Start Your Day as a Substitute Teacher the Right Way

Tips on How to Start the Day Positively as a Substitute Teacher

Being a substitute teacher is hard work. As a former full-time elementary school teacher, I was reminded of just how hard it can be to teach a class that isn't your own when I transitioned from teaching full time to becoming a stay at home mom and subbing part time. As a teacher, I had excellent classroom management skills. I think most of this was because I built relationships with my students. As a sub, I don't have time to build those relationships, so it is essential to start the day off on the right foot. Here are a few ways to start the day positively as a substitute teacher.

Get to school early.

The earlier you can get to your school, the better. Call ahead and find out what time students begin their day and arrive 45-60 minutes earlier. In my experience, part of the sub's work day is 30 minutes before school starts, but coming in a little earlier than that can really help. Sometimes, teachers have duty in the morning, leaving you no time to read lesson plans and prepare for the day. Some teachers leave several copies and supplies for subs with very specific instructions, while other teachers leave very vague plans with missing materials. I have gone to sub and found no plans at all! The earlier you get there, the more prepared you can be. Can students smell fear? Maybe. I have found they seem to sense when you don't know what you're doing. Even the best teacher will lose the attention of a class if they are not prepared, so arriving early is a great way to be ready to start the day.

Dress to impress.

Although you may be working with seven year-old students, it is always good to dress professionally. The other teachers and staff will usually treat you with more respect, and the students can usually tell that you mean business when you are dressed neatly. Also, dressing well boosts your confidence. I find that I feel more prepared to conquer the challenges of the day when I am dressed well. You may sub at a school where the staff doesn't always dress as professionally as at another school; however, I still recommend dressing professionally so the students and teachers take you more seriously.

Introduce yourself in a fun way.

Whenever I sub I always tell the students, "Since you don't know me, I am going to tell you a little bit about myself." I think it sparks their interest in you and makes them feel more comfortable. I think everyone can remember having a very mean substitute teacher, and when I sub, I don't want the class I am about to teach to worry that I am one of those teachers. I play the game "Three Truths and a Lie" with the class. I write four "facts" about myself on the board or prepare them in a PowerPoint ahead of time. The students have to try to guess which one is not true. I have them think on their own, discuss with a partner or two, and then the class votes on which fact is a lie. Then I go over each fact telling them a little bit more about it and reveal the lie last. After the game, I tell a some more facts about myself and show them a few pictures of my family. It takes about five minutes and often times sets a positive tone for the day. Sometimes the kids don't really care about what you have to say, but I would say majority of the time they are interested and a more likely to have a better attitude towards you when you introduce yourself this way.

Learn names.

Learning the names of the students can really make a difference in their behavior later on. I always learn every student's name as best as I can if I am teaching an elementary class and will be working with the same group of kids all day. The students respond much faster to their own name than to "Hey, you" or "Sweetie." I usually have each student tell me their name and I repeat it back to them so I can try to learn them the best I can. If you have a seating chart, use it! You can also have the kids wear name tags. If you are teaching older kids and will only have them for an hour or less, I think it is less important to learn their names, but it still helps if you can.

Bring rewards or positive reinforcers.

As a substitute teacher, you need to find a way to motivate students to behave. I would say there are always students who will always behave nicely and are your best friends throughout your day of subbing. However, often times students see a sub and think, "I can do whatever I want today!" In my experience subbing, even when teachers have an effective behavior plan in place, I have found it works better when I introduce my own rewards and ways to earn them. Even if the teacher clearly explains their plan in the sub plans, every teacher will carry out the plan in their own way. For example, I have met many teachers who use a color coded behavior plan. Some teachers have all the kids start at the "best" color and only go down. Some have the kids start in the middle and the students can move up or down depending on behavior. Some teachers have the kids change colors often while others almost never have the kids change colors unless they have committed a serious infraction. 

Usually, I bring tickets and a small bucket of prizes for the kids. I give out tickets for good behavior and do a raffle a few times throughout the day. I always explain what a raffle is and that getting a ticket doesn't mean you definitely get a prize, but that you have a chance to win. I always hand out more tickets or pull a winning ticket when the class is starting to get off task. This way they are reminded that they can earn more tickets and have another chance to earn a prize.

I am not saying to ignore what the teacher asks you to do behavior wise. I have never had a teacher complain about me using the ticket method, and as a teacher of my own class, I would not have minded either. Sometimes giving the kids something new is a great motivator, and having your own system causes there to be less confusion later on. Make sure you still leave a note for the teacher so he or she knows about good or bad behavior in addition to using tickets or whatever system works for you.

Final Thoughts

As I stated in the beginning of this article, being a substitute teacher is not easy. By trying the suggestions above, you will hopefully have a better day and be able to have better control of the class you are subbing for. Unfortunately, you can try all of these things and still have many challenges, but that is just the nature of being a sub and being a teacher in general. My favorite thing about subbing for different classes is that every day is a fresh start. Having a positive outlook and implementing these strategies should help you have a better chance of finding success and enjoying yourself each day!

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Start Your Day as a Substitute Teacher the Right Way