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When you start substitute teaching, you might feel anxious about what scenarios you might encounter on your first day.

Walking into a classroom with a bunch of students you’ve never met before can be challenging. Nearly all substitute teachers, whether they’re a first-year teacher or a veteran, are bound to experience something they didn’t expect.

To help you prepare for uncharted waters, here are 7 situations you might find yourself in as a first-year substitute teacher and what to do.

Psst – grab our free, downloadable sub survival kit that includes how to prepare before an assignments, tips for introducing yourself, and classroom management strategies.

Get your free sub kit

1) Substitute teacher problem: I can’t find parking.

One of the solutions to the guest teacher’s woes is to arrive early.

But if you have time before your assignment, use Google to answer as many questions as you can:

  • What is the route from your home to the school? 
  • How long will it take? 
  • What kind of parking is available in the area?

Always plan to leave 5-10 minutes early so you don’t feel rushed. This will also give you time to find parking.

When you’re a substitute teacher working with a company like Scoot Education, we are the ones who provide you with parking information in addition to anything else about the school that would help you have a great experience.

Regardless of whether or not you have the information, it’s always good to leave early in case something unexpected happens.

If you know you’re running late, make sure to let the school know immediately. But if you’re working with Scoot Education, call your consultant.

2) Substitute teacher problem: I can’t find the classroom.

helpful tip for substitutes

Don’t be that substitute teacher who gets lost on the school campus.

You’ll likely teach in many different classrooms and on more than 1 school campus. So it’s normal to be a little disoriented when you first arrive.

However, you shouldn’t be arriving late and out of breath to the classroom you’re covering because you just spent 20 minutes wandering. This isn’t a good first impression for the guest teacher and schools will be less likely to call you back.

Upon entering the school, just go up to the front office staff! They’re usually super helpful.

Introduce yourself to the front office staff and ask them where to find the right classroom (and nearest bathroom – just in case). Not only will you be able to get to class and get settled, the staff will also be a little more familiar with you.

No matter where you sub, it’s good to be friendly with everyone working there. You’ll never know where support will come from when you need it!

3) Substitute teacher problem: How do I introduce myself as the substitute teacher?

how to be a good substitute teacher

Use classroom management techniques to introduce yourself.

“Uh…hi…haha…I’ll be your substitute teacher for today. What are you guys…um…supposed to be doing?”

Yikes! That’s awkward and your students are less likely to respect your authority as a teacher.

Before class is in session, make sure to greet students as they come in. (Tip: arrive at your sub assignment early to do this.) It’s also a good idea to have the seating charts in hand.

When class starts, give a clear introduction. Here’s a simple example of an effective framework:

  • Who you are
  • Maybe a few fun facts about you
  • The lesson plan for today
  • Behavior expectations (ex. needing to raise their hand to speak, following the existing classroom rules, etc)

This way, you can create a connection with your students while also clarifying what students need to complete during class. They’ll be more likely to have good behavior and you didn’t need an extensive classroom management plan to achieve it!

You can also write down the agenda on the whiteboard so students can be reminded of it throughout the day. Otherwise, giving a verbal reminder helps with classroom management to get students back on track.

Stay confident in yourself and aim to have a productive day. Don’t worry about being “just the sub.” Students can tell when you’re nervous.

4) Substitute teacher problem: What if there are no lesson plans?

storybooks for students

Prepare extra activities for when there’s no lesson plan or too much free time.

First, make sure that there are actually no lesson plans. Look around the classroom. The assignments might have fallen on the ground or are clearly written on the whiteboard.

If there are no plans to be seen, try asking the next-door teacher to see if they know where else the regular teacher could’ve stored them. You can also ask them if you can’t find the seating charts.

Other teachers are often more than happy to help you! Even if they don’t know what plans or materials you’re supposed to be using, they can give you ideas of activities to do and provide insight into which students to look out for.

You can also ask the most responsible student in the class what is expected of them to be working on.

If none of these work, a great guest teacher should already have a wealth of assignments, games, and crafts in the substitute teacher’s to-go bag to keep students engaged. {link to other blog}

Here are more ideas from ThoughtCo for when there are no plans or when the plan isn’t long enough:

  • Trivia: Bring trivial pursuit questions and set the class up into teams. Have them take turns answering questions while keeping score.
  • Pictogram Puzzles: Pictograms are word puzzles that are visual (GOT, GOT, GOT, GOT; Answer: FOUR GOT=FORGOT). Print out a number of puzzles, link them to a Smartboard, or project them.
  • Scattergories: The object of this famed board game is to quickly fill out a category list with answers beginning with the assigned letter. Points are awarded if other players/teams haven’t thought of the same answers. The player/team with the most points wins. There’s an online version too.
  • Pictionary: You can play a game of Pictionary without the cards. Split the class into two teams, and take turns trying to guess what teammates are drawing on the board.
  • Write Mission Statements and Goals: Teach students all about personal mission statements and goal-setting exercises. Then guide them as they create their own in this simple writing activity.

5) Substitute teacher problem: How can I get my students’ attention?

easy attention grabbers for classroom management

Manage student behavior with attention-getters.

No matter how good a class can be, it can get very noisy very quickly.

Be prepared by having an effective way to reign in your class.

Here are a few methods to bring back the students as a whole group:

  • Use objects like a rain stick or a bell. Students will be able to hear the unique and distinguishable sounds among the chatter.
  • Try out verbal attention grabbers. We give a handful of examples in the image above. All you need to do is say one part of a phrase like “Hocus pocus,” and the class is supposed to respond immediately with the matching phrase, “Everybody focus!” Then the whole class should be silent and waiting for your instruction.
  • When there are only 1 or 2 students who are being noisy use other techniques like simply walking around the room or asking the student to repeat the day’s expectations.

If you’re going to use any attention-getter, make sure to explain it before you start teaching, so they’re not confused when you start using it.

6) Substitute teacher problem: What if there are rebellious students?

how to manage difficult students teachers

Substitute teachers should prevent situations from escalating.

Be prepared to do a little behavior management over the course of the day. In order to have a productive day, teachers usually need to constantly watch students, even when they’re busy working on an assignment.

Here are a few ways to deal with challenging students:

  • Actively monitor the room, so students don’t assume they can get away with all sorts of things behind your back and avoid learning. Oftentimes, just walking nearby the students you want to address is enough to get them back on task.
  • Praise students for any good behavior that you catch. When you compliment one student, other students will want to do well so they can get praised too. This is especially effective for younger crowds like elementary or middle school students.
  • Privately remind the rowdy students of the assignment they should be working on and repeat some of the expectations. Don’t try to shame any student in front of the other students. You should always try to maintain a positive and supportive classroom environment.
  • If a situation is getting out of control, contact the front office or the next-door teacher for assistance. If you can’t step away, send a reliable student to the office instead.

Hands off! Even if a student is being very disruptive or they’re trying to leave the classroom, you should not try to grab the student or block them with your body.

There will be students who just won’t listen to you no matter what. Don’t take this personally and don’t start fights. There are no positives to fighting with a student.

Managing student behavior is definitely challenging for both substitute teachers and full-time teachers. Remember to not take things seriously and stay calm.

7) Substitute teacher problem: What do I do when class is over?

what to do at end of class period substitute teachers

Leave a helpful note that recaps the day of learning.

Provide information on how the day went. Letting the students know at the beginning of class that you’ll be recording everything down can also motivate them to act better because there are clear consequences if they don’t.

Teachers will want to know which students were doing well and which students were being disruptive along with any actions that you took to deal with the situation.

They’d also want to know how much lesson material you went through. If you were unable to complete the lesson plan, let them know why.

You can write everything down on a simple piece of paper and leave it on the teacher’s desk.

Finally, write down your contact information, like a phone number or email, so the regular teacher can contact you if needed.

Many unexpected scenarios can unfold when you’re a substitute teacher, but it’s ultimately up to you to handle them with grace.

We hope that reviewing these common substitute teacher situations will help both your students and you to have an amazing day of learning.

Ready to become a substitute teacher?

If you haven’t become a sub yet, consider subbing with an educational staffing company like Scoot Education. We want to support you throughout your application process and beyond.

Subbing with Scoot means access to more opportunities, more school districts, and more excitement!

Apply now