So You Want to be a Substitute Teacher, Part Two: Tips of the Trade

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Whitney M. Jashinski

In my previous post, I explained the steps leading up to your first substituting job. But you may be wondering, “What next?” As an experienced substitute teacher, I have compiled some tips to help you out on your first day filling in for another teacher.

Before the Subbing Job Begins

Tip 1: Be prepared! The night before, be sure you have the phone number and directions to the school.  Knowing where to go and how long it takes to get there is vital. If you have the school’s phone number, you will be able to call the secretary in the event of bad traffic. Leave your house with plenty of time to spare. Sometimes the teacher has posted lesson plans or instructions on Aesop. Check this before you leave, because nothing is worse than arriving five minutes before school starts with no idea what to teach.

Tip 2: Dress semi-professionally. Treat all subbing jobs like mini-interviews. This may be a district’s first impression of you, and sometimes the principal will come to see you teach. Even if you know the teachers “dress down” on Fridays, dressing semi-professionally shows that you are dedicated to your job, and gives the district one more reason to ask you to sub again, or to consider you for a full-time job.

During the Subbing Job

Tip 3: Turn your cell phone off. This is a hot button issue for a few reasons. With all the attention schools have gotten recently, substitute teachers should be prepared to dial 9-1-1 if necessary. However, some people are not very good at leaving their cell phone alone during the school day. If you “need” to be connected 24/7, you might want to leave your phone off or in the car.  A substitute checking their email, surfing the web, or playing a game on their phone sets a bad example. Avoid using your phone during the school day unless it is an emergency.

Tip 4: Know how to use the available technology. You can hardly find a classroom today that doesn’t have a computer, and many classrooms have Smart Boards and projectors. Being able to log on to the computer is important, so when you arrive at a school, ask for a username and password that you can use on the computer in the classroom. Learn to use a Smart Board or projector, as many teachers include these in their lessons.  Most schools now take attendance online, so you’ll need to learn how.

Tip 5: Be firm and communicate your expectations. Some students will try to take advantage of you because you are new. Let them know that you have specific directions from their teacher. In some cases, you can read the directions straight from the lesson plans. This shows them what their teacher expects, and lets them know that you expect the same.  It can motivate them to behave well and get their lessons finished. If you are firm with them and communicate your expectations clearly, you are showing them that you have high expectations for their learning, even though you are only there one day. They won’t say it, but they appreciate this.

Tip 6: Be up on your feet as much as possible. In addition to the health benefits of being active at work, it shows that you understand how much your presence is needed with the students. Teachers who walk amongst the students while they are working are available to answer questions, and can catch the students who are struggling before they get discouraged.

Tip 7: Take detailed notes throughout the day, and leave a letter for the teacher. This is your record of the day. If a student is uncooperative, write it down, along with any disciplinary actions taken. Make note of where you finished each lesson as well as any changes you made. At the end of the day, type up a friendly letter to the teacher. It’s an easy way to thank the teacher for the chance to sub for him or her, and detail the highs and lows of the day. Teachers appreciate knowing exactly what happened while they were gone. If the day went really well, let the teacher know you’d be happy to sub for them again.

Tip 8: Smile! This is probably the single most important tip. Students respond well to a smile; it shows them that you care.  If you smile at your students, you may also lower their affective filter, which will allow them to feel more comfortable talking, working, and learning with you. This is especially important for English learners, but all students are happier with teachers who show that they like their students. 

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One Response to So You Want to be a Substitute Teacher, Part Two: Tips of the Trade

  1. Pingback: So You Want to be a Substitute Teacher | The TESOL Compass

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