Top Ten Ways to Be A Great Substitute Teacher

I hate missing a day of work. It’s a pain in the butt being up at 3 am making sub-plans and hoping against hope to have a competent adult in the classroom. But things happen, and I will need a substitute teacher. Here are some tips for all the future or present substitute teachers on ways to make a good impression and 

1. Show Up Early. 

Try to get to school 20 plus minutes earlier than your first class. You’ll get the lay of the land, and put other teachers at ease. You’ll be able to see your class and take in the lesson plan for the day. You’ll have time to ask questions.

If you aren’t early, at least get there on time. Seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how substitutes are late for their assignments. Once, I had a substitute fail to show up! Luckily no one left the classroom, and no one was hurt. That substitute never worked in our district again. Speaking of lesson plans….

2. Stick to the lesson plan.

I know sometimes there are issues with the lesson or the students might need some adaptations, and you will need to make minor changes. However, if I want you to give a quiz followed by some practice work assignments, it is not okay to scrap the plans and instead do magic tricks and watch some Netflix… true story. 

Oh. And quite often the students will pretend to not be able to do the work I asked them to do. They can. I typically give more time for completion of assignments when a sub is present, so they will have plenty of time built into my lesson.

3. Have a certification in my subject.

If you are… I love you.  When you know the content, it makes sub plans so much easier to create. When my son is throwing up at 4 am and I need a sub, I know I can rely on you to do the lab. It’s much less stressful for myself and the students.

Plus, if you are certified and are looking for a job, you are getting experience in a similar classroom setting to what you will be working in. You will also develop a name for yourself as being knowledgeable and dependable. You can build contacts and references through the subbing experience.

If you aren’t certified but have some knowledge; at least…

4. Grade some papers.

I don’t expect you do it. If you do, I don’t expect you to do it well. However, if you try, I will remember you, and will ask you as my sub again. Sometimes I leave answer keys conveniently laying about to see if a sub notices and takes initiative.

If you can’t grade the papers, at least…

5. Alphabetize turned in work.

I don’t have time to do this myself, but if I come back to a stack of papers alphabetized you just made entering grades into the gradebook about 200% faster. Bonus points if you grade AND alphabetize.

6. Give me feedback about the lesson and how the students behaved.

If you made changes let me know. If you had to cut an assignment short let me know. Student’s act different in the presence of a sub. It’s good to know how a student will react under these circumstances.

7. Always leave me your name.

I know I can search for it through my principal’s secretary or through the department chair, but leaving me this information saves me time. Either way, I need to know who you are. Also, if it was really bad day, leave me a way to contact you, so we can debrief and make sure any issues are handled correctly.

8. Don’t ask the student’s opinions of me or give your opinion about any teacher.

Students will claim they like you more than me. Or vice versa. Shrug. Ignore this conversation… It’s A TRAP.

9. Know when you’re in over your head.

Listen, I know you are nervous and don’t have the rapport with the student’s that I do. However, if you are stuck, ask someone for help. Don’t pretend to be able to do something if you can’t. I’ll always give you information for other teachers who can help you if you need it. Just ask.

10. Have fun, but don’t be their friend.

You are professional adult and an educator (even if you don’t get paid like one). Act like it. You tell school appropriate jokes. You can tell appropriate stories about your life. The kids love to get to know their teachers as people. But you are not their friend. You are a role model. You are an adult. Act like one. Avoid politics, religion, sarcasm, swearing, sex and getting too personal with the student’s lives. Be professional.

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