How to Become a Better Substitute Teacher RIGHT NOW

Dear Kid Whisperer,

Do you have any ideas for substitute teachers? Last year I felt like I yelled all year long and I don’t want to have another year like last year.
Alonzo, Oakland, CA


I used to be a substitute teacher before I skilled up and all I did was yell at kids. I didn’t yell at them because I was a substitute, I yelled at them because no one ever taught me behavior management skills. Don’t feel too badly: the licensed, full-time teachers around you all day didn’t receive quality skill training either.
That being said, here are three things you can do as a substitute to make your day run more smoothly.

Take the Time to Build Relationships

Shake hands with every single kid who enters your room as they walk through the door. This includes when subbing in middle or high school when you have seven to nine classes per day. Introduce yourself to each kid. Smile. Ask kids questions. Once all the students have shaken your hand and are in the room, spend at least ten minutes talking to your students about their lives, your life, current events, recent events at the school, sports, etcetera. Again, this includes the older grades. You will get these ten minutes back in the form of fewer disruptions.

Give Away the Control that You Don’t Need

The best way to take the control that you need is to give away all of the control that you don’t. Don’t give away anything that you have to have control over, but give away everything that you don’t care about. One great way to do this is to say these words after you first shake your students’ hands: “Feel free to sit at your desk and talk to everyone until we get started.” They were probably going to do this regardless of what you said anyway, so it’s best to give them this control before they attempt to take it.
With younger students, you may want to give them the choice of working while sitting, while standing, or while lying under their desks. Only give the choices with which you are comfortable. If you don’t want kids under their desks, don’t offer that choice.

For older kids, allow them to either socialize or read anything they want once their work is done. Again, only give this choice if you are comfortable with both options.
Before your next subbing job, write down a couple choices that you wouldn’t mind giving. Just try to use those choices throughout the course of the day.

Don’t Argue

A savvy kid can get himself and all of his friends out of a pretty amazing amount of work by getting a substitute teacher to spend large portions of the day in a time-wasting arguments. Don’t take the bait. Remember that you are the boss, and there is no reason on earth for you to explain the rationale for why the assignment is the assignment, why the rules are the rules, etcetera. Whenever a kid offers up an attempt at an argument, “Why do we have to do this?” or “Mr. Johnson is a better teacher than you.” Use the same statement each time that does not allow you to engage in the argument. Simply saying “Perhaps.” or “Fantastic!” is a great way to make the student attempt at an argument non-functional.

If you put in sufficient time building relationships and giving away control, you will have already taken a lot of the wind out of the sails of potential arguers.
Concentrate on these three strategies and your next day subbing will turn out better than your last.