During the last 18 years in education, first as a teacher then as an administrator, I’ve had the privilege of working with many substitute teachers. Those experiences have provided me with some insight into what substitute teachers can do to help make going to different schools every day a positive experience.
- Arrive early. This is particularly important if you’re going to a school you haven’t visited before. Make sure you give yourself enough time to get there, check in at the office, and take a quick look around to find key places like the staffroom, washroom, and gym. Once you’re in the classroom, you need time to read over the substitute plans and make sure you know where all the materials are that you’ll need for the day. You might have instructions like, “Borrow iPads from the teacher across the hall” or “Get art paper from the supply room” that you need time for.
- Always have a back-up plan. You may experience times when you need to pull out a quick activity of your own. Perhaps students have finished a task more quickly than anticipated or the assembly that was supposed to be 45 minutes was only half an hour. To avoid panicking about what to do next, have a few activities in your bag that you can rely on, suited for different grades. It may be a book you can read aloud, a song with actions to teach younger students, a math problem or brain teaser, or a circle game that doesn’t require any equipment.
- Offer to help out. Teachers may leave tasks for you to work on during prep periods or you may have set-up to do before the students are back with you. But if you find yourself without anything to do, consider offering to help out in other areas of the school. Check in at the office and see if there’s another classroom that could use an extra set of hands. Demonstrating enthusiasm and initiative is always a good thing.
- Leave the teacher a note. When teachers return to school, they are wondering how the day went. Take the time to leave them a message, noting things like whether there is any work the students need more time to finish, if you received any messages from parents that the teacher needs to follow up with, and if there were any problems you worked through with students.
- Leave your business card. If you’re hoping to be invited back, make sure the school has your contact info. Carry business cards with you and make sure one gets into the hands of whomever is responsible for booking substitute teachers.
- Be flexible with your teaching assignments. The more grades you’re willing to teach, the more of an asset you make yourself to a school. If, for example, you’ll only teach kindergarten, you’re significantly limiting the number of jobs you can take. If a school knows that you’ll accept any assignment they offer, you’re more likely to be at the top of their list.
Written by: Erin Agnello, BA/BEd/OCT
Edited & Designed by: Christina Denham
My name is John Haber. I’m a Pediatric Occupational Therapist and the founder of Nogginsland. I became a COTA in 2003, and then went back to school much later, receiving my Master’s Degree in OT from Mercy College in New York in 2016.
Over the years, I’ve worked with a variety of populations in different settings, from school districts, to developmental disability centers, to children’s hospitals.