How to Be a Successful Substitute Teacher

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Substitute teaching is one of the most difficult jobs in education. It is also one of the most important. It takes a remarkable person to be able to adapt effectively to all the situations that will be thrown at her as a substitute teacher. Substitute teachers are used in virtually every school across the country every day. It is vital for school administrators to compose a list of top-notch people who can successfully substitute teach.

Flexibility and Adaptability

Flexibility and adaptability are probably the two most important characteristics that substitute teachers must possess. They must be flexible because they are often not called until the morning of the day they are needed. They must be adaptable because they could be subbing in a second-grade classroom one day and a high school English class the next. There are even times when their assignment will change from the time they are called to the time they actually arrive.

Although it is beneficial for a substitute to be a certified teacher, it is not a requirement or necessity. A person without formal training in education can be a successful substitute. Being a good substitute teacher starts with an understanding of what you are expected to do and knowing that students are going to test you. Ensure you are equipped to deal with any obstacles.

Before You Sub

Some school districts require new substitutes to attend formal training before they are placed on the substitute list while others do not. Regardless, always try to schedule a short meeting to introduce yourself to the building principal. Use this time to let her know who you are, ask her for advice, and find out any specific protocol she may have for substitute teachers.

Sometimes it is impossible to meet with the teacher for whom you will be subbing but always do so if you have the opportunity. Although meeting the teacher in person is ideal, a simple phone conversation can be extremely beneficial. The teacher can walk you through his schedule, provide you with specific details, and give you a lot of other relevant information that will make your day go smoother.

Always try to obtain a copy of the school’s student handbook. Have a solid understanding of what the school expects from its students and teachers. Some schools may even have a substitute policy designed to protect substitutes from poor student behavior. Carry the student handbook with you and refer to it when necessary. Don’t be afraid to ask the principal or a teacher for clarification.

Learn each school’s procedures for emergency situations such as a fire, tornado, or lock-down. Developing a firm understanding of what is expected of you in these situations can save lives. In addition to knowing the overall protocol for an emergency situation, ensure that you know emergency routes specific to the room in which you are subbing as well as how to lock the door if necessary.

Being professional starts with how you dress. Learn the district’s dress code for teachers and adhere to it. Understand that you are working with minors. Use appropriate language, don’t try to be their friends, and don’t get too personal with them.

Upon Arriving to Sub

Arrive early. There are many things a substitute needs to do to ensure that he has a fantastic day before school begins. After checking in, look over the daily schedule and lesson plans, ensuring you have a clear understanding of the material you will be required to teach that day.

Getting to know the teachers in the rooms around you can provide you with a lot of assistance. They will likely be able to help you with questions specific to the schedule and the content. They may also be able to give you additional tips specific to your students that could benefit you. Build a relationship with these teachers because you may have the opportunity to sub for them at some point.

While Subbing

Every teacher runs his room differently, but the overall makeup of the students in the room will always be the same. You will always have students who are class clowns, others who are quiet, and those that simply want to help. Identify the handful of students who can be helpful. They can assist you with finding materials in the classroom and run small errands for you if needed. If possible, ask the classroom teacher who these students are beforehand.

Start the day off by setting your own expectations and rules. Inform students that you will hold them accountable for their actions and that you will assign consequences for poor behavior. If needed, refer them to the principal. Word will spread that you’re a no-nonsense substitute, and students will begin to challenge you less making your job much easier.

The single biggest thing that will bother a regular classroom teacher about a substitute is for the substitute to deviate from his plans. The teacher usually leaves specific assignments that he expects to be completed when he returns. Deviating or not completing these activities is seen as disrespectful, and teachers for whom you substitute will ask the principal not to put you back in their room if you fail to follow their plans.

After Subbing

A teacher wants to know how your day went. Write a note. Include students who were helpful as well as those who gave you problems. Be detailed including what these students did and how you handled it. Address any issues you may have had with the curriculum. Finally, let the teacher know that you enjoyed being in her classroom and give her your phone number to contact you should she has any additional questions.

Leave the room in as good of or better condition than it was when you arrived. Do not let students leave materials or books scattered about the room. At the end of the day, take a few minutes to have the students help pick up trash on the floor and get the classroom back in order.

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Your Citation
Meador, Derrick. "How to Be a Successful Substitute Teacher." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Meador, Derrick. (2023, April 5). How to Be a Successful Substitute Teacher. Retrieved from Meador, Derrick. "How to Be a Successful Substitute Teacher." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).