Improving Students’ Behavior with Substitute Teachers
By Dr. Kenneth Shore
A substitute teacher has one of the more challenging jobs in education. She is an outsider who typically has no knowledge of or personal connection with the students, yet she is expected to pick right up where the regular teacher left off. She has all the responsibilities of a teacher but little of her authority. In addition, she may face a class of students looking to take advantage of her position and test her limits.
You can help ease the job of your substitute if you do some advance planning for the days that you are absent. This might include developing a “substitute survival kit.” The more information the substitute has, the more likely she is to have a productive and problem-free experience and the easier it will be for you when you return.
What You Can Do
- Ask for a specific substitute. If you have had experience with a substitute who has good management skills and knows your students, request that the school use her when you are absent.
- Let your students know your expectations when they have a substitute. Tell them that your classroom rules are in full effect when there is a substitute and that you expect them to be on their best behavior. Make sure your students know that the substitute will be giving you a report of their behavior and collecting their class work. Inform them that they should follow the instructions of the substitute even if they differ from your approach. Ask them for ideas about how they might help the substitute and make her feel welcome.
- Refer to the substitute as a “guest teacher.” If your students view her in this way, they are more likely to be respectful and cooperative. This will also convey the notion that she is there to teach.
- Create a guide for the substitute. This should include at a minimum a class roster, a seating chart (consider using self-stick notes in case you change the seating arrangement), school and classroom procedures, a school map, the bell schedule, your daily schedule, lesson plans for the day, and the location of materials and supplies. In addition, you might add the following information to help her deal with any behavior problems or special situations:
- the school’s code of conduct • your classroom rules
- a brief description of any reward system you use
- a beginning-of-the-day activity or brain teaser
- the names of responsible students she can call on for assistance
- students with medical concerns
- students with academic, emotional or behavioral problems and helpful strategies
- a request that the substitute inform you in writing how the day went
- Provide activities for students who have completed their work. Because behavior problems often surface when students have free time, it is important to give the substitute some appealing activities students can do when they are done with their work or at the end of the day. Some ideas: word searches, brain teasers, trivia questions, crossword puzzles, games, arts and crafts projects, books on tape, riddles, and fun math problems.
- When you return, talk briefly with your students about their response to the substitute. If she indicated the class was cooperative, let your students know how pleased you are and consider rewarding them. If, however, she reported some behavior problems, address these directly, either with the whole class or the individual students. This will let students know that they are accountable for their behavior even when you are absent.