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10 Secrets I Learned While Substitute Teaching

Janelle Cox

Substitute teaching can be quite a challenging job, especially if you are a new teacher. If you think about it, substitute teaching is your first real experience all on your own with a classroom full of students, so of course it’s going to be scary. To help ease some of your angst, here are ten secrets that I learned while substitute teaching.

1. Arrive Early when Substitute Teaching

When you arrive early, a lot of things happen. First, you are showing the principal (and the school staff) that you are ready to work, and that you are taking the job seriously. Second, you are giving yourself a few extra minutes to get prepared for a long and hectic day. You must think of substitute teaching like an interview. Each time that you enter the school, everyone is watching you to see how you will do. If they like what they see then they will talk, which means you have a better chance of getting a job there.

2. Have Confidence

Confidence is the single best thing that you can have when you are a substitute teacher. You are essentially a stranger to the children, and when you enter the classroom and demand respect, the students will respect that. If you enter the classroom as a pushover, the students will notice and you will not have a very good day. Enter the classroom with your head held high and with a backbone, and your day will go smoothly.

3. Bring a “Bag of Tricks”

Every substitute teacher must be prepared for the unexpected. Not every teacher that you substitute for will have detailed lesson plans for you to follow. This means that it is up to you to have activities that will last all day long for the students. Sure, you can ask the teacher next store what they are doing, but there will come a time when you will need to have a things pre-planned. This is where the “Bag of tricks” comes into play. Have worksheets, puzzles, games, and books ready to go.

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4. Break the Ice, Quick

You are an unfamiliar face to the students, so it is a must that you break the ice as soon as the students enter the classroom. Just as you would play getting-to-know you games on the first day of school, do the same on your first day of school. This will help you get to know the students names, as well as help the students get to know you better.

5. Eat in the Faculty Lounge

One thing that I always did when I first started substitute teaching was to eat in the classroom. The reason I did this was because I was afraid to be the “Kid” that didn’t have anyone to sit with or talk to in the faculty lounge. I quickly learned that all of the other substitutes that were getting jobs in the school ate in the faculty lounge, so I figured there had to be something to it. So I mustered up the confidence and ate in the lounge with the other teachers. I must say that you make a lot of connections when you eat with the other teachers.

6. Have the Ability to be Flexible

You need to have the ability to be flexible. Things will happen throughout the day and you have to be able to just go with it. Sometimes the school will need you to go to another classroom or a fire drill will disrupt your lesson or it will rain when you are supposed to be outside for recess. Things happen and you must be able to just go with it and not let it affect you.

7. Keep Detailed Notes

Write down everything for the classroom teacher, from when “Joey” disrupted the whole class to how your recess time got rained out. The teacher will want to know what happened from your point of view because when they get back the students will tell them everything. It is better that it came from an adult then from a child.

8. Write a Thank-You Note

If you ever want to work as a substitute again then you need to get your name out there. One way of doing so is to write a thank-you note to the teacher in addition to your detailed note of where you left of in a lesson or what happened throughout the day. A thank-you note with your contact information is a great way to keep getting jobs.

9. Bring Food and Extra Clothing

Always have a bottle of water, some food and an extra layer of clothing. You will get hungry throughout the day and there is a very good chance that you will get cold too. It’s always best to be extra prepared with a few snacks and an extra jacket.

10. Don’t Stress

Easier said than done, right? Teaching can be a hard enough job as it is, but being a substitute can be even harder because it takes time to gain respect from the children. You must do things that will help you not get stressed in the first place. Go into your day in a positive state of mind, take a few minutes while the students are at lunch to meditate, or take a quite walk around the school when the kids are somewhere else. Always remember that they day will eventually come to an end.

Do you have any tips or secrets for substitute teachers? Please leave your tips in the comment section below, we would love to hear your ideas.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for, as well as a contributing writer to and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators.

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