5 Tips for Substitute Teachers
- December 6, 2015
- Posted by: ttadev
- Category: All Blog Postings
Because The Teacher’s Academy is comprised of teachers, we understand how important substitute teachers are to the educational process. Studies suggest that between five and ten percent of teachers are absent on any given day. That’s a lot of substitute teachers working every day, often without a lot of instruction, guidance or support.
The Benefits of “Subbing”
Substitute teaching allows certified teachers the benefits of being a teacher with the perks of making their own schedule. It is a great opportunity for teachers turned stay-at-home parents to stay active in the profession without the workload and commitment of being a full-time teacher. It allows former teachers looking to re-enter the workforce the chance to showcase their skills to a school or district. Also, it is a great way for the recent college grad to put their education into practice and hone their craft before taking on a class of their own.
If you can identify with any of these scenarios, you may have found yourself interested in giving substitute teaching a try. If so, here are some tools and tricks to help you walk into the classroom with confidence and make substitute teaching work for you.
1. Plan your Work
“If you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
While this is true of teaching in general, it is even more so in substitute teaching. Classroom teachers have the benefit of knowing the personalities of their students, the curriculum and the procedures of the school. As a substitute teacher, you are often coming in blind, so preparation is key. Plan to be at the school at least 10 min. before you are scheduled to arrive. This will earn you the appreciation of the front office staff who are often anxiously waiting for their substitutes in hopes that there are no last minute no-shows which throws their morning into chaos. Use that extra time to read over the lesson plans for the day. This is crucial, since there is rarely enough time to read every lesson and determine your game plan before the students start to arrive.
Also, don’t leave your bag of tricks at home. Come prepared with read aloud books, 5-minute time fillers and emergency lessons that you could use for a range of grades in case you have arrived and found that the classroom teacher has left inadequate plans for the day. Check out The Teacher’s Academy Read-Aloud and 5 Minute Filler Pinterest boards for ideas! Bring your own supplies such as pens, pencils, post-its, and paper. Instead of scrambling to find these materials, you will have them on hand when you need them.
2. Work your plan.
This is my own teaching motto. It simply means execute actionable steps to achieve success.
Preparing is not enough. Take it from me, I’ve been substitute teaching for several years now, and even though I can’t predict every misstep, I can avoid the big ones. And now, you can too! You need to not only think of “what could go wrong,” but actively put in place strategies that will avoid some of the common problems. Here are some action steps you can take to provide a bit of insurance for your plans!
- Take a quick walk around the building to find where the cafeteria, recess, gym, library, art room, computer lab and fire exits are located. You want to be able to confidently lead your class wherever you need to go.
- Stop in and introduce yourself to the teachers next door or in your grade level. They can offer you helpful information, (such as an assembly that the classroom teacher may have forgotten to tell you about)!
- Read over the plans that the teacher (hopefully!) left you for the day. If the teacher did not leave you plans for the day (Yes, it happens!), good thing you have that bag of tricks. Or, ask a grade-level teacher for suggestions. They can probably point you in the right direction and give you more specific information.
- If you are not familiar with the material, read a few of the previous lessons so you are familiar with what you are teaching. This helps to avoid the awkward moments when a student asks you a question and you do not know the answer. Use the Internet to research any material if the teacher’s manuals are not available to you. This way, when you begin a lesson, you can be confident that all of the materials are at hand.
- Highlight any emergency procedures. When the fire alarm is blaring in the classroom, you’ll be happy you can quickly find the procedures you are supposed to follow.
- It is often helpful to bring or find a clipboard to attach the daily plans. This way, they don’t get lost in a bunch of papers as you sort through the material for the day. Also clip a class roster and a pen or pencil to the clipboard. This way, you always have the kids’ names on hand. Students tend to respond more quickly when they are addressed by their name and it helps to assert your authority.
- Take time to become familiar with whatever technology you are going to use throughout the day. If you are expected to teach using a SmartBoard, make sure you have log-in information and that it works.
- Make sure you know what the procedure is for taking attendance and how to report it to the main office.
- Get students working as soon as they enter. If the teacher has not left morning work for the students, this is the time come up with something. If you have the students begin working as soon as they enter the room, they are more likely to settle quickly and it sets the tone for the rest of the day. Having something prepared helps to tame the chaos of morning arrival.
- Once you’ve had an opportunity to read over the plans, make note of important classroom information:
- Children with allergies
- Specials and lunch times
- Times each subject starts and ends
- Children pulled out of the classroom for individual instructions.
Did I say arrive 10 minutes early? Better bake it 15! It is a lot to accomplish in a very short amount of time! But it is important to prepare early so you are not sidelined by being unprepared during a lesson.
3. Quickly Establish Authority
Greet students. Set the Tone. Maintain Consistency.
The key to successful substitute teaching is quickly establishing authority in the classroom. Now that you are prepared, stand by the door or at the front of the room as the students begin to arrive. Did you know that students are more apt to behave and follow the routine just because you are in their proximity during arrival? Since you arrived early, organized all your materials, familiarized yourself with the building and procedures and are attentively greeting your students at the door – you have already completed the first steps in establishing authority. A prepared, attentive substitute encounters many less behavior problems than the distracted, unorganized substitute.
The next step is to set the tone. A warm, kind greeting and a show of interest in the students goes a long way towards establishing good will. You don’t have the luxury of building rapport with these students to help your classroom management, so set a firm, yet friendly, tone. After the students arrive and complete their morning work (and you’ve followed the attendance procedures and reported them to the office), it is a good time to go over the rules with the students. To the degree possible, follow the rules that the classroom teacher has put in place. Consistency is the key to a smooth day, so this is not the time to reinvent the wheel (no matter how great your own method of classroom management is).
4. Deal with Behavior Issues
The best defense is a good offense.
One of the most difficult aspects of substitute teaching is dealing with behavior issues. It is tempting to mistake that joy on the face of the students when they see you as the pleasure of making your acquaintance. More likely, they are figuring out ways to capitalize on the fact that you don’t know the established classroom rules and routines. In this case, the best defense is a good offense. By simply actively engaging the students as they walk in the room, you will set the tone for the day. Make sure they have work to do as soon as they enter the classroom and keep them engaged throughout the day with discussions and written assignments. It is always a good idea to collect all written assignments so students know they will be held accountable for their work. Sometimes, letting the class or even individual students know that you will assign any unfinished work for homework also encourages them to remain focused on the assigned task.
Despite keeping them engaged, you will still encounter uncooperative students. Because students can often see through idle threats, make sure you are prepared to follow through with any consequences you give to the students. Implement whatever disciplinary measures the teacher has left in place and has (hopefully!) shared with you. Document all stages of misbehavior and your response to them. Sending students to the principal should be your last option, unless a student is a threat to himself or others.
5. Communicate with the Classroom Teacher
No matter how the day went, make sure you communicate the details to the classroom teacher. At a minimum, leave a note detailing the material you covered for each subject. If you did not get to all of the material, make sure to note that as well. It is important to note any behavior problems or issues you had with the class. I use my own template that I print and just fill in at the end of the day. Teachers love it and now they know what to expect when they request me to sub for them. (Which they do, often!) Here’s what I would include on this “Day in Review” template:
- Absent and late students
- Material covered for the day (and the material not covered)
- Helpful students
- Students that misbehaved (detailing specific incidents)
- Other important information. Include your name and contact information as well.
Do you have any tips for substitute teachers? If you are interested in substitute teaching and are in need of professional development hours for your certification, check out our courses at The Teacher’s Academy. We offer on-line professional development courses that are convenient, affordable and relevant.