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August 18, 2012

5 Super Substitute Teaching Tips

Written By: Brandi Jordan
Category: Career Path
X Substitute Teaching Tips

Substitute Teaching Tips

One of the most challenging teaching positions out there is that of the substitute teacher.  Sometimes discounted, these valuable teaching professionals face unique situations everyday that make their jobs both rewarding and different from a full-time teachers’.  If you are a substitute teacher, or want to explore this option for extra-income, check out the tips below to help you get through your day.

Tips for Substitute Teaching

Plenty of Rest

Most substitute teachers find out they are teaching for the day around 5am.  To be at your absolute best throughout the day, go to bed early the night before and get plenty of rest.  Even if you do not get called, at least you will be well rested for following day.


When you finally get that morning wake-up call, you will be thankful that you took the time beforehand to have your substitute bag ready to go.  Keep a bag packed with some quick and easy games, activities, and ice breakers.  You might even want to create a ring of activities, separated by grade level, that you can flip through during those down moments in the day.  As you head out the door, grab your Substitute Bag and be ready for whatever the students throw your way.

Dress for Success

Keep a comfortable, yet professional, substitute teaching outfit ready to go in your closet.  Not having to figure out what to wear can start your day off right and keep you from stressing about your assignment.  Pants, a short sleeve shirt, a light cardigan, and comfortable flats are a great option for teaching any grade.


First impressions mean a lot and if you walk into the school with a scowl on your face, chances are that people will remember you as the grouchy substitute.  Plaster a smile on your face the moment you pull into the parking lot and keep it there throughout the day.  Imagine that it is part of your wardrobe and cannot be removed until you get back in your car after the last bell rings.

Be Confident

It may be easier said than done, but remember that the class your substituting in needs you to be strong, confident, and consistent.  They will test the limits and may try to lead you astray with the rules, but your confidence will keep them on their toes.  If you are unsure and seem confused, be prepared for them to take full advantage of you.

Follow the Plan

Great teachers leave detailed plans for their substitutes, so look around for them when you arrive in the classroom.  Follow the plans and directions as closely as possible to minimize the chances of getting off track.  Be sure to jot down what you did and when, as well as how it went so that the classroom teacher can follow-up when she returns.

What are some of your best substitute teaching tips?  How long have you substituted?  Share with us below!

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  • Mo
    August 19, 2012

    Subbed for two solid years with LAUSD. Follow the teacher’s notes/plans to the T; leave teacher a note letting her know how things went and what you completed; leave notes on any behavior problems. Befriend a nearby teacher and ask questions of her/him. Make sure you know the school’s dismissal times and routines. Let kids use the bathroom and make their safety your number one priority. Never leave your classroom with students in it, even for a second. Befriend the school secretary in order to get more jobs. Keep the kids working, they get into less trouble this way. I only had one bad day subbing, once the kids started acting up there was a domino effect, it was pretty much a nightmare. I learned the teachers incentive/behavior system and subbed again in that room with no difficulty. They were threatened by their teacher with losing major privileges, which was very effective.

  • Alicia
    August 18, 2012

    I have been subbing for 5 years and became certified 2 years ago. Sub in one district if you can. Where I work, the more days you sub, the more you make. If you work 0-30, you make X amount. 60-90, you make X. 90 – 135, you make X and after that you are Step 1 for a first year teacher. Also, by staying in one district you get to know the students, teachers, and administrators. You will build up a reputation with everyone and teachers will request you. Also, if you can, attend student events like athletic games, art shows, etc. do it. This will make a difference to the students and it will show that you are interested in their lives, which they will appreciate.

  • Brian
    August 18, 2012

    I am working on year number 2 of substituting until I find a new classroom job. Smiling is so very important. I am constantly praised for always having a smile on my face. I know it gets me extra sub jobs that I may not have had before.

    I would also add to make sure you have the children clean up the room at the end of the day. Try to leave it cleaner than it was when you got there. The teacher is then happy to have to pick up a big mess and the custodians are also thrilled. I get a lot of compliments from the custodians!

    Finally, I would add bring some type of reward with you. Stickers, fun pencils, paper or regular bracelets, candy, etc. Children will work for rewards. You can do it whole class at the end of the day or do a drawing based on who was good! I then go the extra mile and if I see someone who I had subbed several times for doing a wonderful job in line for their teacher or in the lunchroom I hand them a small treat. It wins the kids over and if you win the kids over you win the teacher over!

  • Jon Spexarth
    February 26, 2012

    I just graduated in December, so I am subbing now as I look for a permanent job. These are good ideas! I can say that substituting has had an effect on my bed time – early to bed, because it “could” be early to rise! I do have a bag, but after reading this, I think I need to fill it with more tricks!

  • Shelley
    September 26, 2011

    I have been guest teaching since 2004 and LOVE it!! I even went back to college and became certified because of it. I am now a licensed teacher, but I am still guest teaching because I have been able to secure a full time position. I work in three different elementary schools and one high school in my county. I am looking forward to finding my own classroom, but until then, I will enjoy guest teaching. Thanks for the tips!!

  • Carolyn
    September 26, 2011

    Subbed 4 years, earned my credential, taught 3 years, got laid off, subbed two more. There’s lots of tips – great one is to talk to other long-time subs, but here’s my best one for starting off right. As the class is lining up outside the room or out on their mark on the playground in the morning, be there ahead of time as the first few kids begin to assemble. It’s usually three sweet little girls and you can learn their names and they will love you all day and answer questions honestly, and they’ll tell the other girls how nice you are. Meet others as they arrive to the line. Go to the end of the line. This will always be your challenge boys. Meet some of them, look for their leader, and make up something to ask him, such as, “Hey, um, when I was looking at your teacher’s plans, I couldn’t find the _______ (lined paper, reading books, etc, make something up), and I was wondering if you could show me where that is once we’re inside.” You have now personally met the gentlemen who had plans to foil your day, and have asked one of them for a favor so he feels important, and the young ones (up to about 5th grade) generally still want to please. He’ll be on your side for probably most of the day, and his followers, too. I’m not kidding, it works!

  • Jill
    September 26, 2011

    I subbed for less than a year, but one tip I have is to be flexible! Once I had accepted a job for a first grade class. When I got there, I was reading over the ten-page plans (I guess this was a tough class!) when the secretary came in and asked if I’d be willing to cover for the P.E. teacher instead. It ended up being an AWESOME day because I was willing to take a chance and be flexible!

  • Britt
    September 26, 2011

    I have been a sub for almost a year now (graduated college in December), and believe it or not, I love the diversity of having a new class almost every time I sub! The biggest thing I would say to do, is be firm in what you expect from the class, and to let them know that their behavior should be exactly the same as if their regular teacher were present. Make sure to be familiar with the district/school’s policies on discipline, rewards, etc., as you do not want to bend the rules that have already been implemented. Also, be friendly as much as you can! Although you may not remember all of the children, they sure will remember you!

  • Tanja Tlusty
    September 26, 2011

    This is my fifth year subbing. It’s always good to have a lunch prepared or semi-prepared as well as school lunches aren’t always the best.

    I always have my bag ready to go with Mad libs, stickers, erasers, and a book to read aloud.

  • Mary Ellen Frank
    September 26, 2011

    This is very good advice. I substitute taught for a number of years in K-12 classrooms and it is really a challenge. Having a bag packed with a range of activities is very helpful.

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