Note to teachers please leave effective lesson plans with time limits attached very helpful. I am not asking for a cake walk in the park, but jeez this would at least keep teachers on track for the day. Also another helping hint would be to point out students who are known to be the class clown or if they have special needs, because once these kids get started it just goes downhill for the rest of the day. Teachers most subs want to do the best job possible, so criticizing a sub to a principle when no harm was done to that student (hurt, bleeding or inappropriate touching) unless it falls in these catergories complaing about a sub is usually not taken as constructive criticism. I take time out of my day to make diffrence in kids lives and also give that teacher a chance to take care of personal business. Teachers we are on the same team please always keep this in mind whenever possible.

    • Joelipoo profile image
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      Joelipoo 5 years ago from Ohio

      @klboydstun - I know teachers already have all sorts of training to go through, but I think this one would definitely be beneficial. I have substituted and still would be willing to go through the training once I have my own classroom.

    • klboydstun profile image

      klboydstun 5 years ago

      i obviously misunderstood. yeah i can see why that would be stressful. i think that teachers should either have to subsitute or go through special training so they know how to write decent subplans.

    • Joelipoo profile image
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      Joelipoo 5 years ago from Ohio

      @empire - thanks for the support and understanding. It is like the first day of a new job, but it happens everyday. People who have never done it have trouble understanding.

    • Joelipoo profile image
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      Joelipoo 5 years ago from Ohio

      @freemarket - yes you did make my point because you said you have never subbed and that's pretty clear by your comments. You are proving you don't have the authority to speak on this topic. By doing so, you are making my point that teachers should have experience subbing, so they can understand what it's like.

    • empire mike profile image

      empire mike 5 years ago from empire, colorado

      ps: i think anyone who would argue your point might likewise be irresponsible and uncaring enough to do the same!

    • empire mike profile image

      empire mike 5 years ago from empire, colorado

      i had the privilege of subbing in the only 2 high schools in odessa, tx back in 1974. i was still a student, barely older than the clasroom students, and i was going to be paid for it! i jumped at the opportunies and thoroughly. just so happened i dropped out of college half-way through the second semester of my senior year. oh well. i had wanted to teach creative writing- but got burned out of the writing part. go figure. in support of your argument, your situation, i would relate it to the first day of any job and being left to fend for yourself, shame on them!

    • freemarketingnow profile image

      freemarketingnow 5 years ago from California

      HUH??? I didn't make your point. Everything I said is the opposite of what you said. I said substitutes have complimented me on the great plans I left, even though I had never substitute taught. That is the antithesis of your point. Okay - suburban schools in Ohio are a little different than south central LA, where I work.

    • Joelipoo profile image
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      Joelipoo 5 years ago from Ohio

      @freemarket - Thank you for making my point. You never subsitute taught, and that's why you fail to understand why it is so important. Very few teachers who have never subbed know how to leave adequate plans for the sub. I agree that in-house subs can be useful. I have been in schools where that is the procedure, and it helps knowing the students. However, when a teacher has good classroom management, their students will behave better for the sub. I have never had issues with management when subbing. The sub can set the tone immediately whether or not they will allow the students to walk all over them. Kids will always test their waters as to what they can get away with. Maybe it's just our nice rural/suburban schools here in Ohio, but outsourcing subbing is working just fine.

    • freemarketingnow profile image

      freemarketingnow 5 years ago from California

      You missed my main points. My main point is that you don't need to go through substitute teaching to be able to obtain the skills you listed. I leave good enough plans, and I've never substitute taught. Second, I find outsourcing substituting never works. I've already outlined the reasons (they don't know the students, they're not familiar with the culture, they don't know the classroom management structure, the students usually run all over them, etc.). It's been to just use in-house staff to take care of substitute needs. Even though it might be slightly more expensive, it's better for the students.

    • Joelipoo profile image
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      Joelipoo 5 years ago from Ohio

      @freemarket - We are not talking about executing a specific lesson with standards and indicators outlined on it that the sub must achieve. I'm not expecting a teacher to leave a plan in a calculus class and have me teach a lesson on derivatives. By leaving a good plan, I am saying one that any sub coming into the room can handle. One that provides enough to keep the students busy for the duration of their time in the classroom. One that includes the details to any answers a sub might have. Yes, this seems like common sense, but many teachers fail to leave something like this for the sub.

    • freemarketingnow profile image

      freemarketingnow 5 years ago from California

      The skills you listed - writing lesson plans and empathy - are not necessarily ones that need to be picked up by substitute teaching. I also disagree that writing a good lesson plan means a substitute can actually execute it. To correctly execute it, it means they need to have content knowledge, good pedagogy, and excellent rapport with students. None of that is guaranteed. At the school I run, we just have in-house staff substitute and we compensate them more. This has paid royal dividends for us, as we are a Title 1 Academically Distinguished School (where 80+% of the population is under the poverty line).

      http://www.lulu.com/alastingwill - Classroom Resources For All

    • Joelipoo profile image
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      Joelipoo 5 years ago from Ohio

      @billy - Thanks. I'm sure the subs appreciate your plans. I'm glad you see my point and understand where I'm coming from. I don't think most teachers realize how much of an influence they have on how well, or poorly, their students will behave for the sub while they are away. I know some teachers who never subbed can understand and leave good plans, but I felt as though making the blanket statement of all teachers was the only way to go.

    • Joelipoo profile image
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      Joelipoo 5 years ago from Ohio

      @dkm - I'm not sure subbing is as bad as you make it out to be. I basically try to stay to the same two or three buildings, so I know some of the kids by now, which helps. Yes, I would much rather have my own classroom, but subbing will have to do for now until the job market improves.

    • Joelipoo profile image
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      Joelipoo 5 years ago from Ohio

      @hush - I'm willing to try basically anything. I can sub any grade level or subject in my county. This keeps me busy basically every day. For the most part, I do encounter good enough plans, but from time to time, teachers leave pitiful plans.

    • Joelipoo profile image
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      Joelipoo 5 years ago from Ohio

      @freemarket, @klboyd, & @natasha - I think you three are all missing the point. I went to college for education and did my observations, best practices, methods, and student teaching. Ohio also has the mentoring program set up for new teachers to work with experienced ones. This is all excellent; however, none of this prepares teachers how to leave good plans for substitutes. Substituting is an entirely different situation that having your own classroom. If teachers leave good plans for the substitute, it makes the job easy, but when they leave poor plans, it can make for a headache of a day. My point was that teachers who substitute before they have their own classroom understand what it is like being a sub. They leave much better plans compared to teachers who never went through that situation.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm not sure I feel like debating this point like some of your other readers. I think your point is valid and I completely understand why you made it. Substituting is one of the hardest jobs in the teaching world. I was lucky enough that I never had to substitute but I always left impeccable plans for my substitutes because I knew what a tough job they had. Best of luck to you in the future!

    • dkm27 profile image

      dkm27 5 years ago from Chicago

      Boy, did I hate substituting. I subbed when my full-time teaching career was put on hold when my son was born. I too encountered sketchy or non-existent lesson plans. No seating chart creates additional chaos. Full-time teaching is pure heaven. I retire this year and there is no way I would ever sub again. Heck, I'd rather have a "pick up dog poop" business than sub.

    • hush4444 profile image

      hush4444 5 years ago from Hawaii

      I feel your pain, joelipoo. I would never have been brave enough to sub in an unfamiliar high school classroom. The vast majority of teachers that I know leave great plans, but there are some who are just happy to have someone take their class and they don't really care how much work gets done. It sounds like you handled a difficult day very well.

    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

      To be fair, I think subbing is different than having your own classroom. I'm not saying it isn't valid or important experience, but it is really different.

      Here in SC we have to do a lot of classroom observations and a semester of student teaching. Then, there is a system of mentoring set up for first-year teachers so that a more experienced teacher basically guides the new teacher.

    • klboydstun profile image

      klboydstun 5 years ago

      They also have a student teaching program where they help another teacher throughout the year and teach quite a few lessons under their supervision.

    • freemarketingnow profile image

      freemarketingnow 5 years ago from California

      I disagree that EVERY teacher has to substitute teach. That can work for some people, but it's not a blanket situation for all teacher. There are also alternate routes, such as team-teaching with an experienced teacher.