Thursday, February 6, 2014

Tips and Tricks for Substitute Teachers

Anyone who has been a substitute teacher knows that with all the perks there are a lot of issues that subs face that regular classroom teachers do not.  Here are some tricks/tips I've picked up along the way that can help make a day in a new classroom go smoothly.

1.  If you don't know the students' names:
- pay specific attention when doing attendance
- make sure students have some sort of required written work.  Then, insist they have their names on it. I just casually walk around looking at the names when I need them.  By calling them by name they know I can write down problem students so they tend to behave more.  Also, if they have already been problematic I can easily mark down who it was.  Conversely I can give specific praise to students as well.

2.  If a class is being a bit rough overall:
- mark each student's paper with a star or a sticker if they are working hard and following directions. I announce that I will be doing this to show the teacher which students were using their time wisely and following directions.  I do this even with high school students.  It saves the time of writing lots of names.  Also, if students were behaving poorly but then really get it together they can earn the sticker later in the period.

3.  Pick your battles.  I can't emphasize this enough!
- know the culture of the school.  If a rule is really emphasized by administration make sure you follow it.  After all you may want to be hired there at some point and I've had principals come in multiple times to observe while I subbed (whether to see me or the inclusion teacher in the room I'm unsure).  If something is no big deal to other teachers don't make it a big deal as a sub.
- present things as a choice: "You can stay in this room and do xyz OR you can not do xyz and go to the office.  I'll let you take a minute to decide."  I've had students choose both but more often than not they groan, follow the direction and are fine the rest of the class.

4.  Show your expertise.
- Introduce yourself and be generous with your description of experience.  Students can tell if you're not confident or unexperienced- FAKE IT if you are.  The first time I subbed I hadn't done anything other than student teaching.  However I left out the "student" part and just said, "I taught 10th and 12th grade in such and such a city."

5.  Have some fun.
- Get to know the kids, try to learn as many names as possible so as you keep coming back to the same school you know your students.  Bring some cheap small incentives- I bring bookmarks I get in the one spot at Target.  They're great when I have small groups in elementary school or if I see someone reading a book without a bookmark.  It makes me seem extra nice and the kids really appreciate it.  I play instrumental music in the background whenever possible.  It's my thing.  Have a thing.  Here's a link to the playlist I use... Background Music For Teaching.  It is on youtube so sometimes you have to skip over commercials.

6.  TEACH.
- Even if the sub plan just has you handing out a worksheet go over the directions, define any terms or ask the students to.  Show that you are there to teach and they are there to learn.  I have had so many students say to me, "Wow, you really took the time to teach us, the other sub just sat on her phone."  They tell their teachers, and their teachers now call me first because they know they can leave more substantial work.  Frankly, I'd get bored if I didn't try to teach.  Walk around the class, spot check answers, stay involved.

What tips or tricks do you use?
*Edited to Add* See my follow up post with MORE tips for Substitutes HERE.

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  1. Thank you so much for this post. I have been reading up on so many substitute teacher tips because tomorrow is my first assignment and I too have only experience from student teaching. Your tips & tricks really targeted a few things I was anxious about. Thank you!

    1. How was your first assignment and are you still subbing? I have been on three different assignments so far.

    2. I'm not sure I even remember my first assignment. I don't sub day to day anymore as I have a full time job now. However, I still sub for my colleagues when they need to. I will say subbing gets easier the more you do it!

  2. I agree! These were so great! Thank you for easing my mind. :)

  3. I will be subbing for the first time and I am so nervous and excited at the same time. I've had experience working as a teacher assistant and student teaching, but never have I subbed before. Is there anything I should bring in case the teacher has left nothing behind? Where would be the best place to look for lessons and how do I go about choosing what to bring as a backup lesson if all I know is the grade?

    1. I haven't ever run into a situation where a teacher left nothing. If you know what grade you might bring a read aloud book for younger classes. Always get there early enough because usually you or another teacher can find something in the classroom to work with. There are lots of free ideas out there on google etc or you can check out Teachers Pay Teachers! Good luck, you'll do great!

    2. You are very lucky to have never encountered no assignments or instructions. Unfortunately, I've had the burden of bothering other teachers for work. I guess it depends on where you are from. We are just "a dime a dozen" in the south. You take the good with the bad. But anyway... good advice on this blog. Much appreciated! Always be prepared just in case!

    3. If you confirmed that the teacher has left you no lesson plans there is a couple for things you can do (not in any order). 1. You can ask a helpful student (you can pretty much tell them apart) where they left off for the day prior 2. Ask a teacher in the same hall way. But some time they have no clue or they redirect you to ask the class anyway. 3. Depending on the subject you can research a writing prompt a head of time and have the class write. Some students really dislike writing so make it a relatable prompt. 4. The majority of schools now have text book class sets-use them.

      Just a couple of tips: Please don't tell any of your students that this is your first time or first year. Show that you're confident and be a leader. Carry yourself well and you'll be respected by the students.

  4. I have used your tips and strategies and they work! Thank you.

  5. Thanks so much for posting your Music playlist ! Great resource to have .

  6. Thanks for posting these tips. Substitute teaching is tricky. I feel like there are more behavior issues that you deal with. I'm taking these and running :)

  7. Thank you for these tips! Other than some classes for elementary PE internships and lesson plan writing - I really had no teaching experience up until I got my substitute teaching cert! These tips will help a lot, especially since I will be going back and forth between elementary and high school for subbing.

  8. You’re very welcome! Good luck!