Substitute teaching tips

Making the most of any substitute-teaching situation

Be prepared

  • Keep appropriate substitute teaching clothes ready and prepared for last-minute calls. You could be stepping in for a middle school soccer coach, a kindergarten teacher or a high school chemistry teacher.
  • Assemble a substitute bag to serve as an emergency preparedness kit for the classroom. Personalize it to meet your needs and fit your teaching style. Include personal/professional items such as snacks, Band-Aids, disposable gloves and district information; classroom supplies such as rubber bands, markers, scissors, paper clips and name-tag materials; rewards/motivators such as stickers and stamps; and activity materials for the grade levels you are called to teach the most.

Starting your day

  • Put the students to work as soon as they enter the room.
    • Have instructions for an activity written on the board or overhead.
    • Greet students by telling them to read the directions and begin the activity.
  • Take attendance once all students are settled.
    • A good time to take attendance is about five minutes before the class finishes the activity.
  • Introduce yourself to the class.
    • State your rules and expectations.
    • Remind students that you will be giving their teacher a full report about the day.
    • Outline what students will be doing during the day or class period.
  • Finally, put the regular teacher’s plans to work!

Classroom management tips

  • Learn students’ names. If you cannot find a seating chart or were not given one, draw up your own when you take attendance.
  • Be firm but fair. It’s better to be too strict than too lenient.
  • Don’t stay seated behind the teacher’s desk. Stand up and move around the room.
  • Avoid downtime between scheduled activities. Always have something available for students to work on during transition times.
  • Have a signal for getting the students’ attention. Practice it with them before you really need it. Examples: Turn the lights on and off, raise your hand, clap four times, etc.
  • Carefully word questions and instructions to keep the whole class from talking at once. For example, instead of asking where the teacher keeps the chalk, say, “Raise your hand if you know where your teacher keeps the chalk.”

Activity ideas

  • Select a vocabulary word appropriate for the students’ grade level. Bring two students to the front of the class. Write the word on the board where they cannot see it. Call on students from the rest of the class to give one-word hints that will help the two in front guess the word. The first student to correctly guess the word stays in front to challenge the next player.
  • Have students make up definitions to unusual (but real) words. Read the real definition along with some of the ones the students have invented, and have them guess which one is correct.
  • Give each letter of the alphabet a number. Write the key on the board. Have students create messages using the numbers in place of the letters. Swap the messages and solve.
  • Using the previous idea, give the students age-appropriate math problems using student names. The students have to match numbers to each letter to solve the problems. Examples: “What is the sum of Katie’s name?” and “Multiply Jake and Alex and subtract Stephanie.”
  • Say aloud a string of simple math problems, allowing students time to compute in their heads. (For example: “2 x 2 + 4 - 1 x 5 = ?”) No pencil or paper allowed! As students figure out the answer, have them raise their hands to share with the class. Increase the speed at which you say the problems as you go along.

Transition time-fillers

Elementary:
  • Name as many states as you can.
  • Make as many new words as you can by using the letters in the word __________.
  • List a noun for every letter of the alphabet.
  • Name as many different sports as you can.
  • List the names of as many animals that start with a vowel as you can.
  • List the names of all the musical instruments you know.
  • Scramble the letters of five of your spelling words. Trade your list with someone and unscramble them.
  • Name as many different countries as you can.
  • List things that are the color ___________.
  • Name all of the cartoon characters you can.
  • Name the teachers in this school.
Secondary:
  • List the names of all the states and their capitals.
  • List as many (pick a sport) teams as you can.
  • List a famous person’s last name for every letter of the alphabet.
  • List as many countries and their capitals as you can.
  • Name a band for every letter of the alphabet.
  • List all of the nouns you see in the room.
  • List significant dates in history, and be prepared to explain their significance.
  • Name as many bodies of water as you can.
  • List your top five favorite movies.
  • List five books you’ve read, and give a brief summary of each.
  • Write what you’d spend $5,000 on if you only had one day to spend the money.
  • List as many verbs as you can that begin with the letter (pick a letter).