What you Need to Know About Subbing

In some students’ minds, “substitute teacher” is synonymous with “blow-off class.” We all remember having those substitute teachers who would turn on a video and retreat to the back of the classroom.

kc2Don’t let that be the case if you find yourself subbing.

Whether you are jumping in to fill in for one class, or on a month-long subbing position while a fellow ESL teacher visits family back home, there are some important principles you should know to not only give your students the awesome lessons they deserve but to have a rewarding and fun time as a substitute.

Make the right first impression

It doesn’t matter what kind of class the teacher left you – whether they are super well-behaved or complete chaos.  You’re an entirely new entity to them, and you can quickly reset their behavior patterns in just a few minutes.

The most well-behaved class will quickly devolve into chaos with a sub who is disorganized and unprofessional while the most unruly students will shape up in a heartbeat when they realize a sub means business.

That’s because a class’s behavior has little to do with the students themselves, and much, much more to do with the environment created by the teacher. Regaining control of a difficult ESL class is essential as you may only have a short time with them.

Sure, if the teacher you are subbing for left you a well disciplined, well-structured class, you’ve got an advantage but don’t take it for granted.

Treat the first day of subbing just like you would the first day of schoolBe over-prepared, be ready with a clear set of expectations and consequences, and set the right tone from the moment you step into the classroom.

Don’t let students pull the “But our teacher lets us…”

You’re not their regular teacher, and you’ll have to remind the students of that a few times.  Just because their regular teacher does things a certain way, gives them a certain reward for something, or lets them get away with certain things, doesn’t mean you have to.

If the teacher left you with a clear guide to what rewards they use or how they discipline their class, it will absolutely benefit you and the students to follow it as closely as you can.

You should also chat with school staff or other teachers about the discipline and rewards that the school has in place and make an effort to be consistent with those.

However, If you find the students arguing with your consequences or telling you that their regular teacher always gives them two gold stars for getting out their pencils, be aware that it may be the truth, or they may be trying to pull one over on you.

It really doesn’t matter either way. Don’t even engage in this discussion with students – just be clear about what rules, rewards, and consequences you are bringing with you.

Make it clear that when their regular teacher returns, they can go back to doing things the way they are used to, but while you are there, they are going to have to live with your teaching style.

Bring your own materials

Unless you already know what lesson plans, worksheets, and activities the teacher left you, be 100% prepared to teach the class from your own materials.

Even if the school has a strict curriculum that classes follow, as a lot of cram schools do, you’ll still need filler activities, reading materials, and worksheets for students who finish early.

Don’t think that just because you’re subbing you don’t have to put in much prep work or bring any materials.  Err on the side of being overprepared.

Take the class seriously

Even if you are only subbing for one class, don’t blow it off.  Yeah, it’s not your class, and there’s no particular reason why you can’t just give them some reading assignments and sit back.

After all, even if the students don’t respect you and get totally out of hand, you’ll probably never see those students again after that class.  But that’s not fair to the students, and it’s ultimately going to hurt your reputation as a teacher as well.

Plus, it’s going to be a pretty awful couple of hours for you as a sub.

If you put in a little bit of effort to begin with, and do your best to genuinely teach the class, not only are you building a great reputation as a reliable and professional sub who the school will gladly turn to again, you’re also giving yourself the chance to hone your classroom management techniques and teaching skills.

Plus, you can have a lot of fun as a sub if you put in the effort to properly prepare and manage the class.

Remember that subbing can be really fun if you do it right

Substitute teaching gets a bad rap sometimes – we expect students to misbehave for a sub, we step into the classroom with no idea what kind of class we’re walking into, we know that we might have to put in a lot of work to control this one class with little long-term pay-off.

But you often don’t have all of the added work of grading, all of the responsibility of preparing students for big tests or big performances, or the stress of knowing that if you don’t start off on the right foot, you’re going to be living with the consequences for the rest of the year.

Subbing is a perfect opportunity to improve as a teacher, learn a lot about classroom management in a relatively low-stress situation, and have a lot of fun.

Have you ever been a substitute teacher? Do you have anything you would like to add? Let us know in the comments section below.

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