Strange New Teacher

May 5, 2008

15 Lessons I learned as a Substitute Teacher

Filed under: Uncategorized — strangenewteacher @ 4:12 pm

As a spankin’-new blogger looking to improve my blog, I have joined Joel’s Blog Revolution. Today’s assignment: use a comprehensive list when discussing great content. Here it goes.

For three horrific months after I graduated college, I served as a substitute teacher for a nearby “up and coming” school district. I subbed for the middle and high schools in the district and learned a lot from the experience. I would venture to say it was a 50/50 job — half positive, half negative. The good days were really good where students would follow my directions and respect me as a human being. But the bad days … whew, they were really bad. From dirty lying teachers to snotty kids threatening me in front of the class, bad days really sucked. 

Those bad days, though, really taught me a thing or two about the way I want to run my classroom. I have compiled a list of lessons I learned as a sub to remind me of how I want to behave as a teacher when I have a sub fill in for me.

1. Your classroom management skills are directly correlated to your  students’ behavior when you’re out of the room.

2. Create a thorough sub folder and store school schedules, school procedures, seating charts, rosters, lunch procedures, the name of a helpful teacher nearby, emergency procedures, appropriate work to keep students accountable for the day, and anything else you deem important. The information you provide is a sub’s lifeline.

3. Don’t assume you’re getting a seasoned sub. Treat every sub like it’s his/her first day (in your district, school, or classroom). Don’t be condescending, of course; subs aren’t stupid and don’t enjoy being treated as such. But you should make sure you inform your sub of the important stuff. See #2. If you don’t, who will?

4. Make sure you assign work that will keep your students accountable for the day. A sub will not be able to easily pull off a silent reading day, nor will he/she successfully manage to get students to complete any work they know you just pulled out of your butt.

5. It’s best to instill the fear of God in your students before you’re absent. Students who know their teacher means business are less likely to misbehave for a sub. They will fear having the sub record their names, because they know you will deal with them appropriately when you return.

6. Please be honest when requesting a sub. Don’t say you teach 6th grade language arts when you really teach all-boys 8th grade langauge arts. Your very young female sub will hate you forever. True story.

7. If you need a sub because you are taking some kids on a field trip, and you don’t intend to take over when you return, don’t say you will. All the sub’s credibility goes to crap when the students expect you at the end of the day, only to see you run in the classroom to lock your desk and dart back out. Your sub will hate you forever. True Story.

8. If you don’t want kids to play computer games all period, don’t have your students meet in the computer lab.

9. If first period is the class from hell, don’t say they’re a great group of kids. Your sub will think you are a dirty liar and will therefore hate you forever.

10. Follow through. If a sub reports student misbehavior, be consistant in discipline.

11. Find a teacher who is willing to check in on your sub before school starts, in the middle of the day, and at the end of the day. It’s no fun to feel like you are alone and nobody cares about you.

12. One teacher addressed me as Ms. StrangeNewTeacher on her sub plans instead of just calling me “sub”. It made me feel respected and set the pace for a great day. I will love that teacher forever.

13. If you allow students to listen to their ipods in class, please don’t tell the sub they’re not allowed. Your students will destroy the sub, and the sub will hate you forever. True story.

14. If you are at school and notice a sub having a difficult time, offer some help. I know you are busy, and you have a class full of kids yourself, but a little charity goes a long way. The sub’s students are most likely way more misbehaved than yours. The sub will love you forever. If nothing else, don’t stand in a circle with your teacher friends and laugh at the sub. I guarantee you the sub will hate you forever.

15. If you don’t respect substitute teachers and their job, then you cannot expect your students to respect the sub.

Bottom line — if your school is anything like the schools I subbed at, subs are more valuable than gold. Keep your subs happy, and they will make your life easier. If your subs love you forever, you will not have an issue getting one to fill in for you. If your subs hate you forever, you may find yourself sub-less and therefore at school when you have a 105 fever. Also, subs talk to each other. If one sub thinks you’re a dirty liar, all the other subs will soon know.




  1. I sent this to every teacher I know. Good stuff.

    Comment by Linda — May 6, 2008 @ 5:46 am

  2. Awesome list here! Thanks for the link, and also for the incredible pointers. I do a lot of the “instill the fear of God” stuff, but not as much of the sub folder. Most of the time I miss, another band director is there to cover my classes, though…

    Comment by Joel — May 9, 2008 @ 9:21 pm

  3. Joel — thanks for the compliment. I am trying to take your advice to heart over here. I’m glad you liked the post.

    Comment by strangenewteacher — May 10, 2008 @ 1:47 am

  4. Great list! I was pointed her from So You Want to Teach and will be returning. Numbers 8 and 13 really ring true for me.

    Comment by Rebecca — May 13, 2008 @ 1:30 pm

  5. At a couple of the schools where I teach, there are certain subs who get called back regularly because both parties respect each other. The sub enjoys the school and knows what to expect, and the school knows and respect the sub. I’m thinking of one woman in particular who is one school’s “first call sub.” She is at the school probably 3-4 days a week or more. I would advise anyone who plans to sub regularly to find ways to demonstrate to the school office staff and the other teachers that they are worthy of another day of work.

    Comment by Stengel99 — May 17, 2008 @ 10:00 pm

  6. I just had my first ever sub job today. In truth it was a great day and a the teachers helped me out, but this list is something want to keep in my folder. Its great. Thanks for sharing with us all.

    Comment by Bndonaldson — May 7, 2010 @ 11:27 pm

  7. […] 15 Lessons I learned as a Substitute Teacher […]

    Pingback by The Blog Revolution On Hold | SoYouWantToTeach.Com — July 2, 2010 @ 4:58 am

  8. subs need more respect overall. higher pay would help also. it’s ridiculous what most districts get away with paying substitute teachers.

    Comment by subgirl — February 16, 2012 @ 2:44 am

  9. Sooo true.

    Comment by Valerie Campbell Ackroyd — December 4, 2012 @ 5:52 am

  10. These are great! As a long time sub and hopeful future teacher these are, and will be, invaluable. I have been through some if these scenerios, so I can definitely attest to their validity. Keep me in the loop in regards to future truisms, helpful hints, etc. I will welcome them all!

    Comment by Lori Leon — May 18, 2013 @ 2:13 am

  11. Number 5 is the most important! Your students have to know that you will follow up on the bad behavior they display in class. Otherwise you’re gonna have a heck of a time getting someone to cover your class.

    PS-check out the link below. It’s a cartoon about subbing. I think you might appreciate it.

    Comment by Blackboard Daze — June 10, 2013 @ 12:37 am

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  13. As a 2nd yr sub, I can pretty much guarantee I will be called in when there are events that add an extra layer of confusion and stress: Fire/earthquake drill, assembly, dress up as your favorite character day, school spirit day, school-wide performance, parent day, Halloween activity rotations and parade, gingerbread house building or cookie baking. It is so helpful to get the call the evening before so I can preview the school’s calendar, the teacher’s website and try to connect with the teacher. Morning calls are so stressful – teachers take note; the longer you delay calling in for a sub (e.g. waiting until 7:30 am and then making the decision – true story for many of us) will stress out the sub assigned to your classroom. I have received calls at 7:50 am for 8:40 am start – how is that effective for anybody?

    Comment by Moms-the-Word — October 14, 2013 @ 4:39 pm

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    Comment by DB Vehicle Electrics — April 12, 2014 @ 1:16 pm

  15. As a current substitute teacher I whole-heartedly agree with your post about the way that students and other teachers treat substitutes, and your list of guidlines for how teachers should write up their lesson plans for substitute teachers and prepare their students ahead of time. Many times, I have substitute taught in classrooms where middle school and high school students have treated me like I wasn’t a human being; they were rude, willfully defiant, and just plain little jerks. Some teachers have left their classroom such a mess, I had to go on a lesson plan hunt just to find their lesson plans and supporting materials to teach with. I hate it when teachers don’t prep their students behavior expectations ahead of time. Being a substitute teacher is one of the hardest jobs there is. At least I think so.

    Comment by Seasoned Substitute Teacher — April 1, 2016 @ 8:45 pm

  16. Everything is right on!!! I have experienced all of the above including being told, “you cannot use the teacher’s lounge, you have to use the microwave in the janitor’s closet. I have also been told that since teacher did not leave a lesson plan and left a very questionable movie that I was , “keeper of the zoo” and could not call the office for help. On the other side of the coin, I have been in schools where they treat subs with kindness and respect. I have been told that when students act up, there will be consequences and it is done!

    Comment by Momof2 — April 16, 2016 @ 9:35 pm

  17. Please read my Facebook Page “Not Just A Substitute” .

    Comment by Beryl Robinson — May 25, 2016 @ 8:27 pm

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