Managing students behavior is imperative regardless of whether you teach as a substitute or a permanent full-time educator. Throughout your time teaching, you are more than likely to experience some challenging behaviors so here are a few of our tips that helped us while we were substitute teaching and in a long-term position in Los Angeles.


Ask beforehand

Find out from the school what their expectations are within the classroom and what the behavioral management policy in place entails. Always better to ask than not know.


Roll call

Learn as many student names as possible!To avoid mispronouncing students’ names, ask a student to volunteer to read the attendance list. This will help you learn the pronunciation of each student’s name as well as build rapport quickly. Use roll call as an opportunity to write the names of the children sitting nicely (or some other exemplary behavior) on the board.


Identify your influencers

Scan the classroom for influencers. Who is the most likely to be helpful? Who is the rebel? Who carries the most influence among their peers?

The ‘class clown’ and other influencers are usually pretty easy to pick so appoint them a job at the start of the day to give them some responsibility and get them on your side.


Name drop

Know the names of the Senior Leadership Team at the school. A simple, “Mr. Evans has let me know that he would love to see any examples of outstanding work from today’s lesson!” can go a long way.


Set clear expectations at the start

Set clear expectations from the start of the lesson. For example, explain to the students that the first activity may only go for 10 mins, this way they know what to expect. A brilliant way of displaying this is to write it up on the whiteboard / smartboard.


Power of Positive Reinforcement

Don’t underestimate the power of positive reinforcement: A simple happy face on the board can make a big difference.

Try to say 3 positive things before anything negative and make it clear to the children why their name is on board.

“Wow Sarah, you are looking at me and sitting so nicely so I know you are ready to learn, I will put your name on the happy side.”


If you have the class until the end of the day, and you see some great behavior/work make an example of it and ask that child who is picking them up so you can show them their great work.

Try the sandwich method

Notice students are not fully engaging in the work given? Try using the “sandwich method” and comment on two positives and one improvement they could make

“Jack I can see you have completed quite a few questions on your worksheet, however you seem to be getting distracted by Tom. Let’s keep up the good work and finish off the other side of the sheet.”


Be kind and empathetic

Take into consideration the school and student population. A lot of students with challenging behavior are victims of trauma or difficult environments outside of school.

Remember that challenging behavior is not a personal attack on you but rather reflective of something else happening internally. Students sometimes lack the tools to express the emotion they are feeling and instead manifest challenging behavior.

You’re the educator and it’s your job to handle tough situations with grace, and to utilize kindness and empathy as problem solving tactics. 


A simple one-on-one conversation is better than public accountability.

Embarrassing, guilting or shaming a student is never an acceptable method to managing challenge behavior and is subject to disciplinary action.

If the class as a whole seems to be playing up at a bit, ask your TA or a sensible student if this is how they normally behave. If it doesn’t then stop the class and refer to the behavior policy again.


Follow through

Remain firm, fair and consistent and follow through with any consequences/rewards that you give the children. 


Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance

If you’ve exhausted your options or feel like a student might be in danger, don’t be afraid to ask for help from the senior leadership team, that is what they are there for.


Remember positive reinforcement!

We say it again, because it can be very easy to focus on the negative or come at students with an authoritative and disciplinary tone. It’s more effective to set the tone with positivity and encouragement than to lead with fear-based action!