Tips for Being a Better Substitute Teacher from a Teacher’s Point of View

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with a teacher and ask a few questions about his opinion on substitutes. We wanted to bring you a unique view on what you can do in order to be a better substitute teacher. The following interview presents the teacher’s point of view, which we think gives some valuable insight into just what it takes to be a great sub.

Background: This interview takes place with a current high school teacher. Mr. Stiles teaches Biology and Environmental Science in California.

Sub Sidekick (SS): Thanks for joining us today. First, can you tell us a bit about your background in teaching?

Mr. Stiles (Mr. S): Gladly. I am fairly new to teaching still, only five years in, and I have taught in several places already. I taught middle school for three years and I am on my second year teaching at the high school level. I also have about two years of substitute experience before getting a full-time teaching job. I have had a lot of varying experiences with subs, since I have had the opportunity to work in both central and southern California.

SS: Alright. So, what would you say you look for in a sub?

Mr. S: Well, even though I am not in the classroom that day, I like to be able to count on the substitute being on time. Promptness is very important to me. I don’t like hearing from my students that they had to wait outside the door or have staff open it and wait with them.The feedback and end state of the classroom is important to me as well. I want to know that when I come back to my classroom, I won’t find student writing on the boards or a mess, or even the tables rearranged. Lastly, I really want to hear about the day. When I walk in the next morning and the only note I have–if the sub even left a note–is that it was a “good day,” then that is a red flag for me that there was not a lot of effort to communicate.

SS: Sounds about right. Can you give us examples of a really good sub that you have had? What stood out?

Mr. S: The best sub I had did a few things really well. First off, she communicated with me in the morning to make sure that she understood the lesson plan correctly. I leave my contact information on my sub plans because I know not everyone has a background in science. If the lesson is unclear, I like to know you do all you can to understand it. She also left really detailed notes, to the point of being worried she had written too much. In my opinion there can never be too much information about what happened while I was gone.

SS: Thanks. Now let’s turn that around. What would be an example of a really bad sub experience you have had?

Mr. S: That is an easy one, since it actually happened a few weeks ago. I had set up a detailed lesson with a script for the sub to follow to ensure that the lesson went well, but when I got back I found out that things went very poorly. The substitute changed my lesson completely, used the materials I left in a completely different way than I had asked, and left the room a mess. There was writing on the boards and all I got for feedback was a “great classes today” note. Needless to say, I asked for the sub not to be assigned to my room again.

SS: Well we exist to help make sure teachers have fewer experiences like that! Any tips you would give to a substitute to get on a teacher’s “preferred list?”

Mr. S: Definitely, and it all comes down to leaving a good impression. Do a good enough job that the students will say that they understood what was supposed to happen when I ask them. Leave the classroom nice and neat, and leave good notes on what happened that day. Also, leave a way for me to contact you. My favorite sub actually has his own business cards with his sub number and a way to contact him so I can see in advance if he will be available. Going that extra mile shows me, as a teacher, that you take your job seriously, and I am not going to just have someone who is on his or her phone the whole day.

SS: Great suggestions. What about for a sub who comes into a classroom where a teacher didn’t write a lesson plan?

Mr. S: I have to say, many teachers don’t have something ready to go in case they have an emergency. If you show up, don’t be afraid to call some of the other teachers in the department. The other biology teachers at my school are really helpful and would share what they were doing that day with a sub if asked. But just in case, be flexible enough that you have your own back up plans, or at least know where to find something quickly online.

SS: Nice, thank you. Any last ideas you would like to put out there?

Mr. S: Branch out I would say. Don’t be afraid to sub outside of your comfort zone, and don’t just stick to a single district. If you start doing a good job, teachers will share your name and you will have consistent work.

SS: Alright that’s all. Thank you for taking time to join us.

Mr. S: Sure. It’s been fun.

Interested in finding out more about what it takes to be great at subbing? Contact us and let us know how we can help.

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