“Without a strong foundation, 

you’ll have trouble creating anything of value.”

-Erika Oppenheimer



On any given day, substitute teachers may find themselves at a private school teaching the alphabet to preschoolers- and explaining pre-algebra to 6th graders the next.  While adaptability is a crucial skill for all teachers to have, exceptional substitutes, however, all have one thing in common: strong foundational pillars of success.


We’ve assembled 10 Pillars of successful substitute teaching that will enable you to meet each unique occasion with confidence as you use your skills to rise above the rest of the crowd.


1. Follow the lesson plan

Sounds simple, but many substitutes don’t follow it. 

There’s a lesson plan for a reason. Remember the classroom teacher knows their students and curriculum better than you do.  Yes, you have an allowable margin of freedom and variation but as a guest in their class it’s your responsibility to adhere to their wishes and it’s smart to follow their guidance.  

Following the plan means you also get valuable insights to make your day run smoother and effectively. Teachers often list names of helpful students as well as tips on how to deal with behavior issues, bathrooms, and attendance protocols. 

 

2. Learn names & use them

Learning a student’s name is key to building rapport quickly. Start with introductions, ask students to complete info sheets or decorate a paper name tag they can put on their desk. 


Having a hard time remembering? Use alliteration to your advantage: ask each student to share their name and a fun fact about them, or an adjective that begins with the same letter of their first name. 


Still struggling? Use games and other memorization tools like these. 


Then, use their names as much as possible, acknowledging good behavior with positive reinforcement, (i.e. “Way to go _____!”)


3. Take good notes

You don’t have to write a novel, but leaving a concise and specific note will allow the teacher to easily catch up from a missed day. Communicate what you accomplished and where you left off in the assignments. Recognize star students and note improvements with challenging ones. 


Also, remember to sign it and leave your contact information in case they need to ask you a question or would like to request you as a substitute again.



4. Be kind

It sounds silly, but kindness is always in high-demand and in low supply! Demonstrating kindness and a general good attitude makes you memorable and conveys emotional intelligence. 


If you’re tempted to complain (about anything), don’t. Instead, use that same energy to ask people about their day and how they’re doing. Remember their answers so that when you come back, you can follow up. You’re building relationships to ensure your return. 


5. Eat lunch in the teacher's lounge

This is an opportunity for teachers to get to know you, and learn you’re a stellar and capable substitute. Conversations will naturally come up around your background and teaching, enabling you to humble brag about your enthusiasm for the classroom! Staff will see your passion and remember to request you next time they need a substitute! 


6. Take initiative

Sometimes teachers have a prep period and since you’re a guest teacher, you might not have anything to do. Instead of hiding out and/or sleeping for the next hour, clean up the classroom, work on your own notes, or go to the office and ask them or other team members if they need any help. Your energy will not go unnoticed. Exceptionalism is always rewarded! 


7. Make nice with the office staff

Administrative staff is the backbone of the entire school. Making a good impression, striking up a conversation and building a relationship with the office staff is really helpful to making you a pillar of their sub roster. 


8. Ask for help

If your classroom is getting out of control, call the office and ask for help. Different schools have different ways of doing things and sometimes the best resources are the people around you. Asking for help and leaning on the people there shows that you’re willing to learn the school culture as well as uphold it. 

If there’s no lesson plan, ask neighboring teachers what their classes are currently working on. 


8. Communicate

Always have an open line of communication with fellow teachers as well as administration. Be direct and honest about whether you can or cannot help. If you’re unavailable, say so and schools can move on quickly to find the next available substitute. If you can help out, don’t just do the bare minimum, go above and beyond, anticipate their needs and follow through.


9. Be flexible

Things happen. Keep calm and trust that administrators and staff are working on the best solution for the best coverage at all times. If you’re asked to switch roles on the fly, jump at the chance. You’ll definitely get a gold star because everyone loves a team player. 




Taking a look at the list, which Pillars are you already incorporating into your substitute teaching? Which could you improve upon?


Following, or simply being aware of these pillars will not only allow you to teach a few students, you’ll reinforce the standards that define you and come out looking like a hero in the process. Good luck and have fun!



What do you think is the most important pillar of a stellar substitute? Is there a pillar that you think we missed?


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