Tips for Substitute Teachers

Tips for Substitute Teachers

Photo by Lucy Gray

Substitute teaching is a challenging job. You are expected to take the place of a fully certified professional educator and do their job with little warning or preparation. However, there are some basic strategies that will help you rise to the challenge. These tips for substitute teachers will help you be a substitute who kids respect and teachers appreciate. And remember: If you impress the teachers you sub for, you will be sure to get more work at that school and good references for future jobs.

1. Arrive Early
Arriving before your students do will allow you to familiarize yourself with the classroom, make a seating chart and take care of any last minute preparations. Students will be impressed if you learn some or all of their names before they have even entered the room. This is especially important if you are working at a new school because you will also have to familiarize yourself with the rest of the building — where is the office? the cafeteria? Don’t be shy about asking questions of any teachers, staff and students who come by early.

2. Follow Lesson and Management Plans
If a teacher leaves you lesson and management plans, follow them to a T. The difference between a babysitter and a substitute teacher is the ability to get real teaching done in the teacher’s absence. If you put in a real effort and don’t get everything done, the teacher will usually cut you some slack. But if you don’t show evidence of effort, the teacher will likely judge your work by the same standard they hold their students to. If the teacher leaves you a management plan, you will also want to study it with care. Using established procedures for lining up students, calling their attention and dealing with disruptive behavior will make your day go much, much more smoothly.

3. Have Backup Plans
When a teacher has to call in sick or deal with an emergency situation, they may not have time to leave lesson or management plans. In this scenario, you may have to figure out how to fill up a full school day on your own, with little or no warning. You should always have a stockpile of classroom activities that require little or no preparation to keep kids occupied. Veer towards activities that require real engagement from the kids and offer a degree of challenge, and you will have less trouble keeping them focused and well-behaved.

4. Leave the Room as You Found It
You have probably noticed that keeping a classroom clean and well-organized throughout the day can be a challenge. Understand that teachers face that challenge every day, and it doesn’t get easier as the school year progresses. Make sure that students pick up after themselves. Using simple rules like “No one goes to recess without picking up a piece of trash” will help. Also, try to avoid disturbing the teacher’s desk and personal supplies unnecessarily. If you do need to go into their desk for some reason, make absolutely certain to leave everything as you found it.

5. Leave a Note
This is your real chance to communicate with the teacher, and communication is key if you want to be asked back to the school. Give them a clear, straightforward picture of how the day went. How much of their lesson plan were you able to cover? If you didn’t complete the whole thing, why not? Which students behaved well, and which posed difficulties? (Make sure that your note communicates about legitimate classroom management problems, but don’t complain.) Did the kids ask after their teacher’s health? A good way to write your note is to think about what you would want to know if you had to teach this class for the rest of the year.

There is no magic trick that will make you the perfect substitute. But if you follow these tips for substitute teachers, you will probably get through the day more easily and leave feeling more satisfied. And if you haven’t yet begun teaching, here’s how you can learn how to become a substitute teacher.

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