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10 Substitute Teacher Tips

    10 Tips for Substitute Teachers | How to be a substitute teacher

    A substitute teacher is a person who fills in for an absent regular teacher. They are important to schools because they provide continuity in the classroom, and they allow teachers to take time off when needed.

    But there are many challenges to being a substitute teacher

    • Lack of familiarity with students and curriculum
    • Unclear expectations from the teachers
    • Misbehavior or difficulty keeping students focused
    • Lack of support from other teachers and administrators

    Right now, there is a huge need for substitute teachers at school. Here are ten tips for substitute teachers that may be helpful when filling in for absent teachers at schools. These tips might also be valuable for full-time teachers too.

    Arrive Early

    That gives you time to prepare and become familiar with the school. More importantly, it gives you the opportunity to make connections with the admin, other teachers and the cleaning staff. They can also make you aware of schedule changes and other processes. Introduce yourself to the neighboring teachers and review the lesson plans left by the absent teacher.

    Emergency Folder

    Always be prepared with additional resources for your subclasses. There might not be enough work for the students to do, or a lesson might not work well. So it’s up to every substitute to have extra worksheets or material to save the day.

    I have 250 flashcards you can use. Students love this activity and it will easily take up an entire class period. You can find them in the description below. Print, laminate, and cut it. I’ve used mine for many years with thousands of students. Another fantastic site for downloading free worksheets is ISL collective. Print them out and keep them with you for classes.

    For younger learners, it helps to have some color-by-the-number pages. Students also love find-the-missing-object pages, easy ones for young students and more difficult ones for smart or older students. (There are thousands on Pinterest.)

    👨‍🏫 250 Flashcards ►


    When starting a new class as the substitute teacher, introduce yourself and establish rules. Tell them that you will leave a letter for the teacher on how the class went.

    Also share the day’s schedule with the students so that they know what to expect during the lesson. Set clear expectations for their behavior and work, and make sure they understand that your teaching methods and procedures may be different than those of their regular teacher. “You don’t want to hear – but our teacher does it like this.” It opens up for them to lie about things for fun. Take note of the school’s classroom management plan, but focus on setting rules and procedures with the class.

    Take Register

    When saying the student names out loud, build report with the students by asking questions. How many members in your family? What hobbies do they have? Something big happening that week? What are they looking forward to that day? How long does it take to get to school?

    I sometimes ask students to think of two questions they want to ask me. While going through the names, let them ask a question and then ask them one back. Usually I repeat back the question they asked or something related to it. That way, I don’t have to make up the questions.

    Let the Students Work

    Most people think of the “sub” as a babysitter, and that no work will be done. Not with you – tell the students that their time is important, you will reinforce the work and helping however you can.

    You won’t be teaching new, difficult content, rather review basic lessons. Check what the students already know, review with them and constantly focus the activities on work that they have to practice, then reproduce. That will free you to manage the class.

    Control the Pace of the Lesson

    Always control the pace of the lesson. Break it into shorter chunks. Do more activities and transition between them. So maybe short exploration on the students’ prior knowledge, then switch to a short explanation, transition to pair work, back to class feedback, play a game, do individual work.

    It helps if you tell them how much time they have to do an activity. You have 5 minutes to do these three questions with your partner.

    Then, when you ask for feedback, do it with a game. Let the two groups decide who should answer by playing rock-paper-scissor – the losing group has to explain. The last two groups to put their hands on the table loses and have to perform the activity in front of class. This makes class fun, doesn’t waste too much time with each group giving feedback (unless that’s what you want) and playing games is a fun way to choose.

     A fair warning – Many teachers think they have to carry the lesson by doing all the talking. That is not true – The more time you push on the students to practice and do the talking, instead of you talking , the more time it gives you to walk around and monitor, reducing whatever stress you might have. Reduce TTT – Teacher Talking Time.

    Classroom Management

    Like I said before, make sure the students are clear on your rules. If students to talk out loud, write their name on the board with a strike next to it. You may warn them first if you’d like.

    Many substitute classes get out of control because a teacher acts like an individual tutor, and not a teacher. They give instructions, then help individuals for too long. While they are busy with an individual student, the class gets noisy. Stay in control and monitor the progress of the class all the time. Pause, give simple directions to a student who is struggling and then continue with the rest of the class. Try not to go through the entire problem with the one student. Instead, focus on the group.

    Have a simple method for getting the class to focus on you. When you raise your hand, they have to pay attention.

    Take Stickers or Candy

    I would rarely recommend this to ordinary teachers. Giving class rewards like stickers and candy is temporary and it doesn’t help with long-term motivation. But sometimes, spending a couple of dollars on candy is definitely worth the trouble of managing difficult classes in the short term.

    Have a Back-up Plan

    Substitute teachers should be prepared for any situation in the classroom. Most teachers leave detailed lesson plans for substitute teachers to follow. However, there may be situations when you will need to come prepared with other activities.

    To help with that, I wrote a book with 100 No-prep Classroom Activities. It’s in the description below.

    When I was a teacher, I told my students to ALWAYS have a book with them to read. It was a rule in class, so that whenever they were finished with work, they would have something to read.

    Even though substitute teaching can be a challenging job, it’s important to remember to have fun. Understand that not everything will always go as planned, have a sense of humor and look for opportunities to make the day enjoyable for everyone. An effective substitute teacher finds ways to positively engage with their students by getting to know them, introducing fun activities and keeping the overall mood of the classroom light-hearted and pleasant.

    📖 100 No-prep Classroom Activities Book ►

    End of Class

    Leave the room neat for the teacher you are subbing for. Imagine walking in to classroom as a teacher and seeing it wrecked. In the last lesson of the day, ask the students to clean up. At the start of the day’s last period I would say, “Listen guys, the last 10 minutes we will clean up the class for your teacher, okay?”

    Then, leave a letter for the returning teacher. Include the following information:

    Absent students. How the lessons went. Students that participated particularly well. Students that misbehaved.

    Anything else the teacher should be aware of. Keep it professional and focus on the positives.

    Substitute teachers who leave helpful notes and clean classes are more likely to be requested again.

    I hope these tips are useful, if you would like more tips for teachers consider SUBBING to this channel.

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