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How to Be a Successful Substitute Teacher

Janelle Cox

What makes a great substitute teacher?

You know that you have made it as a successful substitute teacher when you get asked to come back time and time again. The students rave about you, and by this, the real classroom teacher knows that you have done your job.

But, in order to become a successful substitute teacher, you will need to know a few things first. After that, the students will love you, you will feel comfortable in the classroom and really have a feel for the job.

First of all, you may be wondering why it’s important to be a happy and successful substitute teacher. You have to think of it as a very long job interview, one that may last for several months or even years. When you are in a school, you are surrounded by potential co-workers and employers. These people may just be the launching pad for your new job as a classroom teacher. They are the ones who can help you get that job of your dreams. If the principal sees and/or hears about how well you work with children and your colleagues, then you may just have an “In.” Here are a few more teacher-tested tips from the professional substitute teachers themselves.

Create a “SubTub”

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A “Sub tub” is a substitute teaching tub that is filled with supplies. You can either put the supplies in a carry-on tote, or purchase a plastic container. Add items such as markers, pencils, scissors, tissues, worksheets, DVDs, and more.

Have Emergency Plans Ready

Sometimes the classroom teacher will have an unexpected sick day, and while it is usually up to them to always be prepared with lesson plans for you, that is not always the case. So, you are the one that always needs to be prepared. Have a range of activities or worksheets ready to go for various grade levels. This will not only come in handy when the teacher leaves you with no plans, but will also come in handy during transition periods and at the end of the school day when you have a few minutes to spare. 

Prepare a Discipline Plan

While it’s wise to learn the classroom teacher’s discipline plan before the students enter the classroom, it’s also wise to have your own rules as well. Develop a discipline plan in advance by planning how you will introduce yourself as well as how you will handle any disruptions that may arise throughout the day. The students will realize very quickly what they can and can’t get away with. Knowing your own limits and expectations will help you set boundaries more effectively and avoid any unnecessary trouble.

Always Arrive Early

Like any new job, you should always arrive early, especially if you are unfamiliar with the school that you will be working in. When you get to school, your first stop should be the teachers’ mailbox to see what you need for the day (attendance, announcements, etc.). Your next stop should be to the teacher next store or across the hall so you can find out what’s going for the day. Your last stop should be the classroom where you can look over lesson plans and get the room ready for the day.

Eat in the Faculty Lounge

Most substitute teachers don’t feel comfortable eating in the faculty lounge because they feel like they are not “Faculty.” However, as uncomfortable as it may be, you should eat with the other teachers because this is how you network. If you don’t want to make substitute teaching your career, then you need to network with other teachers and get your name out there. Just be careful not to get involved in the any of the school gossip.

Make Friends with the Faculty

When you arrive to the school in the morning, say hello to everyone that passes you by. Introduce yourself to the secretary in the main office, all of the teachers in your wing, even the principal if you can. Not only are all of these people a great references if you need something, but they are also potential co-workers, so it’s wise to always be friendly -- that is how you get your name out there. You want people talking about you and saying really great stuff about you. You should also make a point to say goodbye to the school secretaries because they are ones who can decide what substitutes they call when they are in need of a teacher in the morning.

As a recap, if you want to be a successful substitute teacher and get your name out there so you can eventually get a classroom teaching position, then you need to:

  • Always be prepared with extra supplies.
  • Have a discipline plan ready-to-go and stick with it.
  • Arrive early and be friendly to all you meet.
  • Eat and get to know other teachers in the faculty lounge.

If you do all of these things, then you will be the teacher that everyone raves about.

Do you have any tips on how to be a successful and happy substitute teacher? If so, please leave your suggestions 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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