Monday, June 25, 2012

When Subbing, Set the Tone Early

Substitute teaching can be quite the tricky business. The kind of day you are going to have is often determined in the first moments of meeting the students and class starting. You must find that balance of being firm but not mean, friendly but not easy.

The first thing I do before the students even arrive is read and reread the lesson plans. And then I read them again. I try to break the day into chunks between breaks to make them more manageable for me to remember. There was an old commercial with the slogan, "Never let them see you sweat." In substitute teaching that means to always act like you are in control and completely know what is going on. In some classes, if they smell fear or lack of confidence, they will attack like sharks. Knowing every detail of the lesson plans will help you at least pretend to know what you are doing.

Once the bell rings, I always greet the students at the door with a smile and a "good morning." Sometimes I meet them with a high five, handshake, or fist bump. As the students enter the room, watch them carefully to determine their moods and energy levels. If they seem to be putzing around, remind them what they are to be doing. If you don't know the exact morning routine, you can announce a general statement such as: "Let's take care of all your morning business," or "Don't forget your morning routine." Notice the students who are doing a good job, ask their names, and say, "I love the way Mary has taken care of her business and has gotten right to work."

Be prepared to field a barrage of questions. I try to never answer individual student's questions unless the question only applies to them. If it is a general question, I tell them I will let the whole class know in just a bit.

As they are settled into their desks, I get their attention and do a brief introduction and a general preview of the day. I make sure they know who I am, what the expectations are, and a schedule for the day (especially if there is anything different). I tend not to be super strict and tell the students that I don't mind some quiet talking as long as work is getting done. But then be sure to follow-up if work is not getting done. I also write most things on the board for those who are not listening and ask again later. I can just refer them back to the board. And I always leave some time for questions because, depending on the age, they will want to know all sorts of things about you. During this introduction time, you should make sure your tone and mannerisms are clear, firm, and inviting.

If you are using a classroom management system such as stickers, stamps, or hole punches, start that early in the day. Set the tone so that most students are getting the reward if possible at first, then get more stingy with them so you don't have the whole class earning a reward at the end of the day (unless, of course, they all truly deserve one).

In my experience, when I start the day off this way, the rest of the day seems to just flow into place. Of course, there will be bumps and hiccups along the way, but setting the tone right off the bat will get you off to a great start.


  1. Thanks for this post!!! So much great advice in one post!! Definitely gonna be referring back often!

    From Blood to Books!

  2. I have awarded you the LOVELY BLOG AWARD!! Stop by my blog to pick it up!! :)


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