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Guidelines for Substitute Teaching

Updated on March 1, 2012


When substitute teaching, there are a set of rules to go by. Even if you went to college to become a teacher, substitute teaching is slightly different than having your own classroom and students.


The first thing is to know where you are going and to give yourself plenty of time. With subbing, you will likely be at multiple buildings in several different districts. It will take some time to get used to schedules and floor plans. Each district generally has their own way of doing things, so be adaptable. Always arrive at least a half hour before school starts. This will give you plenty of time to check in at the office and get to the classroom. Make friends with the secretaries in the office and with the custodian. These people usually have the answer to any questions you may have.


Giving yourself plenty of time before school is crucial since you have no idea what is happening for that day. You will only have that half-hour to go over the lesson plans the teacher left for you. This will likely be your first challenge. You have no idea what you might encounter as far as lesson plans are concerned. Depending on how organized and well planned the teacher is, you could end up with a myriad of plans. Some teachers will leave detailed plans and expect you to teach the class, while other teachers will under plan, and you will be left with nothing to occupy the students for the last half hour of class. Be ready for anything, and give yourself time to go over the plans the teacher left for you.


Now that you have settled in and read over the plans for the day, it is important to check and make sure everything you need is there and working. Are there worksheets to hand out? Do you have class rosters and seating charts? Are you familiar with the technology you need to use? These are all important to figure out before your next challenge, the students, enter the room.


Almost all students love to see a substitute teacher. To them, a sub means they will have an easy day and be able to get away with whatever. Do not expect immediate respect and well behaved students! You must set the precedent. If you sub often in that building, you can build a rapport with the students. Being a dictator or letting the students get away with anything are both poor ways to earn the students’ respect. You need to find a balance somewhere in the middle. They will take advantage of you if you allow them to.


It is very difficult not knowing the students to call them by name or to know how they generally behave. This is when it is necessary to remain calm. You will surely encounter disruptive and insubordinate students. Simply take it in stride and handle them calmly. Do not show a weakness in classroom management, or the students will take advantage of that.


Opportunities will arrive for you to teach many subjects and age levels. Consider these things before accepting an assignment. If you are uncomfortable working with younger students, don’t take a job at an elementary school. Since some teachers will expect you to actually teach the lesson plans they leave, also consider the subject. Obviously, an Advance Placement Calculus teacher will not expect you to teach a lesson on derivatives, but in more basic classes, it could occur. If you are not familiar or comfortable with the subject area or age, it is better to decline the job than to be miserable for the duration of the day.


Depending on the teacher, you may have other responsibilities as well. You might have to monitor a study hall. There could be lunch or bus duty. If these are part of the teacher’s daily routine, you must also do them. You will also likely have a planning period. Since you are a substitute teacher, you have no planning to do. It never hurts to go to the office and ask if they need anything extra done for them since you have a break. This will make an excellent impression. Also, don’t be shocked if you are asked to cover another class during your planning period.


Always take something with you to do, whether it is a book to read or a Sudoku puzzle. Often, teachers leave busy work for their students, and this will leave you with a great deal of down time. You will be horribly bored without something to occupy yourself. Try to eat lunch with the teachers in the lounge. It is good to interact with and get to know them to make a name for yourself. Dressing appropriately is also very important. Your appearance will be the first impression the students have of you. By being well dressed, that can help command respect.


It is impossible to list all of the potential situations you could come across as a substitute teacher. You could have fire drills, lock-downs, or even students with specific medical requirements. The most important thing is to remain aware of these and be flexible. Always leave a detailed note of what went on for the day. This will let the teacher know you covered everything you were supposed to and alert them of any problems. By leaving a note, it can also help the student prepare better for next time they have a substitute teacher in for them. Your situation changes from day to day and requires much adapting. It can be very stressful at times, but be patient.


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    • Joelipoo profile image
      Author

      Joelipoo 4 years ago from Ohio

      @savvy - I'm happy I could help you with your decision. Good luck with your subbing career, and thanks for reading.

    • Joelipoo profile image
      Author

      Joelipoo 4 years ago from Ohio

      @Karen - Thanks for your kind comments. I'm so glad you could find it useful.

    • Karen Hellier profile image

      Karen Hellier 4 years ago from Georgia

      This is a very good summary. I have been a substitute teacher for this current school year since September and have found what you wrote above to be true. One suggestion I have that has worked well for me in the 3rd grades and up is to bring a book of Mad Libs with you. They are great as fillers for the kids and a good review of what nouns, verbs, adverbs and adjectives are. Plus they have a good time listening to the stories at the end. Even if I don't need them during class time, they have been life savers at the end of the day when kids are hanging around waiting for the buses to arrive. Good job. Voted up and useful.

    • savvydating profile image

      Yves 4 years ago

      I've been thinking about doing substitute teaching now that I have extra time on my hands. You've laid out some important things to know. I figured being a substitute teacher would be a challenge. Now I have a better idea why and also ... how to handle the situations which may occur should I decide to move forward as a sub. Thanks!

    • Joelipoo profile image
      Author

      Joelipoo 5 years ago from Ohio

      @Karen - I'm glad you found this useful. Good luck with your subbing career.

    • Karen Hellier profile image

      Karen Hellier 5 years ago from Georgia

      This was a very helpful hub. I will start substitute teaching in the Fall, and am quite nervous about it, but glad I found your hub. I left my job because I needed a more flexible schedule than my previous job would allow. Thanks so much for your help.

    • Joelipoo profile image
      Author

      Joelipoo 5 years ago from Ohio

      @annart - Thanks for the kind comments and voting up and interesting. I'm sorry your supply teaching doesn't sound so pleasant.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 5 years ago from SW England

      Sub teaching is what we call 'supply' teaching in Britain; some do it full time, others just to fill in until a permanent job comes up. It's different here in some respects - we often do not get lesson plans left (though we should) so have to go armed with a variety of possibilities! The staff rooms are not always pleasant and welcoming though that's better than it used to be. If we're lucky enough to find a good school with good teachers then it's a great experience and adds much to finding out about good practice. Thanks for an interesting read, well written and informative. Voted up and interesting.

    • Joelipoo profile image
      Author

      Joelipoo 5 years ago from Ohio

      @Victoria - Thanks for voting up and useful. I'm subbing as an attempt to get a full time position. I do most of my writing while I sub(that's how I keep myself busy when they do their work). I actually wrote this hub out today when I was subbing.

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 5 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Great hub. I subbed while in grad school (had been a high school teacher previously) and was able to work on my school work, as most teachers left work for the students to do without my help. I enjoyed subbing! Voted up and useful!

    • Joelipoo profile image
      Author

      Joelipoo 5 years ago from Ohio

      I sub every single day. I wrote this entirely based off my experience. It can be a little intimidating at first, but you will be just fine. You just have to be in control of the room. Basically expect anything. I'm glad you could find this hub useful.

    • Ardie profile image

      Sondra 5 years ago from Neverland

      Joelipoo! Thank you so much for answering this question and for answering it so thoroughly. I am waiting for the call to fill in my first time as a sub and I am more than a little nervous. I am going to bookmark your Hub and review it every now and again to help me remember how to be prepared. This is a most excellent write up!