Edutopia on Facebook
Edutopia on Twitter
Edutopia on Google+
Edutopia on Pinterest Follow Me on Pinterest
WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share
Since I'm now home sick nursing a nasty cold, I thought it would be timely to discuss the issues around subs and classroom management. How do you help subs that come into your classroom? What have you done that has "hurt" subs working with your class?

This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

Comments (38) Sign in or register to comment Subscribe to comments via RSS

Anne Baatstad's picture


I'm a new sub - I've been at it for almost 4 months now - and I LOVE it! I especially enjoy middle school, which everyone always contends is the worst. I've had some of the best and worst experiences. The best thing any teacher has done for me was to leave a short note about each student so that by the time the students came into the room, I felt like I knew who was who! To top it off, the teacher said one nice thing about each student as well as a brief description of where these students fell short (i.e., "Jimmy is sweet! Low reader but really tries!") Granted, this can't be done when there are 30 kids per class, or worse, 6 periods per day. In those situations, I've had teachers leave a list of who the helpful and reliable students are, who the problem kids are, and a revised behavioral plan to deal with those students as soon as problems arise rather than having to figure it out on my own.

Additionally, a specific sub plan with plenty of work to keep the students on task, all supplies necessary OUT and accessible, contact numbers, and a fellow teacher close by that I can rely on if I need assistance.

Last but most certainly not least, this is something that more often than not, teachers fail to provide: several disciplinary referrals! When I have a student that clearly needs to go to the office, the worst thing that can happen is to scrounge around in the teacher's desks amongst all his/her belongs (it's a very invasive feeling) in hopes of eventually finding a referral form... that may or may not be there. Meanwhile, the students see that a) you have no idea where the referrals are, and b) you're losing control of the classroom while you're preoccupied. These precious moments can dictate the rest of your day.

I too have had to sub for teachers who have either NO sub plans or sub plans that make no sense or are extremely watered down. Ugh! In those cases, it really pays to show up about 30-45 minutes early in case this does happen in order to get familiar with what the students are learning and improvise in order to make the most out of the day, not just for the sub, but for the students. I subbed for a teacher once who wanted the class to watch a video on Civil Rights. Knowing that this sadly would not stimulate their desire to focus, I watched the video before school started, wrote down some basic facts, and informed the classes that at the end of the video we would be playing "21 Questions", where the students split into teams and see which team can score the most points by answering the questions from the videos. Kids LOVE getting to write on the board, so whoever answers correctly gets to come to the board and write their points, create team names, and encourages active participation and teamwork. Best of all, they're allowed to talk! :)

Camilla Henneman's picture

Having been both a teacher and also an occasional sub has taught me a lot. I love to go into another teacher's class and see their routine, and how they set up their class. If someone comes into my class to sub who can bring something from their own skill set it can enrich my student's learning.

To set the tone for the day I like to give the students a writing activity where they envision the day and their part in it. It helps with setting up the classroom management for my sub when the students are involved in making a commitment to having a productive day.
I try to give my subs a plan with some flexibility. I have given small group projects that take students through the day researching, and preparing something that they present to each other at the end of the day and to me the next day. It is fun for the students to show off what they are learning and gives them an opportunity to go into some depth on a particular subject.

Leslie Healey's picture
Leslie Healey
British Literature (11th grade) and World Lit (12th grade) teacher

My second comment: thanks to all those who sub and commented on their experiences. Gave me some great ideas to make it easier on them.

ConsciousSmith's picture
Curriculum Developer, Developmental Studies Center

Ms Hackworth: I really appreciate your comment, because as many great suggestions as there are here, I would love to see more discussion about helping substitute teachers by preparing the students!... and by preparing them I mean something more than introducing a set of punitive and incentive measures designed to control their behavior in the teacher's absence.

I have HUGE respect for substitute teachers--I wouldn't last 5 minutes!--but if I did find myself in that situation, I think I would feel less overwhelmed in an environment wherein students have had daily practice in taking responsibility for their own learning and daily reflection on how their behavior affects others.

This discussion thread caught my attention because Caring School Community, which is being implemented as part of Louisville's CARE initiative, includes a use-anytime "planning/decision-making" class meeting dedicated to preparing for substitutes. Louisville's SEL work, actually, is featured right here in edutopia's Schools That Work series: bit.ly/EduSEL

If a strong, caring classroom community is in place, if the teacher makes her or his expectations clear, and if the students have a substantive, meaningful discussion about how they plan to work with a substitute, I believe that can go a long way towards making substitutes' lives easier.

Kenni Smith
Developmental Studies Center

Joe Teach's picture


You made an important point for teachers to leave a meaningful lesson plan. I subbed in a 4th grade class and it was obvious that the teacher did not prepare a good lesson. The teacher assigned a math page that the students already did. The students were understandably not in the mood to work the problems and I felt bad for them.

I gave the students some SUPER CHALLENGE problems that were addition and subtraction problems using numbers in the millions. The students were very excited about solving the problems!

Another idea is to tell the students a story about yourself when you were a kid. I always tell this story about when I played little league baseball and students came up to me a year later asking more about it!

Joe Teach's picture

I think it is of much benefit to have a talk with students prior to having a sub. Let them know your expectations of them and the consequences for misbehaving. When the students are mentally prepared to behave, I think most of them will do exactly that.

Mary Triplett's picture
Mary Triplett
Substitute teacher

What I find is most helpful are 2 things, class seating charts, and emergency plans if none are left. Thankfully most of my teachers leave the plans, but very few use seating charts and this causes a major problem.

Carol's picture

Hi Gene,

I am completing the paperwork to begin subbing in my local school district and I am researching examples of ways substitute teaching can lead to meaningful experiences for students and managing the classroom. Your post mentions a "bank of engaging lessons and ideas for when there are no lesson plans..." I am developing a few ideas to engage students but I would love to know if you can share some of the plans you've developed. Thanks very much.

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Manager

Hi Carol, welcome to Edutopia. It looks like Gene's post is an older one, and he may no longer be following the thread of this discussion. If you click on his profile, there's a way to send a direct message, and you may have a better chance of getting a response that way. Good luck!

Stacie's picture

I completely agree that meaningful lessons are important. Sadly sometimes teaches send lots and lots of prep time on great lessons, but the sub doesn't follow through. I can see your side though. Thanks for sharing.

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.

Join the movement for change