by Harry and Rosemary Wong
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This article was printed from Teachers.Net Gazette,
located at http://teachers.net.
The Effective Substitute Teacher
As soon as the March Gazette column was posted, the letters of anguish from substitute teachers began to arrive. "What am I to do as a substitute teacher when, as often happens, I find that the regular teacher has not left any instructions? The teachers like Melissa Pantoja with her 'Daily Class Routine for the Substitute' http://teachers.net/gazette/MAR03/wong.html are rare. When I walk into a classroom where the children are responsible and well behaved, I look up, smile and say, 'Thank you.'
"Most of the time, I walk into a classroom and within a few seconds I know that I am in for a trying day. I look up, grimace, and say, 'Why are you punishing me today?'"
On any given day, approximately 274,000 substitute teachers serve in this country's classrooms. By the time a student graduates from high school, that person will have spent the equivalent of a full year being taught by a substitute. The potential of a substitute is often wasted because many districts do not have any form of a training program for these teachers, just as they have no training program for their new teachers.
But, the reality is that you are a substitute TEACHER, something you have chosen to do. So,
- First of all, arrive on time,which probably means at least one-half hour before the first class is scheduled to begin. You should check in with the principal or secretary and sign in on the sign-in sheet that is available at many schools.
- Second, always dress professionally.A Phoenix teacher says, "I dress to the 'T' as a substitute teacher. The kids hold the door for me. One on each side! That's pretty scary and wonderful that they are influenced so easily by appearance. My daughter's been on her job for only two weeks and she says they hold the door for her, also."
- Third, follow the teacher's lesson plan as given to you.Most all teachers are responsible and want their students to learn. You are expected to carry on with the academic program.
- Fourth, always have a backup plan.This is your way to engage students in meaningful learning activities just in case no lesson plans have been left for you.
How to Begin
As stated in The First Days of School, the most important day for a teacher is the first day of school. How a teacher begins will determine that teacher's success for the rest of the school year. Good teachers, like Melissa Pantoja, have scripted their first day of school and come prepared to start correctly
All effective classrooms have a basic set of procedures that organize and manage a classroom. To refresh your memory on this subject, please refer to Unit C, especially Chapter 20, in The First Days of School; tapes 3 and 4 in the video series, The Effective Teacher; the new CD set, How to Improve Student Achievement; or any of our past columns in www.teachers.net.
If you ascertain that the regular teacher has not left you with any semblance of procedures, then as an effective substitute you should be ready to install a basic set as soon as you take over a class. The two most important procedures are:
- how the students are to come to attention and
- what they are to do when they enter the classroom ("bellwork").
How these two procedures are taught is explained in the above resources.
Classroom management overarches everything. You should not begin teaching until the classroom has been organized, no more than you would begin a surgical procedure in an operating room until the preparations have been organized.
Prepare a SubPack
A printable version of the SubPack is available here.
A SubPack is like an emergency preparedness kit for the classroom. It should contain a variety of useful and necessary classroom supplies and materials. Check the pack at the end of every day, refill it with what is necessary, and have it by the door or in the car ready for the next day.
The contents of a SubPack can be organized into three categories:
- Personal and Professional Items
- Activity Materials
- Everyday Stuff
Personal and Professional Items
Pen, pencil, and colored (non-red) marking pen
Substitute teacher report (to leave for the permanent teacher)
District information (maps, addresses, phone numbers, policies, starting times, etc.)
A coffee mug or water bottle
A whistle (useful for P.E. and playground duty)
A small package of tissues
Snacks (granola bar, pretzels, bottled water, etc.)
An individualized Hall Pass
A small bag or coin purse for keys, driver's license, money (enough for lunch), and other essential items.
Headache medicine (for you only)
Small sewing kit with safety pins
Picture books and brainteasers
A number cube or dice for games
Copies of a 5 minute filler (or early finisher) activity
One class set of a short activity
Colored markers, pencils, and/or crayons
Labeled ball-point pens (red, blue, black)
Pencils and small pencil sharpener
Transparent and masking tape
White board markers and dry eraser
Paper clips, staples, and a small stapler
Post-it® note pads (various sizes and colors)
Lined and blank paper
Name tag materials (address labels or masking tape will work)
Professional Substitute Teacher Checklist
A checklist is provided so that you can plan, keep track of, and reflect upon your day.
A printable version of the Professional Substitute Teacher Checklist is available here.
_____ Organize several appropriate substitute teacher outfits in a section of your closet. _____ Compile a set of note cards containing pertinent information about the schools where you may be assigned. _____ Keep a note pad and pencil by the phone you will be using to answer early morning calls. _____ Answer the phone yourself. _____ Assemble a SubPack. Keep it well stocked and ready. _____ Leave early enough to arrive at school at least 30 minutes prior to the beginning of school.
Prior to Entering the Classroom
_____ Report to the administration office. _____ Ask about student passes and special procedures. _____ Ask if there will be any extra duties associated with the permanent teacher's assignment. _____ Ask about any special school-wide activities planned for the day. _____ Find out how to refer a student to the office. _____ Ask if any students have medical problems. _____ Obtain any keys that might be necessary. _____ Find out how to report students who are tardy or absent. _____ Find the locations of restrooms and the teachers' lounge. _____ Ask the names of the teachers on both sides of your classroom and if possible, introduce yourself to them.
In the Classroom Before School
_____ Enter the classroom with confidence and your SubPack. _____ Write your name (as you wish to be addressed by the students) on the board. _____ Review the expectations, or rules, if any are posted. _____ Locate the school evacuation map. _____ Read through the lesson plans left by the permanent teacher. _____ Locate the books, papers, and materials which will be needed throughout the day. _____ Study the seating charts. If you can't find any, get ready to make your own. _____ When the bell rings, stand in the doorway and greet students as they enter the classroom.
Throughout the Day
_____ Greet the students at the door and get them involved in a learning activity immediately. _____ Carry out the lesson plans and assigned duties to the best of your ability. _____ Improvise using the materials in your SubPack to fill extra time, enhance activities, or supplement sketchy lesson plans as needed. _____ Be fair and carry out the rewards and consequences you establish. _____ Be positive and respectful in your interactions with students and school personnel.
At the End of Each Class Period
_____ Make sure that all classroom sets are accounted for. _____ Challenge students to recall projects and topics they have studied that day. _____ Remind students of homework. _____ Have students straighten and clean the area around their desks.
At the End of the Day:
_____ Complete your Substitute Teacher Report and leave it for the permanent teacher. _____ Neatly organize the papers turned in by the students. _____ Close windows, turn off lights and equipment, and make sure the room is in good order before you lock the door. _____ Turn in keys and any money collected at the office. _____ Check to see if you will be needed again the next day. _____ Jot down a few notes to yourself about what was accomplished, how things went, and ways to improve.
Resources for Substitute Teachers
The SubPak and the Professional Substitute Teacher Checklist have been modified from the Substitute Teacher Handbook, which is available from
Substitute Teaching Institute
Utah State University
6516 Old Main Hall
Logan UT 84322
The Substitute Teacher Handbook, for grades K-12, is a compressive book for all substitute teachers. It includes
- how-to information for classroom management and teaching strategies,
- analysis of legal issues affecting substitutes, and
- over 100 pages of activities and lessons that can be used in a variety of classes and grades.
Additional Resources for Substitute Teachers
These resources are just a mouse click away:
Substitute Teachers' discussion chatboard at
Substitute Teachers' e-mail discussion group at
Monthly peer moderated chat meetings for Substitute Teachers on the first and third Mondays of each month, 9:00-10:00 p.m. Eastern Time in the Meeting Room at
Archived chat transcripts at
You Are the Teacher
It's inevitable that teachers will be away for the classroom. It's the wish of most classroom teachers that learning will continue to take place and that procedures will continue to operate. This can happen when the permanent teacher and the substitute teacher are both effective teachers.
You may have the label of a substitute teacher, but you have the opportunity to make a difference in the life of a child when you become the TEACHER in that classroom. Seize the day, be prepared for it, and milk each moment for the possibility of helping your students continue to grow and to learn.
Harry & Rosemary Wong products: http://harrywong.com/product
This printable version is provided for the convenience of individuals.