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How to Earn Respect as a Substitute Teacher

Updated on April 7, 2015

You've gotten your first 5:00 am wake up call from the Substitute Teacher Coordinator in your school district. You've showered, eaten a good breakfast and are on your way to your first sub job, nervously wondering what the day has in store for you. If you are lucky and are a retired teacher or a new teacher looking for a job, then this article probably isn't for you because you already know how to earn respect from students. But, if you are like me and you don't have a teaching degree and are substitute teaching to earn some extra money, then you'll want to keep reading.

Substitute teaching is a thankless job, but has its merits. Substitute Teachers have the flexibility to decline jobs when they don't feel like going in. They also have the opportunity to work almost full-time since there is always a demand for them. If you are in a particular school all the time, the staff and children get to know you and that makes for a more comfortable situation. The pay is not horrible and for stay-at-home mothers like me, you can usually get your children on the bus in the morning and off the bus in the afternoon.

As a Substitute Teacher, you have to learn to deal with all sorts of situations. You'll encounter helpful children and you'll meet students that will make you want to head out the door before the first bell has even rung. Although rare, you may work with staff that really has no patience for you and is not willing to help you out.

The bottom line is that students of any age are not always easy to deal with. One of the best ways to get through your day as a Substitute Teacher is to be able to gain their respect. I have been substitute teaching for 3 years now and I have found that there are many ways to earn respect. Hopefully these methods will help you too.


Arrive Early

Unless you get the call 5 minutes before classes are scheduled to start, try to arrive at least 15 minutes early. This extra time gives you a moment to greet the office staff, get to know the teachers in the rooms around you, find your classroom and go through any materials that the teacher may have left for you. It also gives you time to go over seating charts and schedules so you have an idea of what the day ahead is going to be like.


Learn the names of the students in your classroom

This might seem difficult when there are 25 students in the class, but learning their names goes a long way in earning their respect. No one wants to be referred to as "you, in the blue shirt..". It is easier in elementary school when the children are with the teacher throughout most of the day. In middle school and high school a seating chart can usually be found in the substitute teacher handbook in the classroom.

Come Prepared for any Situation

You may not always know what surprises the day will hold so always bring a tote bag or satchel with some extra materials. You never want to be fumbling around in the desk for a pen or a paperclip. It is distracting and gives the impression that you do not know what you are doing.

It also helps to bring along some fun worksheets for various ages in case the teacher was not able to leave a lesson plan for you. Quite often a substitute will be moved from one class to another if a need arises. Always throw a change of clothes into your car in case you are moved over to teach Physical Education. You don't want to play volleyball with a class dressed in nice slacks and top.


Be Firm and Fair

From the start, let the classroom know what kind of behavior is expected from them and what the consequences will be if the behavior is not acceptable. Some substitute teachers have a laminated behavior and consequences sheet that they present to the class. Remember that the students know that you will probably only be in class for one day so the rules should not be so detailed and strict that they cannot or will not follow them.

It's also a good idea to let the students know what their schedule for the day is or, in the case of upper grades, what the schedule for the hour will be. Adhere to that schedule. If the lesson plans you received are not complete or don't use up all of the allotted time, let the students quietly read a book or, if they are younger, play a game.

Be flexible, but be consistent and follow up on anything you've said you will do.

Suggested Reading for the Substitute Teacher

Dress appropriately

Jeans and an old t-shirt are not appropriate. You will garner more respect if you come in dressed professionally and also age and class appropriate. A dress or dress pants and blouse or shirt is a good bet. Also, wear comfortable shoes since you may be walking throughout the day. If you are scheduled to teach P.E., then wear a sporty outfit and tennis shoes so that you'll be able to join in.

Have Fun

Don't walk into a classroom like a Drill Sergeant or with an obvious "I couldn't care less" attitude. The students will automatically pick up on this and any respect that you may have hoped to gain will never come your way.

Let them know you enjoy being there with them. Sometimes that is a lot easier said than done, but it will pay off in the long run.

At the end of the day...

You are going to have good days and you are going to have bad days as a Substitute Teacher. There will be times when you really bond with a class and there will be times when you just want to scream and tear your hair out. With some training, common sense and these suggestions, you will be on your way to earning respect as a Substitute Teacher.

© 2012 Claudia Mitchell


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    • profile image

      Erica L. 

      7 months ago

      This is great! And I think this is good advice for any teacher really, not just substitute teachers. :) Seems like you've learned a lot, especially if this is just something you do to make extra money.

      If you have time, please check out my page. :) I just wrote on my experience observing at an elemtary school. Thanks!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile imageAUTHOR

      Claudia Mitchell 

      2 years ago

      It's great to hear the nice comments from kids and you are right, it's important for school staff support too. Subbing can be a tricky business. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • LPowers profile image


      2 years ago from North Carolina

      "Respect" being the operative word :) I agree with all of the article. I've been subbing for 23 years. Have had the whole gambit of situations. The exceptionally fabulous times but also the exceptionally, shake your head, why do I do this days. My issue is not necessarily with the kids and respect (this time) but with staff. I've worked a great variety of schools in 4 different states, some teacher unions, some not. (the difference in cooperation is amazing) What really irks me is the teacher who expects the sub to be practically perfect in every way - we're not Mary Poppins. A teacher can leave plans, worksheets and schedules etc. A sub can do their best follow them. There are times though when we feel like we went to Mars. Kids can be very difficult at times. Teachers know this and need to expect that there's a chance their class may have one of those days. If a teacher is aware of her classes personalities, it is imperative said teacher puts the sub on notice if there are "spirited" classes or students. Not necessarily naming names but enough information to allow the sub to mentally prepare. If the sub is unprepared or not notified, anything can happen and who does it fall on? The sub. Completely inappropriate and unprofessional to cast blame when steps to ensure relative calmness were not taken. (especially in remedial classes where things can be interesting). To have a staff support a sub, be kind to a sub, treat a sub as they would like be treated, to acknowledge that subbing can be difficult is the best staff to be around. I've had both. The positive in all this though is when you walk into a room and we hear: Yay!!, or get hugs (big hugs from high schoolers), why don't you become a real teacher, you need to do that? response with a chuckle "because your parents think you're angels and I wouldn't want to let them the truth -( always with a laugh, they laugh, they know.. ). Also added comments like " You're not like others, you get involved with us, in the lesson, you talk to us... Thanks guys, love you too. We figured out one day that I've met roughly 60 - 65k students over the years...I've been enormously blessed..

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile imageAUTHOR

      Claudia Mitchell 

      3 years ago

      That's a good idea John - Those kids can be be sneaky sometimes. And you are right on the money when you talk about being aware. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • profile image

      John Cena 

      3 years ago

      One tip that I have learned over my 2 years in substitution is to be very aware of what is going on in class. Say you are taking attendance on the computer and do not look up, you just wait to hear a "Here!" by a student. Meanwhile you stare at the monitor some kid can get "RKO'ed" Out of nowhere. So suggest you tell the class to exclaim "Here!" and to raise their hand.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile imageAUTHOR

      Claudia Mitchell 

      4 years ago

      I appreciate the comments Shinkicker. If the kids think the substitute is a push over in the first few minutes, then the whole day is not going to be fun. Of course we don't want the kids to get too mad at us at the beginning, then they get an attitude. Bottom line is subs have a tough job.

    • Shinkicker profile image


      4 years ago from Scotland

      The old advice I once read was to be begin overly strict to 'set out the stall' and show whose boss. Then ease up and show your friendly face.

      I guess that's all in the past now. Kids wouldn't accept that these days. :-) Great Hub full of practical advice

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile imageAUTHOR

      Claudia Mitchell 

      5 years ago

      Thank you Indian Chef. You are right, some of these ideas could be used in other work fields.

    • Indian Chef profile image

      Indian Chef 

      5 years ago from New Delhi India

      Very interesting points. We don't have guest teachers in our schools but the point you raised would work wonders in every field not only in teaching. voting it up and sharing on facebook.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile imageAUTHOR

      Claudia Mitchell 

      6 years ago

      I'm glad you enjoyed it Missy Mac. As a sub you are aware of all of the things that can go wrong. It always helps to start the day out right. Thanks for commenting!

    • Missy Mac profile image

      Missy Mac 

      6 years ago from Illinois

      Before retiring, I was a substitute teacher and having extra work is crucial. Planning for fun learning activities is a big plus. Your article brought back memories. Thank you.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile imageAUTHOR

      Claudia Mitchell 

      6 years ago

      Thanks so much DS. It can be tough, but then sometimes a class comes along that is like a dream. Everyday is different.

    • DS Duby profile image

      DS Duby 

      6 years ago from United States, Illinois

      I could imagine how hard substituting really is taking on a full class of students on a short term basis and gaining the respect you deserve would surely be a daunting task. voted up, interesting and awesome.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile imageAUTHOR

      Claudia Mitchell 

      6 years ago

      Thanks Millionaire! I think you should give it a try. It's not that scary.

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 

      6 years ago from USA

      These are great suggestions - I have often considered becoming a substitute teacher, but the thought of it really scares me. Voted up.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile imageAUTHOR

      Claudia Mitchell 

      6 years ago

      Thanks so much! It is difficult, but there is always and end to the day if one hash a really bad one. Then one can look back and laugh.

    • ESPeck1919 profile image


      6 years ago from Minneapolis, MN

      Very interesting hub! I'd always known subbing was difficult, but it's always good to see ways to prevent difficulties.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile imageAUTHOR

      Claudia Mitchell 

      6 years ago

      Rosie writes - Thanks, I appreciate it. Stickers are another good idea! It's amazing how far stickers can go.

    • Rosie writes profile image

      Rosie writes 

      6 years ago from Virginia

      Excellent article, and great advice! I substituted for about a year and a half, a few years ago when I took a leave from teaching full-time, and everything you said in your hub rings true in my opinion. I always brought a bag of stickers and books that I knew children would find interesting or funny.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile imageAUTHOR

      Claudia Mitchell 

      6 years ago

      Thanks for the comment Paradise! I wasn't very nice to subs either, but we were all kids once.

    • Paradise7 profile image


      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Great tips for a tough job! Kids can really take advantage of a sub. We did, I know!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile imageAUTHOR

      Claudia Mitchell 

      6 years ago

      Thanks for visiting Jackie! Isn't it always the bad ones that people remember! I remember one that smelled like mothballs.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      6 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Only one substitute teacher (we had quite often) stands out in my mind and she was the one from hell! I never had any problems with teachers, they all loved me, but I guess I looked like a real easy one to pick on. I still think of her now and then and wish I could go back as a grown up me!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile imageAUTHOR

      Claudia Mitchell 

      6 years ago

      Thooghun - Thanks for the comments. Sorry you did not have a great time subbing. Believe me, there are days when students (especially older ones) don't even being to respect me and those are tough days.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile imageAUTHOR

      Claudia Mitchell 

      6 years ago

      Thanks recappers delight. Error is corrected and I am glad you enjoyed the article.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile imageAUTHOR

      Claudia Mitchell 

      6 years ago

      I appreciate the comments pstraubie! Im glad you agree with the suggestions. The bag of tricks has saved me more than once.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile imageAUTHOR

      Claudia Mitchell 

      6 years ago

      Thanks so much for visiting Bill. I've been out of town for a couple of days and am getting back into the swing of things. It is a tough job, but sometimes a lot of fun too!

    • thooghun profile image

      James D. Preston 

      6 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Great work, I've tried my hand at substitute teaching and I erm -- well -- wasn't all that respected. I wish you'd written this earlier!

    • recappers delight profile image

      recappers delight 

      6 years ago

      Very interesting hub. Earlier this year I decided to work part-time rather than full-time, and I considered substituting as a possible career change. I even bought a manual to study for the possible switch, and some of their tips agree with yours. Very solid work.

      In the sentence "Substitute teaching is a thankless job, but has it's merits", the "it's" is not a possessive. It should be "its".

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      6 years ago from sunny Florida

      These are suggestions anyone considering subbing should know. For three years I took off from my regular teaching position and I subbed, and I loved it for many reasons. But i always had a bag of tricks. Being prepared for 'whatever' is such a good suggestion.

      Glad you shared this.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Very good suggestions! I was lucky enough to never substitute, and I was grateful for that because it is a tough job!


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