Tips as a Substitute Teacher

One of my jobs right now is a substitute teacher (or guest teacher as they call us here). I’ve been subbing off and on since 2016, with at least 12 months under my belt, and have done every single grade level K-12 in every single subject, plus special ed, detention, and the alternative school. So, I’d like to think I know what I’m talking about.

Here are some tips I’ve learned as a substitute teacher:

1. Have a ‘bag of tricks’.

What I generally like to have with me are games and small candies. If we finish the lesson with time to spare, I like to let them have fun. Generally, I’d do vocab guessing games or math games or random history facts games or riddles. I’ve even done Mafia/Werewolf. And candies are an extra incentive for a job well done.

2. Be honest.

Science is not my forte, so when students in science classes ask me a question I don’t know, I tell them honestly. I try my best to help them, but sometimes it’s more than I can understand. I also apologize for being bad at pronouncing/remembering names, because I am. The only time I am not honest is when they ask my age and relationship status. “I’m 1,348 and engaged to Prince Humperdink.”

3. Music.

I’m a person who needs music. It calms me down. That’s why I play instrumentals (piano) in the background. Music also helps the students focus, so win-win. Occasionally, I’ll play, as a treat, regular music that I already know is clean and school appropriate.

4. The theatre voice.

Sometimes students get too loud, so I use my acting training and project. I don’t care how loud you’re talking, I can talk louder. When they are quieter, I talk in a normal tone. Don’t be afraid to use that voice.

5. They should know respect and responsibility.

I am known to be stern or strict among those students I sub, but that’s what makes me good at my job. The students are expected to show respect to the authority in the room; I’m there to help them learn and do well. They are also expected to be responsible in doing their work, however able to do it. When a student is disrespectful, I warn them before they are punished. When a student is not doing their work, I tell them. And because I am so straight-forward, they see me as mean. But at the end of the day, they got work done so the teacher doesn’t have to worry.

6. On the flip side…

I am determined to be a respectful and responsible adult. They only gain my respect when they lost it in the first place. Every student starts with respect to them: who they are, their challenges, their quirks, etc. And I am responsible for maintaining a productive learning environment. I don’t simply give their work and call it a day, I make sure they understand what to do and help them (without giving answers).

7. Lastly, what to bring.

Don’t wear heels. Mercy me, do not wear heels. Bring food. It’s 8 full hours. Bring water. I’m a Diet Coke-holic, but I drink only water at work. It’s better for you. Bring a book. Teachers have prep and lunch to do what they need to, and that’s the time I read. Keep yourself from getting sick and bring tissues and hand sanitizer, and use liberally.

And that’s some of the many things I learned as a sub. Maybe I can help a fellow sub, or even a teacher. Maybe you can use these tips in your daily employed life. I don’t know. Your own discretion.




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