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Substitute Teaching for Beginners

Updated on October 12, 2011

I started substitute teaching two and a half years ago in rural Nevada.After a year I moved to Las Vegas and have continued to substitute here.The difference between rural schools and urban ones is huge, but some factors remain the same; the need to be prepared, be strong, and be flexible.When I started subbing I wasn't given any tools and what advice I received came from family and friends who had been there before me.So for anyone considering or just starting to substitute teach here is a crash course.

The first thing any sub should do is put together a Substitute Teaching Kit.This should be easily portable and should include grade level/subject appropriate worksheet activities, fill in activities, rewards, and emergency supplies.The rewards and emergency supplies can be bought at most dollar stores so keep this stocked.There are a lot of websites that offer printable worksheets for every grade level and subject, do a search for your preferred grade level and or subject and print off master copies.The downside to this is of course the ink and paper cost to you, however, keep track of all the receipts for buying these items and you should be able to write off up to a certain amount on your taxes as work expenses. Fill in activities can be anything from word puzzles, number puzzles, hidden picture searches, even mandalas, anything to keep the kids active and hopefully keep their minds pumping along. As for rewards almost anything will work no matter the grade.The glowing sticks that can be turned into bracelets and necklaces are practically guaranteed to be a winner Kindergarten through High School Seniors.

Other rewards that have paid off for me:

  • Stickers
  • Novelty erasers
  • Fun pencils
  • and just about any other bulk buy from the toy section of the dollar store
  • No Candy as most schools have polices prohibiting this plus you would be surprised what kids are allergic to

Use your imagination, a little common sense and don’t spend more than $10 when you are first putting together your reward box. A lot of grade school teachers will already have a reward program in place so use it and save your stash for those particularly hard classes.Last but not least make sure to include emergency supplies in your kit:

  • lined paper
  • pencils
  • erasers
  • pens
  • snacks (for you).

It is now 6 o’clock in the morning, you have received the call or picked up the assignment from the website, once you are dressed and awake enough to make plans for the day what do you do?Hopefully you paid close attention to the grade and subject you will be teaching, this will not only make you sound competent when you go to the office and ask where the classroom is, but will also help you decide what you need to bring with you for the day. Sometimes, if you are picking up an assignment from a website there will be notes from the teacher giving instructions, sometimes even a lesson plan.If possible print these notes, likely you will be referring back to them throughout the day. Most of the time however, there will be no notes as the teacher has awoken with The Plague (or other such malady) and wasn't able to do more than call in sick.If this is the case there should be emergency sub plans in the classroom (most schools require such a packet be put together at the beginning of the year and be kept up to date).This is a best case scenario though so don’t rely on it. This is where the Substitute Teacher Kit comes in handy.If possible bring only the worksheets you will need for the grade level or subject, your rewards, and your emergency supplies.Make sure to pack a lunch as I’m sure we all remember the tastiness of school food, and head out the door with enough time to get into the classroom well before the students if at all possible.

Once you are in the classroom take stock as quickly as possible, note any rules the teacher has posted, look for the emergency sub folder if you need it, and pull out your worksheets and get copies made. Put these worksheets on the teacher’s desk (this gives the illusion that the teacher has left them with the expectation that they will be done, it will make things easier in the long run).Look for the teacher’s schedule, faculty extensions, and the emergency evacuation map (you never know when a fire drill will happen), and then put your name and the days date on the board.

Once the kids enter the classroom you are on your own armed with your wits, cunning, strength, and extra work.Always remember that kids can smell fear and are master manipulators, they will do anything to get out of work so stand firm.Finally, remember that you can always send a child to the administration if they get to out of hand, the kids know the rules and there is no excuse for bad behavior. Good Luck!


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    • profile image

      Jennifer 3 years ago

      This teacher is spot on. I did the same things and this helped me survive subbing. One thing I'd like to add is go over some simple rules you expect them to follow while you are there and write them down. Tell them what will happen if they do their work and follow directions, and tell them their school approved consequences you'll give them if they don't. They will know at the start you mean business. I like to have a class wide reward at the end of the day or period like 5 minutes of social time or a game. I start with 5 marks on the board. If they are acting up I erase. If they are working I add marks. If by the end they have 5, they get their reward. They will work to get each other to behave as well. As long as they are polite about it. Also if I don't know the subject, I let the students help teach. Course now we have Internet on our phones.

    • JournalofaTeacher profile image

      Your friendly neighborhood teacher 4 years ago from Florida

      This is great. This quote in particular, "Always remember that kids can smell fear and are master manipulators, they will do anything to get out of work so stand firm."

      It's incredible the lengths these kids will go to in order to get out of doing simple work. I've just started here on hubpages and plan on writing similar topics to this. I'd love for you to check out my page.

    • Karen Hellier profile image

      Karen Hellier 5 years ago from Georgia

      This is very helpful. I am about to start substitute teaching this school year and am very anxious about it. But I need a flexible work schedule and this is a career that can provide that. Your hub has helped calm my fears so I can be better prepared. Thank you.

    • bohemiotx profile image

      Joffre Meyer 6 years ago from Tyler, TX

      I subbed for a big chunk of my 20 yers in teaching. Dallas was the biggest district and I subbed in a 2A town. My #1 advice is to make your own seating chart when you take roll. That prevents most discipline problems. Since I've been writing a Developmental English textbook for 15 years, I always had something to read to the class when i got through with the regualr lesson plans.