A Perfect Situation for a Substitute Teacher

I am now a “veteran” substitute teacher, having served my first “tour of duty” (pardon the pun, please) this school year.  This post reflects on the best practices I have seen this year and what I would consider a perfect situation in which to substitute for a classroom teacher.

Established Rules for Behavior

When classroom teachers have established rules for behavior, the day is normally a good one.  I experienced even better days, however, when the classroom teacher has established rules for behavior when there is a substitute.  Teachers who subbed before getting their own classroom are often sensitive to the needs of subs.  If you are not in that group, please consider establishing rules for when you cannot be in school.  You will make everyone a lot happier (that means the students will be happier, too, especially the ones that follow the rules no matter who is in charge).

For administrators and teachers who wish to support substitute teachers, I suggest the following.

First, establish policies regarding behavior when a substitute is covering for the classroom teacher.  One school district in which I work doubles the penalties for behavioral infractions when a sub is covering a class, for example, and that policy has eliminated many problems.

Second, train your subs about policies and procedures concerning behavior problems.  I mean a real training, not an orientation session.  Let them know when it is required that they call the office, for instance.  Too many of us were put in the classroom without a clue as to when it is required that we call the office or what behavior is considered inappropriate enough to have a child removed from class.  Although most subs have good instincts, it is still the duty of the district to train its subs well.

Here is a chart that I suggest.





  • Not following directions given by the substitute teacher
  • Sleeping in class
  • Being a class clown
  • Send the student to an established quiet area of the classroom.
  • If that does not work, send them to an established discipline area in the library.
  • Call home.


  • Verbal intimidation of anyone in the classroom
  • Not staying in one’s seat
  • Leaving the room without permission
  • Throwing small objects
  • Call security and have the student escorted from the room.
  • Administration will then decide on disciplinary disposition.
  • Call home.


  • Cursing
  • Physical intimidation of anyone in the room
  • Throwing large objects or breaking things
  • Call security and have the student escorted from the room.
  • Administration will then decide on disciplinary disposition.  (The student should be suspended.)
  • Call home.

Important Points

  1. Not only should teachers be aware of these rules, but students should be as well.  Large posters displaying a chart like the one above should be in each classroom.  I have seen such reminders before and they have worked to curtail behavior that might have become unruly.  Simply by pointing to the chart and reminding the students of the rule, the teacher was able to stop the inappropriate behavior in Level 3 and 2 situations.
  2. Subs have to follow the rules!  They cannot be allowed to let students get away with something that another sub would not.  In other words, all teachers must be consistent when it comes to enforcing the rules.
  3. Administration needs to enforce the rules; otherwise, they are useless.

Meaningful Lessons

Now that we have covered behavior and classroom management in detail – a topic which substitutes need to address anew each time they enter a classroom – let’s move on to another way teachers can make a sub’s experience in their classroom a good one.

Leave lesson plans that contain activities that will engage students in active and meaningful learning.

If you are a sub, how often have you covered for a teacher and provided students with worksheets you knew would be thrown out when the teacher returned?  I did quite often, especially at the secondary level.  At the elementary level, I found that teachers expected me to carry on with their plans and keep the students on  pace, which was great because the kids knew that what they were doing was what they’d be doing if their teacher was there.

In middle and high school, I often heard students complain that the work they did when the teacher was out was “meaningless.”  They would ask me, “The teacher’s just going to throw it out anyway, so why should I do it?”  Students are less motivated to do the work and more motivated to make the sub’s life less-than-optimal when they are not doing something relevant and meaningful.

Here are some ideas.

  1. If you know you are going to be out, make that day a test day.  Oh yes, that is a sub’s dream assignment!  No, I am serious.  Proctoring a test is easy on so many levels.  Let the sub grade the test and things are easier for you, too.
  2. Make the work count.  Use it for a classwork grade.  Ask the sub to grade the work for you and leave an answer key or rubric to make that possible.  When you get in the next day, you can easily record the grades then.  I subbed for one teacher who made the classwork worth 75 points and that motivated the students to finish the work.
  3. Make the work collaborative.  Every time a teacher has asked me to ask the kids to work independently, it has been a struggle to get the students to comply.
  4. Make the lesson FUN and relevant!  If you are going to be out and you are not going to give a test, at least leave something for the sub to do with the students that will keep them interested.  The teacher who awarded 75 points also left a great activity for me to work on with the students.  We laughed a lot that day!

These are just some suggestions I have based on my experiences this year.  Have others?  Agree or Disagree?  Post a comment!

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