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Substitutes, we don’t have to tell you that you have a unique and challenging job, especially when it comes to classroom management.

We often get asked: “How do I get students to realize they need to follow instructions even though I am ‘just a sub’?”

Here’s some of the great advice collected from substitute teachers by Teach4TheHeart. 




  1. Don’t ever view yourself as “just the sub.” The students might imagine this is a free day, but that should never be our point of view. We’ve got to have high expectations and a definite goal of helping these students actually learn something new. If we expect things to go poorly, there’s about a 99.999% chance that they will. 

  2. Always be armed with extra activities. If the teacher doesn’t have an activity to start class, have one ready to go. That will give you time to get adjusted and should provide a less-chaotic start to the class. Extra activities are also great in case students finish early and become disruptive. 
  3. Learn their names as fast as you can. Start memorizing their names while you take attendance – the “good” kids as well as the challenging ones. This builds relationships and helps you accurately report problems to the teacher.  – Laura T.
  4. Let them know your expectations. Tell them you are a guest teacher and explain what you want from them.  – Patricia D.
  5. Deal with the very first problems. Explaining your expectations is an important first step, but you’ve got to follow through. The first time someone is disruptive, you need to kindly say something, even if it’s simply, “Natalie, please remember to raise your hand for permission to speak.”  
  6. Identify a “helpful student” and ask them about procedures. If possible, ask the teacher ahead of time for the name of a helpful student. If they don’t provide one, try to identify one by asking a question about a procedure and seeing who volunteers an answer (and seems trustworthy). When you’re not sure how you should handle a procedure, quietly ask that student (when the rest of the class is doing something else), “When do you guys normally take a restroom break?” etc.
  7. Learn & adapt standard classroom management techniques. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking “I can’t do that because I’m a sub.” Most classroom management techniques work across the board or can be adapted to work for relief teachers. 

What's your best tip for classroom management as a substitute? Drop a comment below and tell us!