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Get a Teaching Job: Substitute Teacher Survival Tips

Janelle Cox


Throughout the years, the perception of a substitute teacher has not really changed much at all. If you remember back when you were in school, you may recall trying to get away with anything, and everything you can. Today, students are still trying to provoke, take advantage, and get away with anything they can. The first step to survive as a substitute teacher is to be assertive, and acknowledge that you, too, are a certified teacher and are there to help them learn.

Here are a few more tips to help you survive as a substitute teacher:

Always be Prepared

I will never forget my mentor teacher telling me, "The second you step into the classroom will set the tone for the rest of the day." If you enter the class as a pushover, the students will eat you alive. If you enter the class and get the students under control right away, you will be just fine. Introduce yourself; make sure to acknowledge the fact that you are not their regular teacher, and tell them your rules for the day. Keep it simple and straight to the point. Be prepared with a folder of activities just in case the classroom teacher did not have time to leave you a lesson plan. Create a "Sub Tub" that includes worksheets, games, and classroom supplies for all grade levels.

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Do Your Homework

When applying to school districts for a substitute teaching job, make sure you do your homework. Find out as much as possible about the district, teachers, and school policies. The more you are prepared, the more you will feel confident about your teaching abilities.

Constantly be Professional

Dress appropriately and act appropriately. When you arrive at school be friendly, and talk to everyone. You main goal as a substitute teacher is to get noticed so you can get a teaching job. If a situation arises in the classroom or with another teacher make sure to maintain your composure. The way you dress, and act is a direct reflection on you.

Be Flexible

You may arrive at school and find your teaching placement has been changed from 5th grade to kindergarten. Don't sweat it: When you are flexible the district will take notice, and you will be the one that gets all of those sub jobs. Remember, if you have that "Sub Tub" that includes activities for all grade levels you have nothing to worry about.

Do Not Let them See You Sweat!

The worst thing that a substitute teacher can do is allow the students to see them flustered. Once students see you lost control, it's all downhill from there. If you happen to end a lesson a few minutes early and not sure what to do, try one of these ideas:

  • Play "Please Stand Up": Have all the students sit at their seats and if they think you are talking about them, they stand up. For example, say "This person has brown hair." So all of the students with brown hair will stand up. Next, say, "This person has brown hair and blue eyes." So the students who have brown hair and blue eyes would remain standing and the others would sit down. You continue this game until only one person is standing.
  • Read a Book: The easiest thing you can do is read a story. If you still have time left over after the story, have students draw a picture of their favorite character or part from the book.
  • Do Homework: Students will love the opportunity to get their homework done early. Not to mention they will love you for it!
  • Free Time: Another class favorite is free time. If you have five or ten minutes to share, allow students to spend that time doing whatever their little heart desires.

Do you have tips to help you survive as a substitute teacher that you would like to share? Please share with us in the comment section.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who draws on her 15 years of professional experience in the education system. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Guide to Elementary Education for, where she provides educational information and lesson plans for teachers across the United States.

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