The world of substitute teaching

Having now completed my B.Ed at the University of Regina and having recently obtained my teaching certificate, this past week I started substitute teaching with Regina Public Schools. While I do have a full-time teaching position with Regina Public starting in the fall, I wanted to gain some teaching experience on the sub-list and work at different schools during May and June. This week I had great experiences subbing at both Sheldon and Scott Collegiate. At both schools I was subbing in the physical education department but they were very different experiences and that is what I enjoy about subbing. The opportunity to see what is being done at various schools and how certain programs are run is a great opportunity.

As a newcomer to the world of substitute teaching I have been wondering about a few things like the expectations for substitute teachers and ways to ensure a successful subbing experience. I’m looking for advice on how I can make the most of my time as a substitute teacher…

I realize there are the basic duties such as teaching what the teacher has stated, ensuring the class is on task, leaving notes stating what you did and also informing the teacher of any behavioral issues. But I would like to know what teachers consider to be a good substitute teacher… I would greatly appreciate comments regarding the following questions.

What are your expectations for a substitute teacher?

What steps can a substitute teacher take to make sure things go smoothly?

What type of feedback do you like to receive from substitute teachers?

What is your advice for substitute teachers?

Here’s a fairly basic but useful link about substitute teaching – click here


5 responses to “The world of substitute teaching

  1. First of all, congratulations to you Jordan! It’s an exciting time to be fresh out of your B.Ed. and entering the world of teaching!

    I would say that a ‘successful’ substitute experience is two-fold: the permanent teacher needs to leave detailed enough plans (which sometimes doesn’t always happen due to last-minute circumstances) and the substitute does their best to follow the lesson left behind.

    From your standpoint, I’d say that you would be well served to have a couple quick “just in case” activities (or games, if you’re in PE) to fall back on in case you’re thrust unsupported into the classroom. 89 minutes with 17 year olds can be a loooong time if there’s no clear activity for the class 🙂

    For the times when I was able to leave detailed plans for my sub, I LOVED it when they accomplished what I asked them to do, left small notes (ex: if there was something that they gave more time for because of questions, etc.) and essentially supported my plan for the day. My worst experience? When a sub basically told them that what I was teaching them was incorrect and that if they wanted to learn the REAL way to write an essay, they should ask her. Obviously there was a method to my madness and to explain the context to that sub would have taken hours. I’d say just trust that the classroom teacher has a plan for the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of what they left behind!

    The only other tip I have for you is to expect some behaviour issues, but just be firm and consistent in your reaction to them (like any good ‘regular’ teacher). Don’t be afraid to ask for help/support from nearby teachers. They’re often VERY aware of the class dynamics of the students you’re facing and can fill you in on important background details if an issue erupts.

    I’ve now rambled on for what feels like a novel, so I’ll wrap it up there. Congrats again and welcome to the teaching world! 🙂

  2. Hi Jordan,
    Congratulations for having a job for the fall. That is terrific and speaks well of your skills. There are not a lot of graduates who are in your position. I think it is a terrific idea to sub now. Besides the money, you can watch the classrooms you go into for ideas that you will be able to use this fall.
    My comments are from a primary perspective (I teach grade one), but I think the principles can apply to any grade.
    I appreciate substitute teachers who do all the things you mentioned in your post. I especially appreciate my substitute teachers mentioning in the sub notes any students who have been especially helpful or especially unhelpful. I want to be able to talk to both of those students when I return.
    I really hate walking into my classroom after a day or two away and finding the classroom in a mess. All teachers have a different level of comfort with “mess”, but I expect to have things the way that I left them. If I am not ill, I usually take extra time before I leave to make sure that everything is orderly for the teacher coming in and I would appreciate the same from that teacher. If I spend time tidying up before I begin getting ready for the day, we are not off to a good start.
    I also like a substitute teacher to finish up things that are started. The length of time it takes a class to complete something varies. I would far rather that the sub finish one thing completely, and say that they did not have time for the second activity, than have to finish off two activities the next day.
    This is becoming something of a vent, so I will stop. Again, congrats, and good luck in the fall.

  3. Along with Vanessa, I too would like to offer my congratulations to entering the world of eduction, especially substitute teaching. Each day is an adventure!

    Some things that I have found helpful in making the substitute teaching day go more smoothly is to arrive 20 minutes early so you have time to read through the lesson plan and prepare a starter activity.

    Starter activities are five minute activities that students can work on individually at the start of class. To show that I was a professional and knew what I was doing, I would greet the students at the door each day and direct them to a starter activity that I had written on the board. While the students were working on this, I would then take roll and quietly as I could, then lead them directly into the first activity.

    To keep students on task and working I would constantly walk around the room and recognize students who were working diligently. Because I wanted students to stay on task, I also had fill in activities available for the students who finished early. These activities were more fun and challenging so it was a reward to get to work on them. I found each of these strategies extremely helpful in getting and keeping students on task.

    When I was a high school teacher, I expected similar things to Vanessa. I always appreciated when a substitute teacher followed the lesson plan. I also appreciated some detail in a report left at the end of the day so I knew how the students behaved, etc.

    One substitute teacher instead of leaving a list of students that behaved inappropriately, she left a list of students who were on task and especially helpful. That was a fun surprise to come back to!

    I am impressed that you are looking to improve yourself as a substitute teacher. We need more like you!

    I hope these suggestions are helpful. Good luck!!

  4. Congratulations on your new teaching position! Your first few years have such a unique energy- you’re going to have a great time!

    I am always grateful when I have a sub who is organized, follows the lesson plans, and interacts with the students well.

    My favorite subs have left me detailed notes about what happened in class- who was absent, how students worked on activities, any anomalies, and who was really helpful. The more information I have, the better I am prepared to teach the next day. Also, younger students (elementary and middle) want feedback on how they behaved. Not only do I want to speak to the students who made poor choices that day, but also I want to thank and compliment those students who were helpful and made good choices.

    Interacting with the students in an appropriate manner is also important. The worst subs- and they are few- completely ignore the students. They tell students what the activities are (on good days) and then do their own thing. Those are the days when fights break out or students find themselves in other mischeif. On the other hand, I’ve had a sub or two that wanted to be best friends with the students- which equally led to mischief. The best subs that have watched my classes were respectful and engaging with the students and able to strike up a raport, while maintaining an orderly atmosphere and helping students accomplish the tasks at hand.

    Try to follow the lesson plan and try not to teach outside of it. We have reasons why we sequence information and skills.

    Honestely, we appreciate how difficult it is to step into someone else’s classroom- you have to learn all the rules and procedures while trying to manage the students. At the end of the day, if the students worked with the material and behaved appropriately I’m a very happy person.

    Good luck!! There’s a lot to manage, but teaching is a lot of fun!

  5. What a great request! On-call teachers and fulltime teachers can have a love hate relationship. Each hopes and aspires to be professional and fair yet they also can be awkward forces. If a teacher leaves a good prep filling in is usually easy but those daybooks are often not practical. A TOC needs to be prepared for sone filling in if suitable content while attempting to hit the suggested goals for the day. Leaving good notes helps the tchr to resolve shortfalls if any. A skilled, organized and flexible sub tchr is very important to a school because they can get known and trust built makes lessons more meaningful. Good luck.
    Al Smith Kelowna Bc

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