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10 Tips to Get Through A Day as A Substitute Teacher


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10 Tips For Substitute Teachers

During my time as a substitute teacher I have learned a few helpful ideas that will most certainly help you if you find yourself having to substitute teach. I have put down the top 10 most helpful tips ( In no particular order) for you to try, especially if you're having difficulty as a day to day substitute teacher.

1. If it's not written down anywhere (on your sub sheet, a note from the teacher, or in the classroom rules) don't let the students do what they're asking.

Now I'm not saying don't trust the students, because there are plenty of students that will try to help you out, but there are almost as many that try and take advantage of you. For example, "Mr. So-and-So always lets us listen to our iPods." Let me tell you why this is often a problem. At most schools students are not allowed to have any electronic devices out at anytime during the school day. Conversely, some teachers allow their students to listen to their music while they are working independently. Therefore you would be allowing them to break a rule or not allowing them to do as they are permitted. So make sure you know all the rules of the school and the classroom before you start your day; it will only help you.

2. Own the classroom, it's yours today.

Confidence as a substitute is crucial, if you're second guessing yourself and not knowing answers to general questions students might have about the activities for the day they're going to walk all over you. Read your sub packet and notes from the teacher for pertinent information about the school and your day in the classroom. Remember, today you are the teacher and act like you've seen everything before and your day should go much smoother.

3. Use your training.

You are a fully qualified educator and have been taught almost everything you need to know so use the skills you have been taught, especially classroom management. To keep order in your classroom for the day it is critical to pro-actively manage the classroom. For example, move students that are causing problems, make sure they are in their assigned seats, classroom proximity if you're watching a movie (move closer to students that may be whispering during a movie), and even use office referrals and in extreme cases send students to the office if necessary. The first day I had an extremely defiant student I did not send him to the office. Instead, I wrote his name down for the teacher to deal with and that was the longest block of my entire life. The next time I had an egregiously disruptive student I went through the progressions of discipline and eventually sent him down to the office instead of dealing with the disrespect to his classmates and myself. The rest of that class went as smooth as can be because the rest of the class now knew they weren't going to get away with anything. That was an example of two extreme cases however and other times my training helped me stop the behavior before I had to write a referral and send the student to the office so believe in your training and use it.

4. Document every detail about your day

As you know it is extremely important to document everything as a teacher because you never know when you're going to need to retrieve that information in the future. As a substitute it is important to document everything that happens during your classes throughout the day (Good, bad, or otherwise) to give the teacher the best idea of what occurred while they were out. Teachers want to know who was bad, who helped you if you needed it, how students treated you (did they try and trick you or were they perfect little angels), and what you accomplished out of their lesson plans. For example, there is no dismissal bell for second lunch at a school I sub at; so you have to dismiss the students yourself. The previous bell rings five minutes before second lunch is dismissed because it signifies when first lunch students are to be in their class. Now I learned the hard way the first time but this time students tried to leave at that bell and I told them if they leave they'll be written up. Sure enough, about ten students left anyway and they were written up. I know the referral was executed because the next time I subbed their one of the students that left early said "You got us in trouble for leaving early!" I replied, "I told you so." The student then replied back, "We didn't believe you, but we're sorry." This goes along with several other tips I've laid out or will lay out in the remainder of this list, but it goes to show teachers will follow through on your suggestions and do read what happened while they were out.

5. During your prep time check in with the main office for possible classroom coverage.

This is a good way to make a name for yourself and get more days. If you are seen taking an initiative throughout the building, especially in the office, you will get more days at that school because teachers and secretaries talk.

6. Stay away from the teachers lounge.

Speaking of teachers talking, it's probably a good idea to stay out of the teachers lounge, especially on lunch when most teachers are in there because you will undoubtedly hear about students with discipline problems and due to human nature you will form prejudices about those students and may overreact to a discipline situation because of those prejudices. There is often too much gossip about subjects you don't even know about anyway so it's best to just eat your lunch in your room.

7. Follow the lesson plans given and be prepared to manage dead time.

This one is pretty self explanatory but some substitutes think the lesson plans provided are guidelines and not what the teacher wants the sub to do. I can guarantee the lesson plans provided are exactly what the teacher wants you to do that day and you will probably end up being the last resort on the sub list for that district. Also, you may find there is not enough for the students to do on occasion so be prepared to manage dead time. As a history teacher I knew I could go to the History Channel website and show part of a movie on a related topic if there was not enough to do. I learned from subbing science that Discovery Education has a lot of movie clip options for science. There are other ways besides movies too; you could discuss the work the students did or try and review past lessons if you're familiar with the content to name a few ideas. Just remember that dead time is the most common time for discipline problems.

8. Dress Professionally.

Another pretty self explanatory tip but I've seen some subs not dress professionally. If you're a male try and stay away from polo shirts and wear a dress shirt with or without a tie or a sweater. If you are female do not dress like you would to go out on a Friday or Saturday night. You do not want to try and be a leader with teenage boys drooling all over you and trying to be the alpha male. Students do react according to the way you are dressed believe it or not. If you show up dressed professionally they will respect you more.

9. Know the Emergency Action Plan.

The odds of encountering a situation where it is necessary to follow the EAP are very low, especially if you sub a several schools and are not at the same one all the time. However, it is better to be safe than sorry. The EAP is usually found in your sub packet or folder, but if it's not their it should be out in the open somewhere in the classroom or just call or stop by the office to ask for it.

10. Know what extra curricular activities happened yesterday or are going to happen today.

It's been proven by educational researchers getting to know your students on a more personalized level improves behavior, achievement, and classroom morale. What more do you need to know as a substitute besides improves student behavior? It's a very simple task to complete the night before if you're called then or even in the morning. Just look on the school's website and the calendar should be easy to find. It should list all sporting events and other activities. It should be easy to find out who participated because students will most likely be talking about the event. If you've subbed at the school multiple times you'll start to pick up who plays what or is involved in certain clubs as well. Also, bringing up the event at the start of each class is an easy way to start the class off on the right foot.

I hope these 10 tips help you throughout your time as a substitute teacher and I'm sure others have some tips as well so don't be afraid to ask anyone who may have been in your shoes before because it's not worth struggling through the day and adding extra stress in your life.

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Dianna Mendez on August 11, 2014:

From my own sub experience I can attest your tips will help all substitute teachers to have a successful day.

Andrea Hall from Allentown on December 11, 2012:

This is great! Nothing helps subs more than those who share their experiences. Most schools contain the same types of students and knowing how to handle those who are defiant can really help.

I know when I was in school that a lot of kids would take advantage over the subs. Some of them would inform our teacher and others wouldn't. We eventually knew which ones reported us and which didn't.

Very useful and interesting! Voted up!

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on December 11, 2012:

I'm not a teacher but I know quite a few that will probably not only relate to your hub but find it very useful as well. I'll pass this along to both teachers and substitute teachers.

Great first hub. Welcome to HubPages.

Andrew Spacey from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK on December 10, 2012:

From the horse's mouth! Your experience has allowed you to pass on your knowledge and that's great. Substitute teachers are often at a disadvantage because they don't know the subtle energies involved within the student line up itself so I rank confidence as being one of the most important qualities to have.

Plus, being on the ball from the time you step into the classroom! Minimise all dithering and uncertainty!

And yes, the lesson plan if a good one should detail ALL you have to do, and should be straightforward to follow.

Votes for this useful hub.

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on December 09, 2012:

I'm not a teacher, save in what capacity parents teach their children, so I've not encountered any of these specific issues.

However, I have been a troop leader with Girl Scouts, (which involves teaching on a different level), and I can assure you, girls are not the perfect little angels many people seem to think. I had to deal with kids I wouldn't want to escort across the street, let alone include on a camp out!

Your points about remaining firm and in control are spot-on.

I regret, in retrospect, my own and my classmates' poor behavior a couple of times back in my school days, when a not-so-in-control sub would take the class. In those days, there were no iPods, etc., but notes would circulate with "instructions" for driving the poor sub to distraction:

"At 10:00, everyone cough; at 1o:20, everyone drop a book; at 10:40, everyone go to the pencil sharpener; etc..." Shameful behavior that was. After my experiences with the Scouts, I'd be tempted to horse-whip kids acting that way!

Voted up, interesting and useful.

Sharilee Swaity from Canada on December 09, 2012:

This is great advice. I love your comment about following the lesson plan, because that is exactly what the teacher wants you to do. I have been both the teacher and the substitute, and I think your advice is spot on. Welcome to Hubpages!

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