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How to Be A Great Substitute Teacher

Updated on August 8, 2013

Substitute teachers arrive at schools from varying professional levels. Young students who have completed their 60 hours of college coursework often sign up to substitute teach to make extra money. As was the case with me, students that are working towards their teaching certification enjoy subbing to become familiar with schools and classrooms. Former teachers sometimes sign up to substitute teach because it makes a great part-time job offering flexibility.

Whatever professional level you are at, we all have the same goal in mind; to be the best substitute teacher in the absence of the regular classroom teacher. As a current substitute teacher striving to be my very best, I would like to share a few tips to help you achieve the same goal!

A Day in the Life of a Substitute Teacher

  1. Arrive early- I think most schools require that you arrive at least 15 minutes early. However, you should arrive with enough time for you to read over the teacher's plans for the day and familiarize yourself with the material.
  2. Introduce yourself- You may only be at the school for one day but you need to build a relationship with the students. Obviously, share your name and supply a little background information to allow them to get to know you. As a classroom teacher, I always greeted my students at the door as they arrived. I try to do the same as a substitute teacher. I believe it sets a positive, welcoming tone for the day.
  3. Learn your student's names- I strongly believe that if you make an attempt to learn someone's name you are also telling them that they matter. Normally, I have the students share their name during discussion throughout the day. However, you could do a quick intro activity at the beginning of class where each student shares their name and an interesting fact about themselves.
  4. Stick to the plans- The classroom teacher has taken the time to prepare the lessons for you to teach in his/her absence. As a former teacher, it is great to come back to the classroom and be able to continue with the teaching as if you never even missed a day.
  5. Keep a time-filler folder- The Youtube video below gives us several mini-lessons we can use with our students. These activities can be used when you have completed assignments early or the teacher hasn't provided enough work.
  6. Leave a note for the teacher- At the end of the day, you should leave a note for the teacher detailing the assignments you covered and didn't cover so he/she knows where to continue the following day. You will also want to share the classroom's behavior. The teacher may want to congratulate the class on a job well done or meet with specific students regarding inappropriate behaviors.
  7. Be flexible- Things can always change at the last minute. You may think you are going to the school for one teacher but they may have a greater need for you in a different classroom. Fire drills may surprise the whole school. Last minute assemblies may pop up.

Classroom Management Strategies for Substitute Teachers

This is often a challenging area of substitute teaching. The students don't know you and some might push to see what they can get away with. As a substitute, you didn't get the opportunity at the beginning of the year to establish your rules and expectations with the class. You will need to enter with your own strategies. Strategies that are normally effective whether you have been in the classroom one day or a whole semester.

  • State expectations at the beginning of the day- Let the students know that you expect them to work hard and make good choices.
  • Competition- I like to have the students compete with each other, either by groups or by rows, to earn stars throughout the day. The group with the most stars wins! I use this in the elementary classrooms.
  • Close proximity- Walking around the room as the students are working, keeps them on task.
  • Attention grabbers- If the class needs to refocus say, "If you hear me clap once, if you hear me clap twice, etc." This saying can work for any age group from elementary to high school.
  • Keep them engaged- Again, this works for any level. If the students are engaged and interested, they don't have time to interrupt the class.

When schools and classroom teachers have an extremely positive experience with a substitute teacher, they often ask for you, specifically, to come back. So go out there and be the best darn substitute teacher you can be!


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    • stephanieb27 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from United States

      Thank you, kidscrafts! I agree, that you become part of the school. You get to know the students better! Thanks for sharing your story! :)

    • kidscrafts profile image


      5 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      Excellent tips Stephanie! I was a substitute teacher for one year and only in one school because as you said if you do a good job, the teachers want you back. So I was going from one teacher one day to the next the following day, etc. So for the kids of the school, you also become part of the staff. The following year, I was hired as a regular teacher :-)

    • stephanieb27 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from United States

      Thanks, billybuc!!! I subbed my last three years of college and signed up last year when my hubby was laid off. :)

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Excellent tips. In eighteen years of teaching I never had to substitute, but I sure did appreciate the good ones when I needed one. :)


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