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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation


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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.

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Larry Ferlazzo's picture
Larry Ferlazzo
I teach English & Social Studies at inner-city high school in Sacramento,CA

I've found that using a rubric titled "Attitude and Behavior With A Substitute Teacher" has worked well for my students, subs, and for me.
I've just posted it, along with a few additional details on how I use it, on my blog

George Mayo's picture
George Mayo
Middle School Visual Literacy Teacher in Maryland.

Thanks for sharing your substitute rubric Larry. Great idea getting the students involved in reflecting on their own behavior. I'm always curious when I get back from being out how things went, and particularly how my students behaved. I'm definitely going to try this with my "problem classes" next time I'm out.

Alice, one thing I've done that doesn't help subs is not leaving an exact seating chart. I try not to do that very often! I remember when I was a sub I hated not having a seating chart.

Alice Mercer's picture
Alice Mercer
Elementary Computer Lab Teacher

I spent 3 years subbing before and during the time I got my credential. There is a special circle of purgatory for teacher who don't have an up to date seating chart. I had one class that was in a funky pod-based library with no chart. I finally had the kid open up their clamshell desks and looked at the books an papers to figure out where they belonged. Needless to say, many were not in their assigned desks.

Russell's picture

I'm just entering the teaching profession and have spent the last 10 months as a sub in the same high school. It's part of an internship that I'm doing as part of my master's program. The experience has made me something of an expert on what works best when a sub is in the room, and what the regular teacher can do to facilitate things.

Number one on my wishlist is a meaningful lesson to present, along with some sort of assignment that the students have to turn in at the end of class.

I always know I'm in trouble when the teacher has left behind some meaningless assignment to do. A word search? Please, no! The students always respond to busy work like this with sighs, complaints and sometimes worse. This kind of thing is useless, and also it puts me behind the 8 ball from the start. And yet, I have to hand out word searches or similar joke-work at least once a week.

Another thing I don't like is when the regular teacher leaves plans that call for the students to read silently through the entire class period. This is a mistake that many teachers make, including some that I really respect. They'll write "There should be no talking!" on the lesson plan -- as if that were possible.

Whenever students come in to the classroom and see a sub, they're instantly keyed up, ready for a free day, a carnival atmosphere. At the least, they're looking forward to something different. At the worst, they're expecting to get away with all sorts of crazy behavior.

When they're in this mood, the worst thing I can tell them is that they have to sit and read silently for 45 minutes straight. How often are regular teachers able to get their students to sit and read quietly for an entire period? Is that even the best use of the students' time?

I'd much, much rather have an activity that I could do along with the students. That way I get to control the situation, and there's someplace to channel all that teenage energy. Some teachers have left worksheets that I can go over with the kids. That's pretty good. When I'm in English classes, I like to have a short story that I have the students read out loud together. I find that even the kids who don't respect subs will show respect to their peers, so they'll be quiet and listen as their classmates read.

I'm also OK with small group activities, and to be honest, I often let students work in small groups even when the teacher has said that she wants them to work alone.

And my all-time favorite lesson plan? A test. I wish I could give tests every day of my sub career. Even the most troublesome kids buckle down when there's a test involved, and I can feel good at the end of the day that I did something valuable.

Deborah Brady's picture

Please let your sub know what signal you use to quiet down the class. A list of consequences for misbehavior is helpful (move student to another seat, send to a certain room, keep after school, etc) As you probably know, having a sub in the room ups the ante on misbehavior. Leave a list of students with behavioral issues. I often make a point of greeting them before class to make a personal connection. This can make a huge difference. Also, it is helpful to know which kids have significant learning challenges. For elementary, but especially 3rd grade and below, reusable name tags are a great behavior management aid.

Alice Mercer's picture
Alice Mercer
Elementary Computer Lab Teacher

Deborah and Russell those are some really great tips and examples. My subs are supposed to teach PE, and I'm surprised at how often teachers will just let the kids have unstructured "free play" sometimes when other grade levels are doing recess, and chaos ensues. I also instruct them to do organized activities (be it kickball, rely races, etc.) The subs that do this usually have a much easier time of it.

Gene A.R's picture
Gene A.R
Christian teacher and lifelong learner

When I sub, I know it is important to get a handle on the class and try to establish a connection with the kids. In elementary classes I have "nameplates" for the students. They print their names in bold block letters in a box. The nameplate is folded to that their name is on the front. This is taped to their desk so I can see their names instantly and call on each one by name. The back of the name plate faces them and has three principles: "Three important things in my classroom are: your learning, others' learning, my teaching. Don't interfere with these." It is equally important to have a bank of engaging lessons and ideas for when there are no lesson plans or plans you are not able to implement for some reason.

Emily Holbrook's picture
Emily Holbrook
Elementary teacher of 6-7 year olds in Ohio

Thank you for sharing your rubric. I found it very interesting. From experience in subbing I think it would be really helpful.

I also like the idea of having reusable name tags so the sub can call on the students by name(which would get their attention more).

For me, I have yet to have a sub in my classroom(I have been lucky enough to not get sick yet). However I have been thinking about it a lot recently and what I need to let them know if they are there. I have a few students who have specific behavior charts for just them that a sub would need directions on how to use them to help keep those students on track.
Also the age level of my students there are a lot of behavior issues more than academic issues that a sub needs information on.
I also use a money incentive program with my students, where they earn play money to use at our school store. Giving the sub information on how it works will help them in knowing what to tell the students. And will also eliminate them constantly telling the sub what they have to do(which is very frustrating).
This year in particular I have a set of twins who a sub would not be able to tell apart, telling her how to know the difference between the two would be very important because they can get mischievous.

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