Classroom-Management Tips for Substitute Teachers

How to survive the day and maybe even be asked back

As a substitute teacher, you will be faced with the difficult task of dealing with a classroom of students whom you do not know. You may have little information about classroom setup or about the work students are expected to do. You do not know if you will be walking into a friendly or hostile environment. You need teaching tools in your arsenal to help you deal with any situation. After familiarizing yourself with the substitute folder and/or lesson plans the teacher may have left, use these classroom-management tips to help you survive the day—and maybe even be asked back in the future.

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Talk to Students Before Class

Substitute teacher helping young student working on laptop

Thomas Barwick / Iconica / Getty Images

Stand at the door and talk to students as they arrive in the class. Get to know a few of them individually before you begin the lesson. This is also a great way to get an impression of how students will react to your presence. In addition, you might find useful information such as school assemblies that you may not have been informed about.

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Act Like You're in Control

Students are excellent judges of character. They can smell fear and sense anxiety. Enter the classroom as the teacher for the day—because you are. If something is not going as planned or your whiteboard markers run out of ink, you may need to wing it. Don't get frantic or nervous. Transition to the next activity or come up with an alternative solution like using an overhead projector. If needed, pull out an activity that you have prepared ahead of time just for this kind of situation.

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Don't Get Too Friendly

While you don't need to stop yourself from smiling or being kind to students, avoid too much friendliness when class starts. First impressions are important for students who can quickly take advantage of any perceived weaknesses. This can lead to further disruptions as the class progresses. Get the class started and the lesson rolling, then relax a little. Remember, substituting is not a popularity contest.

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Stay on Top of Discipline

You must stay present and involved in classroom management and discipline from the moment students arrive. Classroom management is key. When the bell rings, get the students to quiet down as you take roll. Avoid rushing this important procedure. You might have to stop the attendance-taking process once or twice to quiet the students again, but they will quickly understand your expectations. As the class continues, be aware of everything that is going on in the room. Stop disruptions when they are small to keep them from escalating.

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Avoid Confrontations

If, despite your best efforts, a confrontational student causes a major disruption in class, keep your cool. Don’t lose your temper, raise your voice or—especially—get other students involved. This can lead to a situation where a student feels that he has to save face. If possible, pull the student aside to deal with the situation. If the situation is truly something beyond your control, call the office for assistance.

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Give Praise

Even though you might never teach a particular class of students again, show that you believe every student can succeed. Demonstrate that you respect the students. It also doesn't hurt if you actually like kids. Give effective praise when it is due, and ensure that students feel like you are on their side and that you truly believe in them. Students will pick up on your attitude toward them, so be positive.

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Keep Students Busy

Follow the lesson plan the regular teacher has left for you. However, if the plan leaves a lot of free time in class—or if the teacher did not leave a plan at all—have an emergency lesson plan ready. An idle class is ripe for disruption. Keeping students busy does not necessarily require a formal lesson. Play a trivia game, teach some words or phrases in a foreign language, teach students sign language letters, or have students write a story about a prop you bring to class—or even about their hero, what they do on the weekends, a memorable family event, or a favorite sport.

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Have Referral Forms Ready

Sometimes, you'll just have to send a disruptive student to the office. To do so, you'll generally need to fill out a referral form. Fill out some basic information on two or three referral forms ahead of time—including your name, classroom number, and class period—so that if you need to use the referral forms, it will be easy to complete them during a busy class period. If students start to become disruptive, pull out the referrals and show them to the students. Explain that you will use the referrals if necessary. This might be enough to calm the situation. If you cannot resolve a discipline problem in your classroom, complete one or more referral forms and send the student(s) to the office.

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Your Citation
Kelly, Melissa. "Classroom-Management Tips for Substitute Teachers." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Kelly, Melissa. (2023, April 5). Classroom-Management Tips for Substitute Teachers. Retrieved from Kelly, Melissa. "Classroom-Management Tips for Substitute Teachers." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).