Top Tips for Being a Great Substitute Teacher


Being a substitute teacher involves lots of courage and hard work. You have to enter a new classroom full of students who are used to another teacher and his or her teaching style. In some cases, substitute teachers can step in for teachers as a “tryout” for a full-time gig.

They can become full-time teachers if and when they get a positive review from the teacher they were substituting for, and this can put even more pressure for a substitute teacher.

However, some teachers are lifetime subs or have no plans to make it full-time. They use it as an alternative teaching job to help make ends meet or they just enjoy classroom learning, but don’t have the resources to commit to a full-time job. You could also be teaching English online, and taking over where another teacher left off. This, in a way, is similar to substitute teaching.

In this article, we are going to present some helpful tips for substitute teachers that will help you “survive,” no matter what your situation is. 

These are the top tips for substitute teachers to succeed

Improve your classroom management skills

tips for substitute teacher

If you are just starting out as a substitute teacher and feel no confidence in your classroom management skills, then you better regain your confidence beforehand. Some practical classroom management tips  to help with this are including clear self-introduction before you begin teaching and having a well-prepared, structured lesson plan.

Arrive early and know your surroundings

Try to be at your new temporary workplace at least 30 minutes beforehand. You will have to find the classroom and in some cases get to know which subject you are going to teach. You also have to know the classroom rules and when you are allowed to have a lunch break. Finally, you should know how to get around the school building and where to find places such as the restrooms and cafeteria.

Have a backup lesson plan

If you cannot find the teacher’s plan for the day, ask any of the surrounding teachers for help or call the main office to ask if there are any emergency lesson plans for substitute teachers. The best option, however, would be to have your own backup plan.

Having difficulties making your lesson plan? Check out these tips and make your lesson plan more engaging.

Introduce yourself

One of the most useful substitute teaching tips is introducing yourself to your new students. A friendly welcome and explanation of who you are can break the ice in most cases. You can also tell them how you teach and which rules you typically expect your students to follow.

Move right into the lesson

After the introduction, start class right away. Your temporary students may be curious and start asking questions that are not related to the lesson, such as when their full-time teacher is coming back. Promise to answer all of those questions at the end of the lesson and try to engage the students with the lesson topic as quickly as possible.

Stick to the designated schedule

Try to follow the lesson as closely as possible and stick to the daily schedule. Hopefully, the full-time teacher has left a lesson plan that includes the lesson activities and expected results. Stick to them as closely as possible. If you are not sure about some activities, do not hesitate to ask your new students for help. If you are substituting the full-time teacher for a short time, like a couple of days, he or she will certainly be grateful when he or she can easily transition into the next lesson after returning.

Take notes on what you did

Leave a note for the full-time teacher at the end of the day. Let him or her know what you were able to accomplish during the day. If the substitute teacher plans were not available, inform him or her about what you did instead. You can also write which problems you encountered and how you dealt with them.

Use technology where you can

Find out if the classroom has any technological equipment, such as a smart board. If you have no experience with classroom technologies, browse the web for tips and tutorials that may help you. And again, you can ask the students or other teachers to help you.

Maintain control

Do not let the class take over the control. This is the toughest part. Many kids think that a lesson with a sub teacher equals no lesson at all and thus misbehave. Your task is to constantly remind them that you are in charge here and that your power is equal with the power of their full-time teacher.

Have a rewards system

A rewards system is a powerful tool of both full-time and substitute teachers. It will keep the students motivated and energized. This is one of most helpful substitute teacher tips.

Use interesting teaching strategies

Teaching strategies such as hands-on learning, cooperative learning, and engaged storytelling will make your lessons interesting and gain the attention of the students. For younger kids, you can use various classroom games and activities depending on your subject. For example, those who teach English to kids can resort to reading comprehension games or writing activities that incorporate drawing, bingo games, scavenger hunts, songs and more.

Do You Have Any Tips For Substitute Teachers?

What would you say to a substitute teacher who was taking over your class or tutoring session? Would you expect them to be able to jump right in or do you think there would be an adjustment period?

If you’ve had experience with substitute teaching or any more practical tips to help them, we want to hear about it. Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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  1. Some teachers are equipped to jump right in and others have to get a foothold first. I think experience and preparation definitely go a long way in being a successful substitute teacher. Flexibility is also key when subbing. Sometimes, things happen that you just can’t plan for!

  2. I have been a substitute teacher for 8 years. I am known by most of the students in our school. Most of the kids know me well enough by now to know that when I sub, they are going to do their lessons. They also know that I might not do things exactly the way that their teacher does it, but that is okay. Along that same line, I make it clear that they do not need to tell me how to do my job. If I have a question, I will ask them. At this point in my subbing experience, I only have to communicate that to the Kindergarten kids, the older kids already know that about me. Also, I like to have fun with the kids, but if they can’t handle the fun and get the work done…the fun leaves. They know that. They also know that I care about them! 🙂

  3. I subbed for five years elementary school to high school. Most teachers did not have a seating chart, so I made one. I would draw a simple diagram of the room on a blank sheet of paper clipped to my clipboard. As I called roll and students would raise their hand, I would quickly write down the first name (and maybe first initial of the last name) of each student on the seating chart where he/she sat. For high schools, where I had a different class every period, that meant having six or seven blank pieces of paper upon which I made a seating chart. I would have all of them ready before first period began.

    Then if a student misbehaved, I could call out their name, “John, please stop talking and get back to work,” or “Mary, please sit down.” And if the student continued to misbehave, I could write them up or leave a note for the teacher. I didn’t have to ask the student his/her name. I discovered early in my substitute teaching career that sometimes misbehaving students wouldn’t tell me their name or would tell me a false name. This also put a little bit of fear into the students, because they knew I knew their name. It took a little bit more work, and I had to get there a little bit early to make out all those blank seating charts to fill in, but it was well worth it.


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