Tag Archives: Substitute teacher

Your First Day as a Substitute Teacher

English: A special education teacher assists o...

After jumping through the hoops necessary to become a substitute teacher, some school boards put new subs through some sort of orientation and training. (Many offer no training at all.) However, those that do have training tend to prove to be woefully inadequate to prepare you for the job ahead. There is a very good chance that after the first day of subbing you will wish you had been better prepared. With that in mind, let’s look at your number one priority as a sub and what you can do to prepare for it.

We all remember what it was like when we had a substitute teacher in school; it was a license to play. The teacher would leave an assignment but we would do everything in out power to keep from doing any of the work. It was a license to play and we did all we could to take advantage of the situation. The bad news is, nothing has changed. Students still see substitutes as an opportunity to play, goof off and create as much mischief as possible. Therefore, the first thing you are likely to learn is that if you can’t manage your class noting will be learned.

In these days of high stakes testing, schools cannot afford to let a day slip by. Studies at Utah State have shown that during the years from kindergarten to high school graduation the average student is under the tutelage of a substitute for the equivalent of a year. That’s too much time for schools to let slip by. True, many teacher will do the minimum by giving you a movie to show the kids, but if you are able to prove that you can actually teach you will find you are in great demand in classrooms all over your county.

For these reasons, your first and most important duty is to learn how to manage your classroom and that typically means doing a little research before you get started. The first thing you need to know is what your school’s policy is dealing with disruptive kids in your classroom. Usually there is a graduated plan of some sort that starts with a verbal reprimand, then moving the student to another desk, then, if the behavior continues, sending them to a neighboring teachers classroom, and finally, referring them to the dean or behavioral resource teacher.

Long practice has taught me that it is wise to begin this process as early as possible, and not put them off as a last resort. Behavioral problems escalate quickly and are best handled by nipping them in the bud. If, by your actions, students get the impression that you are permissive and unlikely to take action and you will quickly have a problem too big to manage alone. Conversely, if your start out too strict, you can always loosen up as time goes on.

Remember, it is not your job to make friends with these students. Your job is to teach for a day and you can’t do that if you have behavior problems in the class. One of the things I have found interesting when I have an especially disruptive student, is that after I send them out of the room I will often hear someone say “Thank You” in a barely audible voice. Your students are expecting you to be in control and will respect you more if you handle these problems quickly and effectively.

One quick caveat to go with these instructions: never, never, ever discipline in anger. You should never allow yourself to get to the point where your anger builds, but rather you should exercise discipline long before your emotions are engaged. Trust me on this one; I have seen teachers and subs alike furiously yelling at students for their misbehaviors and there is simply no excuse for that. You will lose all the respect you have worked hard to earn from your students. What’s more, in overreacting you will often find that instead of just one or two troublemakers, you now have twenty who feel like you are out of control and do not deserve to be head of their class.

Teachers who can discipline coolly, with a minimum of drama, maintain learning environments that are both pleasant and professional. You will also find that in multi-day assignments, students you discipline one day will show no resentment the next, provided you handle things in a quiet and professional manner. There are no emotional wounds that need to be healed, only the faint recollection of a corrective behavior and the sense that it would be unwise on their part to misbehave again.


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Posted by on May 5, 2013 in Teaching as a Profession


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New Substitute Teacher Cheat Sheet

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After you have jumped through the necessary hoops to get certified as a substitute teachers (in my state that means a background check, college transcripts, fingerprinting and an all-too-brief orientation) you will be, according to the school board you are to be working with, prepared to fill in for a real teacher. Au contraire! If you are new to the teaching profession you are likely in for a shock. Unlike your own children, your students are likely to see your instructions as a rude interruption in their social calendars and will do all they can to resist you at every turn. Your pleas for compliance, your begging them to do this for their own good, will go completely unheeded and unappreciated. No matter how well meaning your intentions, you will be thrown a gauntlet you must accept.

In many ways, substitutes have it easy over the teachers they replace. They don’t have the endless meetings, the planning, the form filling, or the parent meetings. But in another way they are at a serious disadvantage. Every student knows that in a day, or at most a week, the sub will be gone and may never be seen or heard from again. For that reason they feel free to take advantage of the situation and do as they please. (Many of you will remember this from your own school days.) Maintaining classroom discipline can, therefore, become a monumental challenge. The only bright spot to this scenario is that if you can master classroom discipline as a sub, transitioning those skills to a full time position will be a breeze.

So what is a sub to do? Here are some simple strategies to help you get and maintain classroom discipline:

  • Know the discipline procedures for your school board: I hate giving out referrals but there are times when it is necessary. The other day I gave one to a young lady who had gone out of her way to earn it and sent her to the office with it. She was back ten minutes later as insolent as ever and nothing more was done. I suspected, and later confirmed, that she never made it to the office with the form; she trashed it. In discussing the incident with the guidance counselor I learned to important points: 1) never send the referral with the person who is being referred, and 2) send the referrals to the dean’s office not the front office. My mistake, I’ll know better nest time.
  • Get students on task as soon as possible: One of the teachers I worked for had an assignment on the board that she called a “bell ringer.” It was an assignment that could be completed in about five minutes that kept the students bust while I took role. I was amazed at how effective it was and made it a regular part of my routine. If the teacher doesn’t have a bell ringer, I bring one of my own. Truth is, one of the most important things you can do to maintain class discipline is to get students on task early and keep them there through the entire class.
  • Never lose your cool: I was standing outside a classroom the other day when I could hear a teacher down the hall yelling, “What is your name, young man?” again and again. The tone of his voice told me this teacher was exasperated and everyone in the hall knew it. I couldn’t see the teacher but a could see students that were not far from the scene. It was as if you could see them losing respect for this teacher. Never, never, never ever do this. You are the professional and if you can’t maintain discipline over yourself, you will never get it from your students. Promise yourself now that you will never raise your voice, and then keep that promise. Yes, there will be times when you need to get everyone’s attention and for those times I carry a secret weapon: a coach’s whistle. Kids come preprogrammed to respond to a whistle and a short blast nearly always does the trick.
  • Bring filler material: Most school boards require teachers to prepare lesson plans in advance, so you should have instructions when you arrive. However, the plans don’t always fit the time allotted. Look online and you will find hundreds, if not thousands, of sources of word searches, mazes, games, puzzles and more. Having a number of these handy, arranged by grade level and the amount of time required to complete them can go a long way toward making you look like a pro.
  • Whatever you do, don’t get discouraged: I was in a class the other day where the teacher had mounted a poster of a little boy holding a baseball bat and standing in a major league ball park. Beneath the photo were the words, “Remember, no matter how good someone is now, they were once a rookie, just like you.” Those words are as true for teachers and substitutes as they are for any other profession. It takes time to master your craft and until you do, there will be days that will test you to the core.

Posted by on April 24, 2013 in Teaching as a Profession


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Published at Last!

Book Cover

Book Cover

I finally did it! After months of research and planning and many weeks of writing and editing, I have finally published my first book: The Substitute Teacher‘s Toolkit. In it I tell my story of woe. Well, I tell about a disastrous week I had at the middle school level shortly after I got started. I went into that week full of confidence that I knew how to handle kids, and came out thinking I had a great deal to learn.

My wife, a professor of nursing, has a real passion for middle school kids. You can’t help but feel sorry for the little rapscallions as they struggle with the vagaries of puberty while trying to look cool in the process. She begged me not to abandon them entirely as good role models were in very short supply. I took her advice, though I did lay low, mostly at the elementary school level, for a couple of months as I worked on developing the skills I needed to manage a classroom.

What I learned was astonishing. There are a ton of resources out their for teachers and subs alike. There are a lot of people who understand the challenges of teaching and they offer a vast variety of tools to assist. Corporations, too, understand the importance of a well educated workforce and they frequently offer great resources as well. And the best news is that a great many of these resources are offered free of charge.

It is now possible to gather the training and resources you need to be a very successful substitute, online and at a very reasonable price. Unlike me, you can enter the classroom looking like a professional who knows what they are doing. You can avoid many of the mistakes I made and make a great impression on the kids you teach as well as the administrators you serve. If you are hoping to work full time as a teacher, this is essential. If you just want to be a better sub, this will point you to many thousands of resources that are available to help you do your job with style. Please, check it out at the Amazon store here.

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Posted by on April 5, 2013 in Free Resources


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Sub Advice from the High School Humor Blog

Just ran across this very funny posting from the High School Humor Blog in which students supposedly give ‘advice’ to substitute teachers. Some of the advice is very questionable, but some is downright hysterical. For instance:

7) Ebay is your friend. Warn students that anyone leaving the class must leave behind their phone, and that anyone gone for more than five minutes can retrieve their phone from the ‘electronics’ section of Ebay.  If a teen tells you that they don’t have a phone, see “Discipline”, because there is no who teen doesn’t have a phone.

If you need a good laugh today, check out this very clever posting here.


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Posted by on April 1, 2013 in Humor


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Bill passes making administrators substitute teach

Administrators in the classroom? That’s a sight the folks in West Virginia will be seeing in the very near future. A recent bill passed the Senate requiring administrators to spend at least three days each year working as substitute teachers. Senator Larry Edgell, the bill’s sponsor, said he thought it was important for administrators to see the effects of their policy decisions played out in the classroom.

It’s hard not to applaud such thinking. The law of unintended consequences dictates that even the most well intentioned policies can have very negative, though unanticipated, consequences. These consequences are often compounded by the fact that policies, once enacted, are nearly impossible to revoke. We can all hope that putting administrators will heighten their sensitivity to the needs and challenges that teachers, and subs, face every day.

The irony here is that it is a state government that is imposing this requirement. They are often as guilty, if not more so, of putting things into policy with far reaching unintended consequences that are carved in stone so permanent that it takes an act of God to alter it. Still, that didn’t prevent them from passing the bill, 33-4 in favor.

See the original article here.

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Posted by on March 31, 2013 in Policy


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