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Help Out Your Substitute Teacher with These Tips!

While it’s important for substitute teachers to adapt quickly, there are several things the permanent teacher can do to make the transition more seamless.
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Published: October 23, 2017

There are things you can do that will leave your sub thanking you for an easy and painless transition.

I started my teaching career as a substitute teacher. Jumping from classroom to classroom and transitioning to a new group of students every day was exciting, but definitely a challenge. While it’s important for substitute teachers to adapt quickly, there are several things the permanent teacher can do to make the transition more seamless.

Seamless substitutions are nearly impossible, but there are small things a teacher can do to better prepare the sub. And after seeing them for both sides, trust me – they make a difference! Try these tips that will leave your sub thanking you for an easy and painless transition:

Decide on a Desired Outcome

When preparing for a sub, I start with outlining what I want my class to know when I get back.

Once you know what you want your students to achieve, provide the sub with these explicit learning targets, as well as all the necessary resources and materials. Doing this helps the sub to understand the plan--and if they have to adapt, they are still guiding the students in the right direction.

Prepare Extra Materials

Not only do I prepare a complete lesson plan for my substitute, I also provide a back-up plan in case things are derailed. For example, if my lesson plan depends on a video or movie, I make sure to provide an extra plan in case of technical difficulties.

As far as how much work to leave, when in doubt, prepare extra assignments and materials. In short, always assign more, not less. It’s better to leave a surplus of materials than to not leave enough, which could lead to a panicking and vulnerable substitute. Explain to the sub that it’s ok to not cover everything—it’s only there if they need it.

Be Explicit to Avoid Behavioral Issues

One of the biggest concerns for a substitute teacher is being taken advantage of by students trying to push the boundaries.

When I was a substitute teacher, I found that some students would try to convince me that the teacher did things differently than I was instructed, not knowing that I was left extremely explicit guidelines. Help your subs avoid this situation by outlining all procedures and protocol. Remember that every day for a substitute looks different, so don’t assume they’ll intuitively know how you do certain things.

On the other side, also be explicit with your students. Make sure they know what is expected of them in the event that they finish work early, for example. My students know that if they finish an assignment before others, they should be reading a book of their choice until everyone is finished.

Give Your Students Responsibility in Your Absence

Another way to keep good behavior on track is to appoint student leaders in your absence. When I know I’ll be out ahead of time, I usually ask two students to be the “substitute’s helpers” while I’m gone. I pull them aside and ask them to help the sub find where things are and answer any questions.

I always choose one student who is very reliable, as well as one student who may be known for behavioral issues. This way, you give a child who is in trouble regularly a chance to have a sense of responsibility. I’ve found that this often diverts bad behavior, because they feel that you’re trusting them with something. Since I’ve started doing this, I’ve never gotten a negative report from a sub about the student that I’ve chosen to be the helper that day.

It’s a lot of work, but thoroughly prepping for a substitute is necessary. Being fully prepared will not only help your sub, but will also make your life easier when you return!

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