14 Classroom Management Tips for Substitute Teachers

Classroom management was the biggest challenge I faced as a substitute teacher. Walking into a class for the first time, I was clueless about the absent teacher’s classroom procedures and expectations for students. Some students would use my ignorance as a weapon to their advantage. They would find ways to test my patience and manipulate the classroom environment for their personal gain. Others had antisocial personalities. They saw my presence as an opportunity to express their disrespect for authority.

In this negative environment, power struggles and other disruptions would inevitably arise. At that point, it became extremely difficult to get the class back under control.

Over time, I picked up some classroom management tips to help minimize student disruptions and make lesson plans run more smoothly. If you are a substitute teacher, here are several tips you can use immediately to create a more positive classroom environment:

Tip 1: Start each day by making sure that the students enter the classroom quietly, and begin the class on time. This will help establish the structure you’re working to build and maintain.

Tip 2: From the very beginning, establish your expectations of the students. Make sure each student understands the importance of following both the classroom rules and the teacher’s lesson plan. When you make your expectations understood, you’ll help set the class on the right tone.

Tip 3: After they’ve found their assigned seats, introduce yourself as Mr./Mrs./Ms.___________. Write your name on the board. Unless the school says otherwise, students should never call you by your first name. They won’t treat you with respect if you let them treat you as a peer.

Tip 4: Take attendance and (if applicable) the lunch count. Say the students’ first and last names, and ask them to raise their hands so you can see where they’re sitting. Tell the students to inform you if they prefer to be called by another name. Attendance reporting is one of your most important jobs. Pay careful attention to the required procedure and the accuracy of the marks you’re making. To minimize errors, I used a ruler when I went down the list. If you don’t know what to do, ask another teacher or someone from the office for help.

Tip 5: Announce the names of the absent students to make sure that you didn’t give an absent mark to a student who should be marked present (or vice versa). There may be two attendance rosters to complete: the office roster and the teacher’s classroom roster. If so, make sure that you complete both, and carefully compare them for accuracy.

Tip 6: Make sure that students remain in their assigned seats for the entire day. The teacher should have left you with a seating chart. If you can’t find it, ask a student for help. While taking attendance, you can draw up your own simple seating chart if one isn’t available.

Tip 7: When covering elementary school classes especially, take frequent head counts of the students. It’s a good idea to do this when they first enter the classroom, when they line up on the playground, after recess and lunch, and after you’ve escorted them to and from another campus location. And when working with younger students, remember to talk at their level–both orally and physically.

Tip 8: Do your best to stick to the teacher’s lesson plan. Explain instructions clearly and write them on the board. Let students know that you’re there to help them with their work.

Tip 9: Remind students of homework assignments and any other items the teacher mentioned in the lesson plan. To make sure they understand, you might want to have the students orally paraphrase the important points. If they are required to keep a homework journal, remind them to note their assignments in it.

Tip 10: Recognize the importance of flexibility in the classroom. No sub has followed every lesson plan to the letter. In some classes, even the best-designed lesson plans may not work as the teacher intended. By redirecting the students to a related assignment or activity (and leaving a note to the teacher explaining what you did), they are more likely to remain on task (and out of trouble!).

Tip 11: Get the students involved! Ask them to answer questions or explain concepts that their peers have raised. If students finish early, have them help other students who are still working, or tell them to sit quietly and read. If the students are cooperative and well-behaved, you can allow time for a game or other class activity at the end of the day.

Tip 12: If you know nothing about the subject that you’re there to “teach,” have the students work in small groups. I once covered a high school French class, but I know almost no French. I had the students work together in groups of about three. I assigned the more capable students to help those who were struggling.

Tip 13: If you have teacher’s aides or volunteer parents in your class, take advantage of all the services they can provide! They among other things work with students individually or in small groups. They can also help you understand the classroom routine and the special needs of individual students.

Tip 14: As difficult as it may seem, avoid forming friendships with the students. Children who are abused, neglected, or ignored seek attention from adults in ways that would go beyond the scope of this article to describe. They need stability and won’t get it from a teacher who is at school one day and gone the next.