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6 Tips to Help You Thrive As a Substitute Teacher

Dec 1, 2018

by Janelle Cox, Education Writer, M.A.Ed

Don't let your students' image of you as a substitute define who you are.

As a substitute teacher, you want to do your best. After all, this role is like an extended interview—if you amaze your coworkers and employers, you could get hired as a full-time classroom teacher. So whether you're there for two days or two months, you should leave feeling confident that you've done your job well! To help you be successful, here are some tips I've picked up to guide you.

1. Get There Early to Prepare

When you start a new substitute teaching assignment, arrive early so you can get acquainted with your new surroundings. Go to the teacher's mailbox and gather all the mail. Visit the teachers close to your room so you can introduce yourself. Finally, leave yourself plenty of time to look over the lesson plans and get ready for the day.

2. Get to Know Your Colleagues

From fellow teachers to the school nurse and janitor, go out of your way to greet and get acquainted with everyone. Show your colleagues that you care about the job and value your experience. Being a substitute teacher leaves the door open for full-time employment, and you never know who has the principal's ear during the hiring process. I met one of my very best friends at a school where I was working as a substitute teacher. Our friendship helped me get noticed—she was a full-time teacher—which meant I had a lot more substituting opportunities. Suffice it to say, it pays to be friendly in more ways than one!

3. Have a Backup Plan

While following the classroom teacher's plan is always your first point of action, it's wise to have your own just in case. Start by preparing a few emergency lesson plans. Having a variety of ready-to-go activities will ensure that you have something to do if a teacher doesn't leave you enough to work with. Brain teasers, puzzles, and coloring pages are just a few activities you can toss in your sub bag.

4. Make Discipline Fun

You should also develop your own discipline plan to ensure that you avoid any unnecessary trouble. I always told students that in addition to following their regular teacher's rules, they had to follow mine as well. To encourage them, I'd write something like "School is fun" on the board. If students misbehaved, I'd erase a letter from the sentence. If there were letters left at the end of the day, then we'd play a fun game.

5. Bond with Your Students

During my days as a sub, I liked to start the day by playing an icebreaker called "Two Truths and a Lie." The students (and I) would write down three sentences, two that were true and one that was false. Then we'd take turns reading the sentences aloud and guessing which was the lie. It was a fun way to learn about one another, and my students always loved it!

6. Let Your Personality Shine

Don't be afraid to get creative. When I was a substitute, I found that I provided the most value when I put my own spin on things. For example, at the end of the day, my students were used to lining up when the teacher called their class number. I decided to turn it into a game. I gave clues about a student, and if the student thought I was talking about them, they'd stand up. This would continue until there was one person standing, and that person would gather their things and head to the door. The students loved it because it was fun and different from their usual routine.


Being a substitute teacher can be overwhelming. Usually, you have only a few days to make an impression on both your students and your temporary colleagues. But as long as you're prepared and showcase your unique style, you'll definitely make a difference in your temporary classroom.

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