10 Tips for Substitute Teachers

Lately I’ve been overwhelmed with work, which has kept me from posting as often as I should. But I do have something interesting to share. I’ve been substitute teaching at some local high schools, and, contrary to the popular consensus, I think it’s fun!

I go by “Ms. G.” The kids love me. Every time they see me in the classroom, they shout, “YES! What’s up Ms. G.!!” I’m the cool sub! I basically let them do whatever they want, so long as they’re quiet. Having recently been in school myself, I know how awful it is when a sub comes in and ends up being more restrictive than your everyday teacher.

I subbed for a womens chorus class recently, and being a musician myself, I decided to lead the kids in some songs. They loved it. First I taught them a 17th century round I learned in in college, which they LOVED. Then I let the girls have a Disney Princess Sing-Along, and they were so excited! They said it was the best chorus class they’d ever had.

I’ve had several kids beg me to be their regular teacher, and I even got invited to a high school party. It was funny- my first high school party invitation and I’m not even in high school anymore. Some say that youth is a big set-back to controlling a classroom, because if you look like one of the kids, they won’t respect you. In my opinion, I think my age helps me. Being close to the same age, I know how to make learning fun for them.

It occured to me that many other subs are not enjoying the same ease and respect that I am, so I decided to write this post as a way to help them. My experience is with high school students, but perhaps some of these ideas apply to other grades as well. Here are some tips for having a pleasant experience with the kids:

1. Forget about seating charts. Don’t try to enforce seating rules. Let them sit where they want, but don’t say that out loud. Just let them be. If they get out of hand, then you can move people around. But show them some respect up front, and they’re more likely to respect you in return.

2. Put their assignment on the board. If it’s not being collected, respect their option to do if for homework instead. Kids have a lot of things to do at once, and if they’d rather spend the period cramming for their upcoming history test, let them. You’re not their teacher, so it’s ok.

3. If they need to get a book out of their locker or use the bathroom, let them. My sister had an awful experience once where a sub would not let her get the book for the assignment, and she ended up having loads of homework as a result. That sub ruined her day.

4. If something is being collected, let them know up front, and they’re more likely to do it. Tell them it’s hard and it will take the whole period if you really want them to get to work.

5. Don’t be too picky about talking. If there’s nothing serious happening in the classroom, don’t make them be silent. It’s a battle you’re not going to win without detentions, demerits, and shouting, and no one likes to do that.

6. If the noise starts to get out of hand, just ask them to keep it down. Tell them that you don’t want the nextdoor teachers to complain. They’ll understand, though you may have to do this more than once.

7. Begin the class with a bit about yourself. Kids are curious, and they’ll like you better if you’re more personable in the beginning. I once started a French class saying, “Hello everyone. My name is Ms. G—, but you can call me Ms. G. See my name? What language is that? Yes, you’re right, it’s Italian. I’m Italian. I speak Italian. I also speak Spanish. I do not, however, speak French. So I’m sorry but I won’t be able to help, but you can ask a classmate if you have questions.” Instantly their curiousity was sparked and they asked me a few more academic-related questions about myself, and everyone had a great time.

8. Kids like good story tellers. If you know something interesting about the material they’re learning, share it! They actually like learning interesting things from people that seem to maybe know a bit more than their regular teachers.

9. If the plan seems ridiculous, don’t stick to the plan. In other words, sometimes teachers assign busy work for students while they’re out of town. As long as its not being collected, you can let them do it for homework, and do something more fun during the class period. This doesn’t always work, and you have to be careful. But sometimes, especially last period on a Friday, it’s a lifesaver.

10. Remember, kids are people too. No matter how bad your day has been, treat the kids they way you would like to be treated. Remember also, that you have a disadvantage going in, as their experience with subs has usually been bad. Don’t try to be the lord of the classroom. Just be yourself and have fun.

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