As teachers, we all need substitute teachers at some point. There is no way we can be in the classroom every single day all year long, no matter how much we wish we could. Even superheroes need to take a day off time and again.
That being said, having a substitute in your classroom can be daunting and a little terrifying, especially if it is someone you don't already know. The following are tips to help you help your substitute teacher succeed.
Substitute Tell-All: What we really want you to know
I've always wondered what a sub wishes they could tell me, but there never seemed to be time in the day to catch one in the hallway and ask. It's just too busy!
Thankfully, I ran across Sara Peterson, who has been a substitute teacher for quite some time, and she she was able to give me the lowdown on what she wishes we all knew about having a sub. I hope you'll learn something interesting as you read about the perspective from the other side of the table.
1. It makes a big difference when you prepare your students for a substitute teacher.
Before you even consider the need for a substitute teacher, prepare your students for a substitute teacher in the classroom. A major complaint among substitute teachers is the fact that students are not respectful to substitute teachers.
Students need to learn the expectations for behavior with a substitute teacher just like they need to learn every other expectation for behavior in your classroom. Students need to understand that your expectation is for them to treat the substitute teacher as they would you, or even better.
There should be rewards and consequences for the students in your class who can cope with this adjustment and those who cannot.
Practice and review substitute expectations with your class often. Read more about improving behavior for your sub here: 5 Reasons Your Students Misbehave for a Substitute
2. We don't really mind when your administrator checks on us.
As a guest teacher, it is so refreshing when the principal makes it a goal to stop by a classroom when they know a substitute teacher is teaching. Having an administrator stop by, introduce themselves, and thank the substitute teacher for being in the classroom goes a long way in making the substitute teacher feel appreciated and valued.
It is easy for the substitute teacher to slip in and not see other staff members throughout the day. As human beings, we all like to be acknowledged, for substitute teachers, it can make the difference between feeling supported and feeling forgotten.
You want your substitute teacher to feel supported so they will return to your class or school!
3. Please ask your teammates to be friendly...it's nice to feel supported.
Along with asking an administrator to stop by your classroom, ask them to check on the substitute for any questions or concerns about the lesson plans.
It does not take long to poke your head in the next-door classroom and make sure the lesson plans are understood, accessible, and easy to follow.
It is also nice for the sub to know they have an ally (and where to find them) if they have questions or concerns throughout the day.
4. There are little things you can do to make your substitute feel at home in your classroom.
The first thing a substitute teacher needs to do when they enter your classroom is to put down their coat, bag, and whatever other essentials they have brought along with them. Teachers have a place where they keep these essentials in their own room.
Your substitute teacher does not want to rifle through your cabinets to find a safe place for their personal items. Please leave a quick note telling your substitute where they can safely store their things for the day.
Having a place to safely keep items makes a substitute teacher much more comfortable to be in your classroom without worrying about students’ sticky fingers and curiosity at new and different personal items. It also makes a big difference when it comes to making us feel welcome.
5. Details matter! Please leave specific plans for your substitute.
Your substitute teacher needs you to leave them specific plans about what you need them to teach throughout the day. This is especially true for morning routines and daily schedules.
Please also be specific with what lessons your substitute needs to cover and if there are any special instructions they should convey to your students throughout the day.
Your substitute teacher needs to know how you do attendance, lunch count, and the scheduled times throughout the day.
Want to learn more about writing sub plans? Check out this article: How to Prep Sub Plans in 30 Minutes or Less
6. That being said, keep it concise.
You need to leave specific instructions and plans for your substitute teacher, but please do not leave a 10-page script word-for-word of what you would say to your students or how you would teach a specific lesson.
Substitute teachers have their own way of teaching and as long as they know what needs to be covered, they do not need to read verbatim your personal thoughts to the students.
In addition, we often aren't allowed to clock in and head to your classroom until students are heading in. This means we don't have time to read a novel of instructions. We need to hit the ground running.
7. Prep us for worst-case scenario by providing a school map & highlighting emergency procedures.
The great thing is you can do this once at the beginning of the year and use it again and again in your sub binder or folder.
(Hint: If you do not have a substitute binder of basic necessary knowledge for your substitute teacher, you need to set one up.)
A substitute teacher must know where they are in relation to the nearest emergency exit and the emergency procedures for whatever might come up throughout the day.
Also, if you know there is a drill planned for the day, please let your substitute include that in your plans and ask a colleague to check in to remind your sub. It really does make a difference!
8. It's absolutely okay to follow your plan book.
Many teachers believe they need to change their plans when they have a substitute scheduled. This is not true (unless specific training is required for a test or lesson). A substitute teacher is usually able to teach the same lessons that the classroom teacher has on the plan book.
Save yourself time and energy by having the substitute teach what needs to be taught next. Many teachers think that the content will be too hard for a substitute to teach or that they will not understand a lesson in the middle of a series.
Give your substitute a chance, the majority of us are used to getting plopped in the middle of lessons and helping the students understand anyway. You can always review the lessons taught with your students upon your return and help smooth things over if there are questions later.
9. Make sure you leave us backup plans.
You know your teaching style and your students’ learning styles. You usually have a pretty good idea as to how long a particular lesson will take.
Planning for that time is part of setting your substitute plans for the day. However, take into consideration the fact that your students may behave differently for the substitute teacher or your substitute teacher will get through the material quicker or slower than you would.
Plan for an extra activity or two to give your students or to continue a lesson that had to be cut short upon your return because of teaching time differences.
10. Trust your substitute.
I know we've all heard horror stories of substitutes gone rogue. However, most substitute teachers have been trained and taught in many different classrooms. For whatever reason, they choose to get up and teach different classes every day.
Remember that your sub is an expert on being a substitute teacher. They may not be an expert on your class but trust your substitute to be able to handle the day with your students.
Chances are, your substitute has some tricks up their sleeve for getting through the day and making a success of learning for themselves and your students.
The big takeaway
As teachers, substitute teachers are a necessary part of our lives. These tips and tricks will help you, your students, and other adults in your building to be ready to help the substitute teachers who walk through your doors.
By knowing what a substitute teacher needs in your sub plans and instructions, you will be better prepared to welcome a substitute teacher into your room and you will feel better about taking the time you need away from your classroom.
It is okay to leave another adult in charge the next time you need to take off your superhero cape and be a regular human for a day. You are ready.