Successful Substitute
Substitute Teaching

How To Be a Successful Substitute

Want to become a successful substitute? Here are 7 suggestions on how to become a substitute that teachers will want to have back in their classroom!

Successful Substitute

As a teacher, I hate having to be gone.  I’m sure you’ve heard of how it’s easier to come to work sick than try to create substitute plans, but that is only part of the problem.  When requesting a sub, it is a gamble on who you get.  My school district uses a program that allows us to choose our top five favorite substitutes, but they are not always available.  Therefore, I am at the mercy of the substitute gods who will be teaching my classes on the days I am going to be gone.

Why is this a gamble? Because no two substitutes are the same and, as Forrest Gump says, you never know what you’re going to get. Some substitutes are FANTASTIC.  Others . . . eh, not so much. So how can you become a FANTASTIC substitute that makes it onto a teacher’s top five list of substitutes? (Kind of feels like Myspace.  Remember Myspace? Anyone?) Let me share with you how!

Here are 7 suggestions that can help be a successful substitute and become a substitute that teachers actually want in their classrooms.

Read The Teacher’s Lesson Plans

Unless it is an emergency situation, most teachers will leave a lesson plan that they want you to follow.  Some of these plans may be detailed, while others are generic.  Regardless, please take the time to read the teacher’s lesson plans. If you have any questions about the lesson plans, do not hesitate to talk to the other teachers in the hallway! At least one of them will know what is going on and can help you.

It can be frustrating to put in the work for a lesson plan and then find out that the substitute did only part of the plans or none at all.  If you want to be invited back to sub, make sure to follow the plans as closely as possible.

Try To Be Up And Moving Around The Room

Once you’ve read the teacher’s lesson plans, the next step is to actually implement the plan.  However, this does not mean that you sit behind the desk all day while the students work.  Good classroom management involves the authority figure (in this case, you) walking around the room and being in proximity of the students.  Mischief can happen if you are not on top of the students.

If students see you sitting behind the desk on your phone or reading a book, they will do things other than their work.

I was out for whatever reason and had a substitute for my classes.  Upon my return, my students in multiple classes informed me that their sub just sat back behind my desk and was either on their phone or reading the entire time.  If only one class had told me about it, I wouldn’t have been too concerned. Unfortunately, all three classes told me the same story.  I requested for that sub to not be selected in the future.

Have A Game Plan Of Your Own

As previously mentioned, emergencies happen and some teachers may not be able to give you a lesson plan.  You should have some tricks up your sleeve just in case you walk into a situation such as this.  Even if it is just to allow students to work on other things from other classes, know how you are going to monitor their work and behavior.

You could bring worksheets or coloring pages of your own, depending on the grade level and subject matter you are subbing for.  I personally am a Speech/Theatre teacher, but if I had to sub for another teacher, I could ask the students to give an impromptu speech.  Depending on the class, maybe we could do a debate over easy topics.  If necessary, a simple game of charades could fill time, keep kids focused on a task, and lessen discipline problems.

Know The School District’s Rules and Guidelines

If you are going to be a substitute for one or multiple schools, you need to get to know the different districts’ rules and guidelines.  For example, my school does not allow students to be on their phones unless the teacher gives them permission and it must be for educational purposes.  Therefore, I would expect my substitute to enforce that rule and write up any students on their phones without permission.

Leave Comments For The Teacher

When I return, I want to know whether or not my students were good for the substitute! A simple comment on a sticky note that says whether or not my classes behaved will help me feel better about not only my students but you as a substitute as well.

However, please do not lie about my students! I will ask them how they thought they did and, believe it or not, students are mostly honest and will tell me not only how they felt their class performed, but how you were as a substitute.

I have had students tell me when a sub is good or not.  I’ve been known to ask for certain subs to NOT be in my room based on the student feedback.

Be Respectful To Everyone

Now, I do not mean to sound condescending with this one. Let me give you a couple of examples of when I have had substitutes be rude.

The first example of this is when my coworker across the hall had a sub.  This was an older gentleman and it was before class started.  I needed to talk with him privately in the hallway about one of his students.  I stood at his door and asked if he could come out and he rudely told me no and that I needed to come inside.  When I explained to him that I was a teacher and not a student, he hastily got up and apologized.

Here’s the deal; regardless of whether or not I was a teacher should not have made a difference.  If a student asks me to talk out in the hallway, I do it.  When a student wants to talk in private, that means something is up and they need immediate attention.

The second example of when I had a substitute in my room for a paraprofessional. I had just finished teaching the lesson and was in the front of the room talking to students who had questions and the substitute butted right in to ask questions for her student. The student I was talking to was just interrupted by another adult and you could tell by the look on their face that they felt dejected.

Unless it is an emergency, try not to interrupt while a teacher is talking with students.  The substitute’s unprofessional behavior prompted me to ask that she not be in my classroom in the future.

Understand (And Accept) That You Are Not Their Teacher

This is not a slight against any substitute in the least.  When you walk into that classroom, you are indeed the authority figure and students need to respect that. You have to remember that these students are with their teacher every day or every other day and have learned the routines and rhythms set by the teacher.

You are the new person in this equation, and not all students respond well to change.  For example, when my son was a kindergartner, his teacher had to be out quite a few times for various reasons.  He did not respond well to this change in his routine.  He would get very upset and at one time, he was outright rude. His teacher created a game plan that any day she was to be gone, my son was to go to a buddy room and hang out there for the day.

He wasn’t trying to be rude to the substitute; he just couldn’t handle change well.

Try to keep the same routines the best you can, love on the children the best way you know, and you will be a successful substitute!

These are the 7 suggestions I have for you to become a successful substitute! I would love to hear from you.  What tips, tricks or suggestions do you have for current or aspiring substitutes?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *