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3 Tips for Substitute Teachers on How to Earn Respect

Teacher hiding behind desk

Step out as a confident substitute teacher with these strategies.

When I was a substitute teacher, it took me a long time to figure out how to gain control of the classroom. Even though I had some experience as a student teacher, I didn't realize there was so much more to learn. I often thought back to what one of my professors said: "The best tips for substitute teachers are always going to be from the veteran teachers." She told me to watch and learn, and to take their advice with me when I was a substitute teacher, as well as when I eventually had my own classroom.

On your first day as a substitute teacher, you'll quickly realize how important, and challenging at times, it is to gain respect and control of the classroom. With the help of some wise veteran teachers, here are some strategies I've learned to be successful.

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Know You're Not a Friend

About a week into my first student teaching experience, my cooperating teacher gave me some great advice. She must have noticed that I was trying really hard to get the students to like me, so she offered her expert opinion: I wasn't there to be a friend.

As a substitute teacher, your job is to take the place of the classroom teacher, and you need to be a professional and follow the lesson plans that were left for you. Oftentimes, substitute teachers think the key to gaining control of the classroom and earning students' respect is to be a friend. But if you focus on palling around with your students, you'll end up shirking your professional duties to avoid upsetting your new friends.

Instead of worrying about whether the students liked me as a person, I decided to focus on being a likable teacher. I found that the key was to be polite and friendly while still maintaining my authority.
Further reading: 7 Tips for Substitute Teachers on How to Be Productive 

Strive to Be Their Mentor

While you may only be with the students for a short time, the best way to earn their respect is by being a mentor. I saw this firsthand when I was subbing in an urban school district and noticed that a veteran teacher in the classroom next door was always talking to her students in the hallway. When I asked how she got her students to open up, she said, "By taking two minutes out of your day to talk to the students, you're showing them you're interested in getting to know them, and when you do this, they'll respect you more."As a mentor, you can counsel students and help guide them while maintaining your authority status. Mentors can provide valuable feedback and advice, and have a major impact on a student's life. So instead of trying to be your students' friend, try to be their mentor.

Lay Your Cards on the Table

I'll never forget the time I substituted in a 6th-grade classroom and could not for the life of me get the students to listen. I thought writing my name on the board would get them to magically stop talking but they just carried on. I tried clapping to get their attention, and I politely asked them to quiet down and listen up, but nothing worked. It wasn't until a student startled the class by slamming the bathroom door that they finally quieted down. I knew I'd need a bag of tricks at my disposal before I entered the class again, so I researched and sought out veteran teachers' advice.

The most common tips for substitute teachers I had received from veteran teachers in the past, and read on teacher blogs, was to be forthcoming and give students my expectations and consequences as soon as I said "good morning." Lay all of the cards out on the table and be up-front with the class. Don't hold back; this will set the tone for the entire time that you're in the classroom. Use an authoritative voice to capture students' attention and to keep their attention as you explain your expectations for the day.
Further reading: Substitute Teacher Preparation 

Earning respect from your students doesn't have to be a difficult task. You just have to make sure you're prepared to be a role model and mentor, not a friend, as soon as you walk in the room. You also have to keep in mind that if you want the students to respect you, then you must set your expectations right from the start. When you do these things, you'll earn respect, which will help you maintain control of the classroom.