I want to be a good substitute teacher
March 3, 2007 10:05 AM   Subscribe

How can I be a good substitute teacher with elementary schoolers? I need tips on classroom management, keeping kids busy and engaged, or other general advice.

I'm going to start substitute teaching in elementary schools. What are some good tips for classroom management? What are some things that I should know about substituting that I probably haven't thought of? Like, don't touch/hug kids, don't try to be goofy or sarcastic because they might not know I'm joking, etc.

I'm going to start a teaching credential program (elementary school) in California in a couple of months and I'm looking at subbing as a way to get experience working with kids (I'm a 25-year old male who doesn't really have much experience with children). I like kids but sometimes there's a disconnect because I'm not used to dealing with them.
posted by HotPatatta to Education (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I teach all ages of children from 4- college-aged so I know quite a bit about this topic.

One way to promote classroom management and to facilitate engagement with a topic is to create a seating chart right away so that you can familiarize yourself with your students' names. That way you can ask questions during discussions of particular people by name rather than simply asking a question and hoping that someone will raise her hand.

Also, be very firm but warm in your manner. You need to let them know that you are the one in charge but you also don't want to scare anyone. Doing this is especially important for a substitute teacher since kids tend to see them as more of a baby sitter than a real authority figure.

Elementary schoolers get fairly restless and sometimes rather sleepy after a very short amount of time. To keep their attention you really have to amp up your energy around them. Let them feed off of your enthusiasm rather than letting their possible apathy or inattentiveness affect you.

Remember that they're kids. You can't talk to them like they have graduate degrees. So, try to use language that they understand, i.e. avoid using your $5 words.

Also remember that they aren't unintelligent simply because they are young. Elementary schoolers are often very bright, creative, imaginative and very willing to learn. So don't be afraid to challenge them.
posted by inconsequentialist at 10:44 AM on March 3, 2007

I have subbed and taught in the past-here's what I found:
(agree with all above-but in elementary school they probably already have their assigned seats)

-one of the hardest things is not knowing their names. sometimes they are on the desks, but you might want to bring name tag stickers.

-it helps to have a signal to get their attention (like "if you can hear my voice...clap twice...put your hands on your head, etc"), or do a clapping rhythm that they repeat after you (you may have to explain in the beginning), or a bell.

-definitely be stern...with "fresh meat", they will try to see what they can get away with

-have a couple of back up activities to keep them busy/engaged if all the prepared work is done. maybe a game you know (even hangman-a lot of kids love it & you can do with their spelling words), or some puzzle/activity sheets you bring with you. you need a bag of tricks to pull out of...sometimes you might never need it, but it helps in those emergencies.

-many teachers have their own "management system" that you can sometimes use when obvious (or ask the kids-you can have a discussion right away about the expectations in that classroom). but, you can also do things like anyone who gets 3 checks for a poor choice misses recess.

-good luck & enjoy!....notice the positive things even when you feel overwhelmed and ready to scream.
posted by hazel at 11:54 AM on March 3, 2007


You are probably looking for more "real world" experience/application than I can offer (I've never been a teacher) .. BUT, i did work in a K-12 for 3 years and created the following website--> K12HotLinks.com just for questions like yours. You may not find specific answers, BUT there's alot of great links that might spark some ideas. Good Luck, after working in a K-12 for 3 years,..I have the highest respect for anyone that decides to teach. :)
posted by jmnugent at 12:16 PM on March 3, 2007

Remember that kids want to be noticed. So notice them:

"I see Charles has his notebook out. I see Rebecca has finished the first section."

Try to notice EVERY child who is on task, and eventually they will all get on task.

Do not comment on negative behavior. Do not say, "Charlie, why don't you have your notebook out? Rebecca, stop hitting Daisy." Instead, take the child aside and address the issue privately.

Remember, everyone at every age likes to get a gold star.

If possible, establish a connection to the regular teacher--at least in the minds of the kids--"Mrs. Johnson has asked me to be here today with you." "Mrs. Johnson will be pleased when she sees all the good work you did while she was away."

If kids see you as an inconsequential, one-timer, they'll walk all over you, but if they think what they do will get back to their regular teacher, they'll be wary of going too far.

And don't let the kids get you off topic unless there's real educational rationale for doing so.

Good luck. Teaching is tough, but worth it.
posted by etc. at 1:40 PM on March 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

A quick search has not revealed the word 'respect' in here in the right context, so the word is Respect. This is the prime directive for a sub. If you don't have it, your job is going to be very stressful. Learn how to walk into a room and command / deserve respect from a room full of kids. When a class learns that they are going to have a sub, its called 'play day'. It almost never happened that a sub was able to control us and conduct a regular school day. Basically while the teacher is out they need a babysitter. They aren't looking for something amazing to happen while they are away, they just don't want the school to burn down while they are away. If you can get the respect thing which so few seem able to do, then worry about teaching something. You kind of have to have a tacit ability for this or otherwise good psychological know-how. This kids will sense weakness if you falter even for a second. This is probably something they teach in teachers college because regular teachers seem to have it figured out, so maybe you can find info on this somewhere on the net. Good luck!
posted by who else at 2:06 PM on March 3, 2007

My advice is more to keep you subbing and getting yourself gigs.
You didn't say if you are working for a sub service or one particular school, well, either way if you want to keep working try really hard to get the work done with the kids that the teacher left for you. Be sure to follow their directions and their rules. If they come back after their sick day and everything was done and there weren't any problems, they will request you personally again. If they come back and things are a mess and you didn't do what they left, you won't be asked back.

When I had started subbing many years ago, I didn't have a lot of work, there were already a lot of good subs out there. I tried really hard to make a good impression on office staff and other teachers so they would remember me. I would even leave a little note for the teacher introducing myself and telling him/her what was accomplished during the day. For the first few months, I had to wait for that phone call every morning to tell me where to go, but after a while, I started getting calls the night before (some even weeks before) for people requesting me. It made it much easier for me to know where I was going the night before and since I was subbing in a lot of the same classes, it got easier and easier as I remembered the kids and their routines. Eventually it turned into a long term sub gig and that was great.

Oh and never talk down about the teacher you're subbing for, little slips like "yeah, she didn't leave a math lesson plan" in the faculty room at lunch will cost you jobs too.

Finally, don't let them take advantage of you. One teacher actually left in her substitute lesson plan for me to clean the guinea pig cage. She had known ahead of time she would be out for one personal day and actually left that for me to do. I kinda drew the line there and didn't do it.
posted by NoraCharles at 3:56 PM on March 3, 2007

One specific method that I've found for dealing with students with behavior problems, those who are inattentive, or who disrupt class is to have a quiet talk with them at their desk (or seat as the case may be). Kneeling down and talking, as I said before, firmly but warmly to a child one on one without making her feel embarrassed or singled out is usually pretty effective.

If a student continues to display inappropriate behavior, you may need to take further action like not letting them participate in class activities (a timeout sort of thing). You should start developing a repertoire of appropriate and effective disciplinary actions that you can take if need be.

The helpfulness of many suggestions will sometimes depend on the subject and age group that you end up subbing for. 6 year olds are completely different from 10 year olds or even 9 year olds. And subbing for a math class will be different than for an English class. Keep in mind that some of the techniques and suggestions won't be successful across the board.

Contact the various schools that you might find yourself teaching at and ask school administrators what sorts of disciplinary actions are appropriate and inappropriate at the school.

Most importantly though, have fun. Kids that age are really great and have so much potential and the excitement that can be produced in an elementary class is extraordinary.
posted by inconsequentialist at 11:26 PM on March 3, 2007

I asked this question a while ago and got some more good responses here.
posted by Kronoss at 8:26 AM on March 4, 2007

My girlfriend, who is in college to become an elementary school teacher, asked me to post the following:

I'm studying elementary education and there was a substitute I had to deal with during my practicum last semester. Not only do you want to gain respect from the students, but you need to respect the students as well. The substitute was disrespectful towards the students by not even attempting to learn their names. During roll, she wouldn't even try to pronounce their names correctly, even if the student corrected her. A lot of the names were names that you don't encounter every day, such as ShaaylaRae or Kennesha, but she didn't even try. These particular names became Shelly and Kendra to the sub. She also brought in name tags, as was suggested above, but didn't even spell their names correctly despite having a class list to follow.

Also, try to respect the normal routine as much as possible, even if that means asking students what they normally do. In this classroom, the students wrote their assignments down for that day as soon as they arrived and then showed it to the teacher to be checked-off. The substitute refused to mark them down, or let the practicum students do it for her, because she had too much to sort through at that time. Before and after computer the students were normally allowed to go to the bathroom and get a drink of water, because the restroom was on the way. The substitute refused to give them the time to do this. During morning meeting, the students would pass a greeting on to their classmates, and then the student of the week would do the calendar and money count. The substitute continually interrupted the students and failed to pay attention to what was happening. The sub's inability to either establish her own routine or follow the normal routine only bred more chaos and disruptions. The students also modeled off of her behavior and were just as disrupting as she was.

Another thing is to be consistent in the way you conduct yourself and the way you manage the classroom. The students are trying to figure you out, and if you are consistent they will learn your rules more quickly. The substitute was inconsistent with her management decisions. Sometimes as soon as the kids started to get out-of-hand, she would raise her voice and scream at them. Other times she would continue to let them get out-of-hand for a few minutes, and then scream at them. She would say that she didn't want any “funny business,” but then say something funny herself. As a result, the kids were incredibly confused about her policies, and continued to break the rules. They had no idea what the limits were, so they were continually searching for them and causing disruptions.
posted by adamwolf at 11:21 AM on March 4, 2007

Establish a relationship with the kids. This can be done pretty easily with elementary kids. They really want to like you. Take a few minutes in the very beginning of the day to talk about yourself so the kids get to know you. Tell them about your family, or your dog, or the last time you went skydiving or something. Give them something interesting they can grasp onto to see you as a real person.

Give me them a lot of chances to tell you things about themselves. I used to go around the room and have each child tell me something interesting about themselves or the class or something. They will love to tell you things.

If they like you, they will want to behave. Also, don't forget to be stern and mean at the appropriate times. Kids love order and structure. Do that and the kids will love having you.
posted by Wayman Tisdale at 3:18 PM on March 4, 2007

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