Foolproof Strategies for Substitute Teachers

Did you know that over the course of a student’s education, he/she will spend the equivalent of a whole year with a substitute teacher? If you have ever been a substitute teacher, you know that this job comes with a special set of challenges. You don’t want “that” class, or the teacher who fails to prepare any work for the students, or the class with 20 boys and only 3 girls.

But, really, a substitute is essential to the success of a school, and learning strategies to bring order and learning to a class whose teacher is out is invaluable. You must choose the tone that you bring to the class, the focus of instruction, and the excellence of learning that you require from the students.

A successful substitute teacher enters the classroom with the following:

  1. A smile—a good nature and a smile are part of your uniform.
  2. Professional Dress—just because you are “only” the substitute does not mean that you cannot be a professional role model for the students, and this includes dress and appearance.
  3. A serious focus—focusing on actually learning while the teacher is away is a different type of substitute than a time-filler.
  4. Relationships—Start the moment you walk through the building relationships with the students. Learn their names. Talk about interests. Devise a quick game to find out even one thing about each student.

According to Dr. Trent Bowers, great substitutes do these critical actions:

  • Arrive early to review the lesson plans and to make sure that all supplies are close at hand. They don’t just arrive with the students and hand out word searches. An exceptional substitute introduces him/herself to the other teachers nearby.
  • Show respect to students by involving them in the learning for the day. Allowing the students to have choices in accomplishing the work for the day gives them a voice.
  • Don’t just be physically present, but be in tune with the class. Students quickly pick up on substitutes who are emotionally distant and take advantage.
  • Be positive and optimistic. Communicate that “I know you can do this!”

All substitutes should be armed with extra activities as time fillers once the work is complete, and here are a few fun ones:

  • Have the students take a piece of paper and write their names and favorite movie, TV show, hobby, etc. Collect them and read the favorite “thing” aloud and let them guess which classmate it is.
  • Call out a birthdate and then have all of the students line up in order after that date according to their birthdays. Make it harder by calling out a last name and have them line up after the name alphabetically, but without speaking.
  • Play the “What am I?” game. Write a noun on a post-it note and stick it to a student’s forehead. The student must then only ask Yes or No questions to try to figure out what the note says.

Remember that your role is crucial to a well-functioning school and take it seriously. When you do, you will be known as the “best sub ever!”






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