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Establishing classroom expectations is one of the most important things to master as a substitute teacher.

As a sub, you want to get this right so that activities run smoothly, learning outcomes are achieved, and everyone feels happy and safe in the classroom.

But how do you set expectations successfully and make sure they follow your guidelines, especially when you’re combating the Substitute Teacher Effect?

Below are just a few techniques you can use to establish and implement classroom norms when you’re the teacher of the day.

Why set classroom rules and expectations?


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As our Scoot sub Laura says, “Kids love to know. They feel safe knowing the rules, the boundaries, the expectations.”

This is true for all ages! Although many of us hate rules because we feel like it restricts our freedom, good rules keep people safe and functioning better in society.

In the classroom, rules and routines are in place to ensure students are treating each other with kindness and respect and achieving learning outcomes.

As a sub, you can make a big difference for these kids and their teachers.

By showing up and maintaining class norms and behavioral expectations, you’re helping foster a positive environment where learning can happen even when the regular teacher is out. Once they come back, they’ll thank you for it.

Follow the tips below to successfully set expectations and reinforce them when they aren’t met.

Make use of your introduction

male substitute teacher introducing himself at the front of the class

Your introduction is powerful! Setting expectations, showing friendliness, and communicating the agenda at the beginning of the day goes a long way.

When things get out of hand, you can remind students of the expectations you set early on.

Once the bell rings and students settle down, make sure to take a few minutes to introduce yourself in this way:

  • Who you are: Use the name you want to be addressed by like “Mr. B” or “Mrs. Kate.” Share 1 or 2 fun facts you want them to know about you. Consider writing your name on the board too!
  • Behavior expectations: Review 1 to 2 important rules with them. You can also write them on the board, point to a rules poster, or ask them to repeat a few to you.
  • The agenda: Let students know what they will be doing and learning together today.
  • (Optional) Practice an attention getter with them: This is helpful when you need to transition your students from one activity to another.
  • (Optional) Game reward: Offer a brain break at the end of the class or after stretches of time to motivate students to behave and finish work.

Don’t take too long! You don’t want to lose your students’ attention. After your introduction, open the floor to questions. Then begin taking attendance to get to know their names.

First day teaching?

Download our First-day Teacher Toolkit to learn how to sub effectively.

You’ll get tips on preparing for your assignment, introducing yourself, and a guide to classroom management!

Download First-day Teacher Toolkit

3 examples of introductions per grade level

Primary school (PreK to 3rd grade):

Teacher: “Good morning, everyone! My name is Ms. Katie, and I am your sub for today since your teacher couldn’t be here. I’m hoping that we’ll  work together to have a good day today, what do you think?”

Students: “Yeah!”

Source: Reddit

Children can feel upset when their regular teacher isn’t in, which is why they prefer routine and are generally good at following directions (once you get their attention).

You might not have to stress classroom expectations immediately because their attention span is very short.

Secondary school (6th to 12th grade):

Teacher: Hello everyone! My name is Ms. Coleston, your teacher today.

  1. My favorite subject is English and my worst subject is Math.
  2. I have a son named Presley, who is a cat.
  3. I love music, dancing and writing in my spare time.

3 rules I enforce:

  1. Be respectful towards ME, your classmates, and your classroom.
  2. Stay on task and utilize class time wisely.
  3. Behave and act as though Mrs. Smith is present.

Source: Scoot Sub, Ashley C.

Secondary school (6th to 12th grade):

Teacher: “Hello, my name is [insert your name].

I’m filling in for your teacher [insert full-time teacher’s name] and will be here for [how long you will be filling in]. I like the color blue, love cats, and I speak two different languages. Raise your hand if you also like the color blue. Raise your hand if you also like cats. 

Today we’ll be picking up where your teacher left off and learning about [insert subject] and [insert any other subjects for the day].

I’ll also be leaving a note for your teacher, so let’s be sure to behave extra well to impress them while they’re away. Can anyone tell me 3 important classroom rules?”

Source: Teacher How?

Older kids are more likely to test how much they can get away with. To get them to cooperate, it’s important to build trust and rapport with them. They’re more inclined to listen to someone who believes in them.

Check out our blog for more tips on how to build relationships as a substitute teacher.

Tips for setting expectations as a guest teacher

classroom rules on the wall

Be simple and specific

The shorter and more specific your rule is, the easier it will be to recall and follow it.

Communicate up to three rules when setting expectations at the beginning of class. This keeps it short and memorable.

What classroom rules are important to highlight? Here are 36 classroom rules to get you started.

Get help from students

Typically, the students know the classroom norms better, so don’t be afraid to ask them!

Asking your students is a way to build trust because they’ll feel empowered informing you of the rules.

Collaborate with other teachers

Your neighboring teachers are one of your biggest assets when it comes to establishing clear rules. 

Ask them how to handle tough situations or specific students you’ve had difficulty with. They might be able to give you advice and time-tested strategies.

Not only that, they might also teach your same kid or period! You can team up with them to reinforce a consistent set of classroom rules for your group of students.

Lastly, collaborating with other teachers ensures that you’re in line with school culture. This helps you and your students avoid more problems with school rules down the road.

Adjust your teaching methods to increase engagement

Rules and expectations are hard to follow when they don’t suit your classroom. If your students are older and less hyper, you can adapt your lesson plans to be more discussion-based or team-based to increase engagement.

Or if you’re working with primary kids, incentivise your kids with a game at the end of the day when they finish all their work and are well behaved.

Always observe how your students learn best and use these classroom management strategies and techniques to boost student engagement.

How to uphold classroom expectations

teacher talking to student individually about behavior

Ever heard the saying, “Rules are made to be broken?” As a sub, you’re bound to run into cases where students aren’t meeting expectations academically or behaviorally.

Here’s how you can reinforce classroom expectations:

  • Restate expectations gently, but firmly
  • Walk closer to students misbehaving to nonverbally remind them to knock it off
  • Compromise when it’ll help a student slowly correct their behavior
  • Foster a positive classroom environment by praising students who are on task rather than focusing on dealing with a misbehaving student

Read our blog “Handling Challenging Student Behavior: 6 Strategies” to learn more.

Remember that misbehavior is merely a student achieving a “mistaken goal.” This could be revenge, attention-seeking, or working with a disability.

Have compassion on your students, while gently reinforcing that actions have consequences. It’s best to do this privately, which we explain below.

Encourage self reflection and foster a growth mindset

Whenever rules are broken, it’s easy for students to feel shame and for teachers to insist on sticking by the book.

Instead, try to talk to a student privately and ask them these questions:

  • What happened?
  • What were you thinking and feeling at the time?
  • Who or what was harmed?
  • How do you repair the harm?

Then, listen and give them that choice to do better going forward.

By letting students reflect on what they think is right or wrong, you’re teaching them how to make better choices on their own in the future.

Rules are not the goal. Rules are meant to keep kids safe and foster a positive learning environment for students. By teaching self reflection and fostering a growth mindset, you’ll shape them to be better individuals in society.

Final thoughts on setting classroom expectations

Setting expectations will look different for each class. As long as you do your best to learn the class norms, get to know your students, and adapt to meet their needs, you’ve already made a difference for your community.

Want to sub with us?

If you’re a current sub or someone looking to try out teaching, apply to Scoot Education! We’re a substitute educator staffing company dedicated to creating exceptional experiences in education.

As a Scoot sub, you’ll get ultimate flexibility in your work schedule, 1-on-1 support through a personal Education Consultant, and market leading pay.

Apply now