Substitute Teaching: tips from a very novice sub

I have been substitute teaching now for about 5 months in the Niagara Falls School District. At first I made some of the typical mistakes subs make, but now I feel like I have it down to a science (even though most of the teachers at the schools I sub in still refer to me as Sarah or Sierra). So here they are:

1. Get to know teachers within your content area.

While I will gladly sub in for any teacher, I find myself much more useful in a Spanish classroom. I know the content, I know what classes are capable of academically, and I can actually help the students complete the assignments. On the plus side, I can leave the classroom teacher any notes in Spanish, fun for me and totally not convenient for any of the kids trying to read what I wrote.

Basically, the more you get to know  your content teachers and do well while they are gone, the more likely they are to request you. Plus, getting to know teachers in your potential department may pay off if you are trying to work in the district.

2. Come with plans… or the ability to create them out of nowhere.

Subbing is not particularly difficult until a teacher leaves you a rowdy class with 0 plans. Whether they called out last minute, the neighboring teacher forgot to print them out until last period, or it’s the day before a holiday or the last week of school, being empty-handed while staring down any group of students is not fun.

Talk to those reliable students to see if there’s an ongoing project the teacher didn’t mention in their notes or ask another teacher to let you into a laptop cart or computer lab. When I sub in my content area I can easily make up assignments or add onto plans that won’t take up the full period. Once, a teacher had to leave and did not have sufficient time to leave plans that would last the whole period. While he left a worksheet for the kids to do, it only took them about 10 minutes. I added some translations and using vocabulary words to make your own sentences and I stretched the assignment out to almost the whole period.

3. Befriend the secretaries and those in the main office.

Whoever manages your daily assignment in the office should be your best friend. Professionally talking to him/her about your preferences in both content and grade level may give you more successful subbing assignments in the future. The main office crew is always good to know and befriend, they know almost everything that goes on administratively as well as among both students and teachers. Giving off a bad impression or being impolite could lead you with challenging classes to cover or an inconsistent schedule.

4. Don’t actually listen to warnings about students or other teachers. Figure it out yourself.

One thing I have noticed across every school I have ever interacted with is that teachers, and \even students, will try to gossip with you. Not only should you not participate in it, but you should completely disregard what is said. A colleague once informed me of a group of students who were “horrible” in class. I had them consistently for a few weeks in a long-term position and they were great! They always did their work, were the most polite group of girls I have ever had, and they actually listened to my suggestions and warnings. While I think some prejudices and biases led to this colleague telling me this, I just refused to believe it until I experienced the students myself. Similarly, students always “talk trash” about teachers and other students. Don’t listen. Instead, offer advice on how to be a good student/classmate and let the student(s) know you are not wiling to participate in any gossip yourself.

5. Be friends with your fellow subs.

Having friends at the district you sub in is always fun, especially when they are close in age to you. I am grateful to have two “work buddies” I can chat with and ask questions. We can hang out during free periods, and since I trust their opinions I tend to follow their advice on the best way to approach a student, situation, or teacher.

Don’t have subs your age or don’t have the chance to interact with them? Find teacher’s aides and assistants,  who are typically on the younger side, instead.