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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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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:

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 Engagement 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.

SubstituteSue's picture

I have been an elementary sub for a couple years now and I have gained so much from it. It allows for real, hands-on experience that you just don't get from college. It does pose some challenges though. Until you become familiar with the schools, staff, and students it can be quite stressful and cause some anxiety. My biggest suggestion to subs is to show up at least a half an hour early so you can thoroughly go over the lesson plans and get clarity from other teachers if needed. While most teachers are great about leaving clear, easy to follow plans, there are some that are not so great. Teachers get into such a routine that when they have to be out they sometimes forget that the little things they do throughout the day should also be included in plans. Directions on how and where to find lessons on the computer is an issue I run into. They will leave a lesson that needs the use of computer but forget to mention how to bring it up. And from what I see, a teachers' computer is loaded with icons, folders, and so's near impossible to find what is needed.
A great help is also when a teacher has clearly established management in the classroom. You can usually tell right away when good management is in place and when it is not. It is very troublesome to be a substitute when you have to spend a big portion of the day just trying to manage the class.
This is a great thread!

Leelee's picture

I have been subbing at a middle school for four months now. Last week, I think I finally got over the hump of all the newness and being out of my comfort zone. My trick was this: Before class starts, I approach other teachers in the building and ask if I can send them anyone that's being disruptive, disrespectful, or just someone I can't handle. They have always said yes to this. Just knowing I can do this lowers my stress level from the start. My lower stress level transfers to the students and we can get right to work. This has been a game changer for me. The support of the surrounding teachers makes my day a much more successful one for me and the students. Thankfully, I am in a school with great teachers!!! Thank you!!!!


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