13 Secrets of Substitute Teachers (2023)

Whether they’re recent college graduates or retirees, substitute teachers are a diverse bunch with a range of academic specialties and skills. No matter their background, they often arrive at work unsure of exactly who and what they’ll be teaching—but they usually have some tricks up their sleeves to get oriented quickly. Mental Floss spoke to a few subs to get the inside scoop on everything from why they love pregnant teachers to how they spot troublemaker pupils.

Substitute teachers must be willing to have a (very) flexible schedule, and it helps if they’re morning people. As early as 5:00 a.m., subs get a phone call—automated or from someone who works in the school’s office—offering them a job for that day. If they accept, they have an hour or two to get out of bed, get ready, and report to work. Some schools now use an email notification system, but early morning phone calls are more effective given the time-sensitive, often unexpected nature of substitute teaching.

2. First impressions are important when it comes to substitute teaching.

13 Secrets of Substitute Teachers (1)

According to Kevin, a substitute teacher who works at schools in Southern California, dealing with new groups of students can be challenging. “It’s very hard to establish authority in the classroom. As a newcomer, you’re the foreigner,” he explains.

To immediately establish their authority, some substitute teachers practice speaking with a powerful voice, exhibit confident body language, and shut down any disruptions swiftly and decisively. But no matter how confident a sub is, some students will take advantage of the teacher’s unfamiliarity with the class. “It’s hard to write up a student who you can’t name. In a high school setting, you usually get 30 to 38 students a period for five or six periods. That’s a lot of students who may or may not want to test their bounds that day,” Kevin says.

(Video) One Classroom Management Secret

Substitute teachers range in age from recent college grads working toward their teaching certification to elderly retired people. But what unites them is a love of teaching. Beverly, a substitute teacher who has taught for over 56 years, says that subbing keeps her sharp and active. “I do it for mental stimulation and because it’s a terrific service. You have to stay stimulated and involved with people,” she says. “I find youngsters to be so forthright and honest. The kids light up my life.”

Besides being a variety of ages, substitute teachers also come from a variety of professions. “You can’t believe how many teachers used to be lawyers but couldn’t stand it,” Beverly says. Everyone from former nurses and flight attendants to chemical engineers have earned their teaching certificates and become subs, bringing their real-world experience into the classroom.

4. There’s a reason a substitute teacher’s face might look familiar.

In schools in Los Angeles and New York, many struggling actors work as substitute teachers because they can balance teaching gigs with auditions and short-term film shoots. Like actors, subs must be able to speak in front of groups of people, improvise when they don’t have good instructions, and be quick on their feet when something goes wrong.

Because substitute teachers don’t have a set salary and work one day at a time, many of them face financial uncertainty, especially when holidays roll around. “Holidays can be devastating financially,” Kevin explains. When a school has the whole week of Thanksgiving off, subs don’t see that as a chance to relax. “In reality, a quarter of your paycheck for that month is gone,” Kevin says. “When you have student loans, insurance, etc. to pay, that extra little bit taken off your paycheck may mean you’re just scraping by.”

(Video) "Substitute Teaching" 🎤: Alec Flynn

6. Substitute teachers have tricks to learn names quickly.

13 Secrets of Substitute Teachers (3)

Facing a classroom of unfamiliar faces can be daunting, but subs have a few tricks up their sleeves to memorize student names in a flash. While some subs make seating charts as they take attendance, others use mnemonic devices to remember monikers. Beverly admits that she doesn’t use anything fancy, but because she substitute-teaches math and science classes at the same school, she sees the same kids year after year. “I see the same youngsters out of junior high and into high school, but I do have a seating chart as well. They’re always amazed when I know their names,” she explains.

Subs seeking job stability hit the jackpot when full-time teachers get pregnant. “At the school I currently work at, there’s a woman who is subbing for the whole semester for a second grade teacher who is out on maternity leave,” says Kyle, a science teacher who worked as a sub before getting a full-time teaching gig. Besides pregnancies, long-term health challenges and injuries can present an opportunity for subs to get a steady gig. Beverly says she once took over for an entire semester because of another teacher’s broken hip.

8. Some substitute teachers are quite familiar with busywork.

13 Secrets of Substitute Teachers (4)

(Video) Substitute Teacher - Key & Peele

Novelist Nicholson Baker, who wrote about his experience going undercover as a substitute teacher at six schools, describes the astonishingly large amount of busywork that subs must assign students. “I passed [work sheets] out by the thousands,” he noted in The New York Times.

While Baker laments the “fluff knowledge” and vocabulary lists that subs are expected to force students to memorize and regurgitate, some subs do teach lesson plans. Kyle, who has a math and science background, explains that some teachers felt comfortable with him teaching the lesson plan so the students wouldn’t fall behind. “I’d teach it and assign homework accordingly for what we covered in class,” he says. But he admits that for middle school or non-science classes, he would sometimes simply be given a video to show the kids, or a work sheet or quiz to pass out.

Once a sub has taught at the same school a few times, they can develop a reputation—good or bad—among students. “When I first started subbing, I was 23 or 24, so I wasn’t much older than these kids—especially the seniors—and I think they saw me more as a peer than an authority figure,” Kyle explains. “I thought if I kept a light and fun atmosphere, kids would show their appreciation with respect. But that’s not how kids’ minds work. If you give a little, they’ll want more. So I became stricter and sterner as I went on,” he adds.

10. Substitute teachers can often spot troublemakers fast.

13 Secrets of Substitute Teachers (5)

(Video) Substitute teacher SLAPS student!!

Although it might seem obvious which students are talking out of turn or giving the sub a hard time, substitute teachers have another way to quickly identify any mischievous students. “Usually, if a teacher has a really outrageous student, they’ll leave a note of warning for the sub. Sometimes the teacher will also leave a list of who the helpful students are,” Beverly says.

Kyle says that due to his young age and easygoing nature, some students tried to push the boundaries and act inappropriately with him: “[Students] would talk about or say things in front of me that I know they would never say in front of a teacher. I was once asked to party with some of the kids. Girls would try and flirt with me.” While male students typically tried to talk to him about basketball, female students frequently asked him if he had a girlfriend. “I would lose control of classrooms sometimes. Kids would get very wild, and sometimes would say inappropriate or abusive things to other students without fear of discipline,” he admits.

12. Substitute teachers are honored on a special day in November.

The National Education Association established the annual Substitute Educators Day on the third Friday in November to honor subs around the country. Besides bringing awareness to the work that substitute teachers do, Substitute Educators Day supports subs in trying to get health benefits, professional development, and fair wages.

13 Secrets of Substitute Teachers (6)

Although most subs don’t see the same kids day after day, they can have a meaningful impact upon their students’ lives. “As an outsider, especially a younger teacher, students will often listen to you as someone who recently was in their shoes. Sometimes you talk to them one-on-one and give them a new perspective on why they should care about their schoolwork,” Kevin says.

(Video) "This Is The Sacred Secret" | INSTANT THIRD EYE ACTIVATION

And some students listen to their sub’s advice on studying and planning for the future. According to Kevin, students have approached him as he walked down the halls to thank him for encouraging them to get better grades.

“These experiences are few and far between, but it’s crazy to think that even these small talks with students can actually have a lasting impression,” he says.

This article was originally published in 2017 and has been updated in 2023.


What is the most important thing a substitute teacher does? ›

As a substitute teacher, your job is to take the place of the classroom teacher, and you need to be a professional and follow the lesson plans that were left for you. Oftentimes, substitute teachers think the key to gaining control of the classroom and earning students' respect is to be a friend.

What is the most difficult task for a substitute teacher? ›

One of the biggest challenges for substitute teachers is keeping students engaged and focused. It's important to show the hiring manager that you want to keep students active to help them learn the course material.

What are four basic questions you should ask when called to substitute? ›

5 Questions Every Substitute Wants Answered
  • Where is the restroom and do I need a key?
  • Where should I send attendance…and with whom?
  • Where's the vending machine?
  • Do you have any extra activities?
May 11, 2021

What is the number one common trait of successful substitute teachers? ›

High Expectations

An effective substitute teacher must have high expectation. If you expect less effort you will receive less effort. You should work on an attitude that says that you know students can achieve to your level of expectations for the day or week, thereby giving them a sense of confidence too.

What to do when your class misbehaves for a sub? ›

You Got a Bad Sub Report. Now What?
  1. Write letters of apology. ...
  2. Don't wait for an absence to lay out your expectations. ...
  3. But don't feel like you had to give a disclaimer in order to give a consequence. ...
  4. Get the parents involved. ...
  5. Suss out the main perpetrators with student statements. ...
  6. Names matter! ...
  7. Focus on the positive.
Nov 4, 2019

What skills make you a great substitute teacher? ›

Below are some of the key skills substitutes can use to make their time in the classroom more rewarding and productive:
  • Interpersonal skills. ...
  • Leadership skills. ...
  • Critical thinking skills. ...
  • Presentation abilities. ...
  • Classroom management. ...
  • Problem-solving. ...
  • Time management. ...
  • Organization.
Jan 26, 2023

How do substitute teachers handle disruptive students? ›

Redirect privately. Substitutes should discuss problems with disruptive students one-on-one. This not only prevents embarrassment for the student, but also allows substitute teachers to address negative behavior without spotlighting it or involving the whole class.

Where do substitute teachers make the most money? ›

Top companies for Substitute Teachers in United States
  • School Professionals. 3.9 $1,125per day. ...
  • San Francisco Unified School District. 3.7 $248per day. ...
  • Los Angeles Unified School District. 4.0 $230per day. ...
  • New York City Department of Education. 3.9 $222per day. ...
  • Cross Country Education. 4.1 $217per day. ...
  • Show more companies.

What are the 4 essential questions? ›

What do we want all students to know and be able to do? How will we know if they learn it? How will we respond when some students do not learn? How will we extend the learning for students who are already proficient?

What is the 4 question method? ›

Question One: What happened? (Narration) Question Two: What were they thinking? (Interpretation) Question Three: Why then and there? (Explanation) Question Four: What do we think about that? (Judgment)

How do you survive substitute teaching? ›

6 Tips to Help You Thrive As a Substitute Teacher
  1. Get There Early to Prepare. When you start a new substitute teaching assignment, arrive early so you can get acquainted with your new surroundings. ...
  2. Get to Know Your Colleagues. ...
  3. Have a Backup Plan. ...
  4. Make Discipline Fun. ...
  5. Bond with Your Students. ...
  6. Let Your Personality Shine.

How old are most substitute teachers? ›

Substitute Teacher Age
Substitute Teacher YearsPercentages
40+ years55%
30-40 years24%
20-30 years19%
Sep 9, 2022

How can I be a confident substitute teacher? ›

55 Tips, Tricks, and Ideas for Substitute Teachers
  1. Start with a positive attitude. ...
  2. Follow the plans. ...
  3. Go in early. ...
  4. Have some time-fillers in your back pocket. ...
  5. Make the last few minutes memorable. ...
  6. Try a fun math activity. ...
  7. Be sure to take attendance. ...
  8. Stay on task, and leave a record.
Sep 30, 2022

What would make me a great substitute? ›

Attentive and empathetic: promising substitute candidates will be able to quickly read the room and address the varying needs of the students while maintaining control of the class.

How do you control a class as a sub? ›

What are classroom management tips for substitute teachers?
  1. Classroom Tip #1: Build Rapport. ...
  2. Classroom Tip #2: Familiarize Yourself with the School's Systems & with Your Students. ...
  3. Classroom Tip #3: Use Active Supervision. ...
  4. Classroom Tip #4: Create Opportunities to Respond. ...
  5. Classroom Tip #5: Leverage the Power of Praise.
Jan 20, 2022

How do you discipline a class without shouting? ›

There are other ways to capture your students' attention without yelling.
  1. Set and Maintain High Expectations. ...
  2. Establish Regular Routines. ...
  3. Get Quieter, Not Louder. ...
  4. Reset Technique. ...
  5. Install a Wireless Doorbell. ...
  6. Use Call and Response or Clap Back Technique. ...
  7. Use Classroom Lights. ...
  8. Stand in the Middle of the Room.

How do you calm down a disruptive class? ›

Suggestions for intervening in a disruption
  1. Keep your focus on the student. ...
  2. Be clear about the behavior. ...
  3. Nip the situation in the bud, referring to the syllabus regarding expectation and behavior. ...
  4. Distress is often the cause of a disruption. ...
  5. If you need to ask the student to leave, do so clearly and directly.

What challenges do substitute teachers face? ›

Perhaps the most daunting challenge that awaits any substitute teacher is the classroom full of students. New substitute teachers may worry about individual student needs, misbehavior, and how to keep a classroom of thirty students, or more, on task, focused, and cooperative.

What do you write in a substitute teacher? ›

Here are a few phrases you can say to finish your note:
  • It was a pleasure to sub for your class.
  • I had a lot of fun subbing for your great students.
  • Thank you for the opportunity to sub for your classroom.
May 19, 2022

Can I substitute teach everyday? ›

With this permit you can: Teach as a day-to-day substitute in any classroom. Work as a substitute teacher for up to 60 days for any one teacher during the school year (or up to 20 days for an individual teacher in special education classrooms).

How would you handle a difficult student answer? ›

Dealing with Difficult Students - Classroom Management Tips
  • Empathy is Your Friend. ...
  • Communicate with Parents. ...
  • Keep Your Cool. ...
  • Discuss Matters in Private. ...
  • Teach and Use Accountability.

How would you handle a student who doesn t follow the rules as a substitute? ›

If the students aren't obeying your rules or directions, then let them know that they can earn back some of your respect by getting back on track. Remember, you're not just teaching them how to behave in class; you're also teaching them how to work with someone who doesn't know their routines yet.

Why do kids misbehave for subs? ›

They might think that this substitute teacher is new and doesn't have the “school rules” figured out. The teacher likely doesn't know students' names. He may not be familiar with how to pace a lesson for students with special needs. She may have just rolled out of bed when the phone rang 15-minutes before she arrived.

How do teachers deal with disrespectful students? ›

Take a trauma-informed approach. Rather than blaming and accusing the student for their behavior, take a step back and consider that they are struggling in some way. Even if we don't know the reasons for the struggles, it's helpful to have empathy always. Be consistent with expectations.

What is the 5 to 1 praise ratio? ›

According to research, the ideal praise-to-criticism ratio is 5:1. Meaning, for every negative comment you make, you need to share five positive comments as well. The original research by Emily Heaphy and Marcial Losada IDed this 5:1 ratio of positivity to negativity in high-performing business teams.

How much does a substitute teacher make near me? ›

Average Los Angeles Unified School District Substitute Teacher hourly pay in California is approximately $33.07, which is 129% above the national average. Salary information comes from 161 data points collected directly from employees, users, and past and present job advertisements on Indeed in the past 36 months.

How much do substitute teachers make in my area? ›

Substitute Teacher Salary in Los Angeles, CA
Annual SalaryHourly Wage
Top Earners$62,390$30
75th Percentile$49,300$24
25th Percentile$31,700$15

How much does a substitute teacher make in the US? ›

A Substitute Teacher in your area makes on average $19 per hour, or $0.19 (1%) more than the national average hourly salary of $18.38.

What are the 7 keys questions? ›

7 Key Questions: Who, What, Why, When, Where, How, How Much?

What are the 5 E's questions? ›

Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate.

What are the 6 key questions? ›

It needs a really strong foundation. One of the best ways that teams can ensure they have a solid foundation is by answering the six basic questions of who, what, why, where, when, and how.

What is the rule of 3 questioning technique? ›

Put simply, the three question rule is this: when you start a conversation with someone, ask a question, listen to the person's response, and then follow up with two more questions in the same way. Easy right?

What is the 3 2 1 questioning technique? ›

A 3-2-1 prompt helps students structure their responses to a text, film, or lesson by asking them to describe three takeaways, two questions, and one thing they enjoyed. It provides an easy way for teachers to check for understanding and to gauge students' interest in a topic.

What are the 3 main types of questions? ›

Factual questions (level one) can be answered explicitly by facts contained in the text. Inferential questions (level two) can be answered through analysis and interpretation of specific parts of the text. Universal questions (level three) are open-ended questions that are raised by ideas in the text.

How should a substitute teacher dress? ›

Tailored pants, skirts, and jackets are generally considered appropriate, as are collared shirts and blouses. These convey a business-like demeanor that sets a serious tone. Tight and revealing clothes are prohibited, as is footwear such as open-toed shoes and sandals that could pose a risk for injury.

How do you introduce yourself as a substitute? ›

Introduce yourself to the students.

Write your name on the board. When you greet students, introduce yourself and gesture to your name on the board so students know where to look if they forget. It can also be helpful to share a little bit about yourself to make a connection with the students.

Why do I love being a substitute teacher? ›

Many subs love substitute teaching because it gives them full control over their work lives. Substitute teaching means that you work where you want and when you want, and you never have to worry about working off the clock! If this sounds appealing to you, then substitute teaching might be right for you!

Who is the oldest teacher in school? ›

Agnes Zhelesnik, fondly referred to as “Granny” by her students and coworkers, is widely considered to be America's oldest schoolteacher. At 102, she still works almost full-time teaching preschool and elementary-aged pupils how to cook and sew.

What is the age of the youngest teacher? ›

Alia Sabur holds the Guinness World Record for youngest professor, having attained the position of lecturer in the Department of Advanced Technology Fusion at Seoul's Konkuk University at the age of eighteen. When her IQ was tested in the first grade, it was literally off the scale.

Do I need to take the Cbest to be a substitute teacher? ›

If you want to be a substitute teacher in California, you need a 30-day Substitute Teaching Permit. To get this permit, you must have a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution, have passed the CBEST, and be digitally fingerprinted using LiveScan.

What to do when students misbehave for a substitute? ›

Make rime during a class meeting for students to give each other compliments or appreciations about specific things they did to help the substitute. If you have to deal with a student who has been discourteous to a substitute, share your own feelings respectfully, and ask for help in rectifying the situation.

What is a easy sentence for substitutes? ›

Noun you'll be getting a substitute until your regular teacher is feeling better if you like, you can use nuts as a substitute for coconut in that recipe Verb One of our teachers is sick, so we need someone to substitute. They substituted real candles with electric ones.

What to do if a teacher doesn't leave a lesson plan? ›

Substitutes: What To Do When the Teacher Doesn't Leave a Lesson...
  1. Leaving a Substitute Teacher Hanging. Substitute teaching can be quite the challenge. ...
  2. Ask the Students. ...
  3. Have Go-To Resources on Hand. ...
  4. Play an Academic Game. ...
  5. Show a Movie. ...
  6. Open a Study Hall. ...
  7. Hold Realistic Objectives.

How do I make a good impression as a substitute teacher? ›

Here's how:
  1. Arrive Early. You expect students to get to class on time, so you should be able to get to work on time. ...
  2. Dress Professionally. According to recent studies, 55 percent of a first impression is based on appearance. ...
  3. Be Friendly. No one likes a negative Nancy. ...
  4. Leave a Detailed Note. ...
  5. Tidy up the room.
Sep 12, 2017

How do you act when you have a substitute teacher? ›

Show the substitute teacher the same respect that you show your regular teacher. If your classmates goof off and treat the substitute disrespectfully, refuse to join in. Use your quiet symbol to let others know to behave.

What should a substitute lesson plan include? ›

Your packet should include:
  • School emergency procedures such as fire drills and lock-downs. ...
  • Insights into student behavior and past problems. ...
  • Health concerns. ...
  • Special accommodations. ...
  • Map of the school. ...
  • Names of helpful associates. ...
  • Extra responsibilities. ...
  • Technology tips.

How do you write a substitute lesson plan? ›

General Information
  1. Include the times the bell rings, and any sort of rotating schedule, such as specials.
  2. Be clear about any extra duties—list what the duty is, where the sub needs to go, what time they need to be there, what they need to do when they're there, etc.

What is an example of substitute goal? ›

These are the goods which can be substituted from each other, such as tea and coffee, or ball pen and ink . In case of such goods, increase in price of one cause increase in demand for the other and vice versa..

What should I bring on my first day as a substitute teacher? ›

Be prepared

Here are some tips to ensure you're fully prepared to take on your first day: Prepare an emergency lesson plan appropriate for the grade level. Bring along your favorite 10-minute activities, games, and contests to keep the class focused if lessons finish early.

Why do students misbehave with substitute teachers? ›

They might think that this substitute teacher is new and doesn't have the “school rules” figured out. The teacher likely doesn't know students' names. He may not be familiar with how to pace a lesson for students with special needs. She may have just rolled out of bed when the phone rang 15-minutes before she arrived.

What are the expectations when there is a substitute teacher? ›

There are certain reasonable expectations when a substitute teacher is requested. Some are pretty basic and can be spelled out in an employee handbook: punctuality, professional attire, respectful of privacy and confidentiality. But others are more nuanced and open to interpretation.

How do you regain students attention? ›

10 Ways to Get Your Students' Attention Without Yelling
  1. Set and Maintain High Expectations. ...
  2. Establish Regular Routines. ...
  3. Get Quieter, Not Louder. ...
  4. Reset Technique. ...
  5. Install a Wireless Doorbell. ...
  6. Use Call and Response or Clap Back Technique. ...
  7. Use Classroom Lights. ...
  8. Stand in the Middle of the Room.


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