How To Be an Effective Substitute Teacher

Substituting the Easy Way

Math teacher showing formula

Substituting is the most difficult job! But there are a few things that can make your job easier. Keeping these quick tips in the forefront of your thinking will also make the teacher you are subbing for want to have you back in his/her classroom.

  1. Classroom management! First and most important is classroom management. You cannot have a successful day without it. As soon as you arrive in the classroom you are subbing for, take a moment and familiarize yourself with the surroundings, including the teacher's existing classroom management plan. It is not always easy to step into an unfamiliar plan, so have a set of rules and consequences in your head. In other words, what are the most important things for you and the students to have a successful day? I highly recommend a bag of tricks. Pack some books. Choose a cute early reader and a small chapter book for older children. Children love to work for rewards. Keep a stock of stickers and M&Ms. When you see children following the class rules, reward them with one of these. When non-conforming students see that they can "earn" rewards, they will straighten up.
  2. Behavioral problems.  If behavioral problems occur, there are a few things to keep in mind. Never lose your cool, or the child wins. It would be best if you gave a warning so the child understands your expectations, as your rules may differ slightly from the teacher. If the warning does not work, the child needs a consequence. For example, you can make him miss a few minutes of recess time, or you can give a few minutes of free time in class if your school doesn't do that, and have him/her sit out the few minutes. This is a very strong deterrent as no child wants to miss free time.  If a child is seriously unruly, you have two options. I believe the first one works the best. Give the children who are following your rules a reward; extra recess time, a sticker, an M&M, etc. or you may need to ask a neighboring teacher if he/she can visit their room for a few minutes. Being the substitute is hard, as the students will definitely try your patience to see how much they can get away with, but if you are firm and follow through, you will do just fine.
  3. Complete all assignments left for you. Teachers are on rigid schedules to cover a certain curriculum before the end of the year, so they cannot afford to miss a moment - they're counting on you! The teacher may have left additional work just to keep the kids busy, but rest assured, complete the subject area assignments. You may finish early. That is where the books you packed will fit in nicely. You can also bring some extra work of your own. There are hundreds of websites that will provide activities for you. Keep a class set of word searches or puzzles. The children love them and they will keep the kids busily working should you have any downtime.
  4. Finishing steps. You've finished a successful day of teaching. What can you do to assure yourself an invite to substitute in this classroom again? Tidy up! If you were unable to get the children to pick up before they were dismissed for the day, take a few minutes and straighten up the room. Also, if you completed assignments that require grading, take a moment and do that. Being out of the classroom is difficult for the teacher. If you make her life a little less stressful when she returns, she will request you to substitute in her classrooms again. This guarantees you another workday and even better, a referral to her fellow colleagues. You'll be the busiest substitute in the building.

These may sound simplistic, but they are some quick tips to make sure that your day is pleasant, the children are happy to have you, and the administration will be glad that you can control the students' behaviors and not require as much of their supervision. Subbing is quite a difficult job, but you are a necessity in the field!


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As a teacher, I agree with most of your suggestions and wish that substitutes would look up your article for ideas. The only suggestion that I am against is the M&M's as they may contain traces of nuts or peanuts to which many students are fatally allergic to . It is not only the chocolate but also the fact that since nutrition is part of the curriculum and that we encourage students to adopt a good diet, candies are not the best option. Also, rewards such as free time are more positive as they earn it and it will not cause cavities. Other than that, your article is very good and offers several good tips.

By Sylvie Leochko

Thank you!

By Renea Stein

Hi Renea
As a peripatetic educator, I present STEM activities, and not a trained teacher this is very useful, thanks

By Rik Whittaker