Tips For Substitute Teachers

Substitute teachers! I know you’re out there and researching how to make the best of your time in this job. I’ve been subbing on and off for three years now and am here to share some of my tips with you. 

Bring your own classroom management strategy and make it positive. Stickers (yes, even for high school kids) can be a huge tool. 

Let the kids tell you something about themselves, it puts them at ease and builds a great bond. 

Tell the class stories about yourself, let them see the personal side of you too. 

If time allows, show them some of your cool hobbies or talents, like how to solve a Rubix cube. If you need to find ways to fill time, teach them your hobby.

Arrive early to read lesson plans and become familiar with the classroom and school. 

Greet kids at the door.

Know the newest technology for the age groups. Video games, social media, etc. and try to find ways to use it in your lesson.  It helps connect with kids. 

If you find a teacher you particularly liked subbing for, leave your contact info and availability so they can contact you if they need another sub. Teachers would rather leave their students with someone they have gotten to know in the past than with a brand new sub who doesn’t know them yet. 

Relax. You’ve got this. 

Good luck substitute teaching! It’s so much fun! 

What tips do you have for substitute teachers? 

Kids Become What You Tell Them They Are

I cannot tell you how many sub jobs I’ve walked into where the students blatantly say, “We are a bad class, it’s okay if you get frustrated with us, we’re the worst class in the whole school.” 

This is the most heartbreaking thing to hear come out of these students’ mouths. 

Kids become what you tell them they are. 

If you’re telling them how chatty, disruptive, and disrespectful they are, these attributes will remain on their mind and will not go away. 

If you tell them how respectful, helpful, and kind they are, I promise you they will live up to this standard you have set. I know, because I witnessed it. 

I did a long-term substitute teaching job in a first-grade classroom. Right away I had teachers saying under their breath to me, “Oh. You have that class? Good luck, they are the worst class in the whole school.” With this being my first real teaching job outside of graduating, it did not reassure me in any way. 

After observing this class a few times before I took over full time, I saw exactly what they meant. They were disrespectful, there was always side talking, someone was always out of their seat, and expectations were never met. The students even talked about how bad of a class they were because they were hearing it from teachers across the whole school. They believed it. I was grateful that I had time to witness this and process what was going on before my first day because I went in with a game plan that I truly believe helped shape our 8 weeks together. 

“Class, today is our first day together and we need to start it with the most important things first. Everyone come gather at the rug, I have some news for you.” 

They quickly took their place at the rug, everyone intrigued by what I was about to tell them. 

“Now, we all know your teacher is gone to have her baby for the next few weeks and I am here to teach you while she is gone. BUT, I want to tell you about the conversation your principal had with me when he called to ask if I would teach your class. Do you know what he told me?” 

“Yeah, that our class SUCKS.” A student yelled out. 

There it was. Not even five minutes into the day and they were already down on themselves for having the worst behavior.

I was determined to fix it. 

“No, actually, he said the opposite. He told me how kind, how respectful, and how fun you all are. He told me this classroom is a happy space and that I would be the luckiest teacher in the world to spend a few months with you.” 

Looks of shock covered their faces. I just went against everything they were ever told, who were they supposed to believe now? I continued to go on and on about how excellent of a class they were and how much potential they had. After a while, a little, shy voice popped up and said, “One lunch lady said we are a very nice class, so maybe it’s true.” 

A small smile grew on my face because it was working. Slowly, they would believe me. I knew it. 

It took time, lots of time. And it took a lot of reminding as well. I would walk them into P.E. or music and say out loud to the specialty teacher, “Have you met this class yet? They are the BEST class in the whole entire school. They are so respectful, so responsible, and are always ready to learn. They will be so good for you today!” 

I was shot a lot of confused looks at first, but it was incredibly helpful for my students to witness me talk so highly of them in front of other adults. It also became beneficial for other adults as well. As we would walk the halls of the school they would pass by my quietly lined up class and say, “Wow! Look how respectful these students are as they walk these halls! They are the best class!” 

I focused on their good behaviors and those shone through. 

I told them over and over how helpful, kind, and respectful they were and they started to not only believe it but act that way as well. 

I showed other teachers in the school just how great my class could be. 

A once rowdy, disrespectful class became an example to others throughout the school. 

Every single class and student out there has the potential to be amazing if you foster it and allow it. Look for the good and you’ll find more and more of it every single day. 

Four Day School Week: The Pros And Cons

Your typical school week: Monday-Friday with the hours sometime between 7 am- 4 pm. But slowly over the nation, schools are switching to a four day school week. Class runs Monday- Thursday with an added 40-60 minutes each day to compensate for the lost time by not having the schools run on Fridays. Sometimes even starting school earlier in the school year, or keeping kids a few days later in the spring to again, make up for the lost time. 

At first, this may not seem worth it. In the end, the time spent at school is the same, just spread differently. So what are the pros and cons? 

Pros: 

Schools that have shortened to four days saw an increase in student attendance. 

Utility bills were less, as well as a decrease in labor costs and bus expenses. 

Teachers are less stressed and happier because they have an extra day for their weekend. 

The fifth day of the week can be used for tutoring, school activities, and collaboration between teachers and peers, still leaving Saturday for free time, instead of taking up the entire weekend. 

Cons: 

Students who are special needs or behind academically had a harder transition to the shorter week. 

Juvenile crime rates went up significantly. 

Longer days of school can be harder on the students, especially the younger grades. 

Childcare expenses can become a problem for working parents. 

The research is scattered for four day school weeks, a study in one state shows thousands of dollars saved, with reading and math scores going up, while another school shows no money saved and test scores dropping for a few years before they start to rise again. 

One thing that does seem fairly consistent in the research is the first five or so years of adapting to the new schedule for schools with negative side effects before seeing improvement in the later years. This alone is a big reason districts are hesitant to change. But overall, will the change improve long-term results? Is it worth it at the cost of potentially putting students through a few hard years? Some are saying no, others are saying yes. 

What side of the fence are you on? What other pros and cons do you see?

My Favorite Positive Reinforcement Strategies In The Classroom

You can read countless research studies on a positive environment and how using these positive reinforcement strategies can help you see better behavior in kids, spouses, pets, co-workers and more. When it comes down to it, those who are properly praised for a task will statistically try harder and do better the next time it is expected of them. 

Creating a positive classroom culture starts with a simple positive comment toward your students. Here are a few of my favorite positive reinforcement ideas I came up with while teaching. 

A cheerio or other cereal placed on the desks of students who are following directions. 

Tally points on the board for groups that were working together or following directions, that ended up amounting to no reward other than “winning” against other groups. 

Little stickers for students showing correct behaviors. 

High-fives to those following directions. Oprah style worked best for us- “Johnny gets a high-five, Amelia gets a high-five, Andrew gets a high-five! Awesome job on following directions!” It’s amazing what kids will do for a simple high-five and a little public praise. 

Simple and subtle compliments to students working hard. 

We put a money economy system in place with coins. It’s fun to see the hard work first graders will put into cleaning up the floor at the end of the day when a plastic nickel is on the line. 

My favorite way by far was telling the class every single day what an amazing group of students they are. They become what you tell them they are- So tell them they are great and eventually they are going to believe you. I have more thoughts on this later, stayed tuned for another blog post regarding this. 

Praising positive behaviors yields productive results. It has been researched, it’s science. And on top of that, I’ve witnessed first-hand how well it works, not only with my students, but my children, and even, MY DOG. 

How have you made your classroom a positive place? 

What Substitute Teachers Wish Teachers Knew

Recently I wrote an open note to teachers from their subs. I’ve spent multiple school years substitute teaching in classrooms when full-time teaching wasn’t a possibility for me. After being in so many classrooms with vastly different situations each time, here are my best tips to teachers from their subs on how we can have a successful day with a few extra resources. 

  • Please don’t ever feel like you’re leaving too much information. We can be walking into a completely new school that day so assuming we know nothing is the best protocol. 
  • Giving us information on students is extremely helpful. Who might need extra help, who would be extra help, who to trust to run the classroom keys back down to the front office. Even certain behaviors to look out for and the best way to handle them. 
  • Knowing the attention-getters you use for your class can be a big tool for us. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stood in front of a classroom singing out, “class, class” only to get weird stares from half the kids and louder talking from the other half. Leave us with at least one to use. 
  • Leave us with the name and directions to the classroom of one teacher close by that can help in a time of crisis. This can be something as small as turning on the projector, or as big as locking the classroom during a lockdown.   
  • We thrive on your lesson plans. I had a good friend tell me an awful story about a week-long sub job in a special ed classroom with no lesson plans. She had to come up with something to do every day that week with these students, in which she had no previous training on how to teach them, or what they are learning. In some states, a teaching degree or license is not required, so lesson plans are crucial. 
  • The classrooms I had the most success in had a binder with labeled maps, procedures, a class list, the lesson plans for the day. Everything we need to know right there, and something the teacher had to make once and only replace lesson plans as needed.  

We want to have a successful day teaching your students, and the more information we have to do this, the better! I have never walked into a classroom and thought the teacher left me with too much. Even if there was material that was never used it still helped me feel prepared.

Are you a substitute teacher? What other tips do you have? 
Are you a teacher? What tips do you have for subs? 

Taking Down The Baby-Proofing: Some Thoughts On Self-Reg

Like many households with toddlers and babies, we have outlet covers placed in every reachable outlet throughout the house. For the first two years of my daughter’s life, they stayed put and did their job, keeping her safe from electrocution. 

But alas, at some point, her curiosity and fine motor skills moved beyond the simple plastic and left us with outlet covers being pulled out left and right. 

At first, we tried telling her no. 

Then we tried redirecting her every time.

When neither worked, we attempted to show her how to put them BACK in the socket in hopes that once pulled out, she would put it back in. However, instead of putting the cover back in the socket, she started sticking anything else that might fit. I’m sure a lot of parents are familiar with the objects- Pencils, forks, fingers, straws, anything long and skinny. 

Finally, I was at a loss, what was I going to do to keep my daughter from getting electrocuted? This was becoming too dangerous. 

One night it dawned on me. She was two and a half at this point and I thought to myself, it’s time to stop trying to block her from the danger and start teaching her how to properly use them as a tool, making the danger lessen drastically. 

We had a quick conversation about outlets and power, at a two-year-old level of course, and what we use outlets for. I pulled out her tablet and charger and showed her how to properly plug in one side of the cord to the outlet and the other into the tablet. She practiced over and over taking it in and out of the outlet and watching the screen turn on when it would start charging. We also talked about what can and cannot be placed in outlets. Tablet chargers- good! Forks- No way. She was overjoyed with this new skill she had just obtained. 

At some point, we had to take away the baby-proofing and hand-holding to let our kids just experience the world for what it is. This can be true for crossing the road or walking to the neighbor’s house. Maybe taking off training wheels or taking off floaties in the pool as Mary talked about in a past post. 

How do we help students learn self-regulation in our schools that can be full of figurative outlet covers? What would happen if we let elementary students choose their own tables in a lunchroom instead of assigning each grade and class a specific spot? At first- chaos. But over time, think of the self-regulation this could promote in students with the proper scaffolding. Just like how I had to sit down and show my daughter step by step how to plug in her tablet and effectively use an outlet, the same would be done with the students. 

The benefit became apparent for me almost right away after removing every last outlet cover from our home. When the vacuum cord wouldn’t quite reach the far corner of the living room, my daughter came running to unplug it from the current outlet and move it to a closer one. Less work for me! When her tablet dies, she is responsible for plugging it back in. She is excited at any chance she has to use the outlets, and I don’t have to worry about forks and straws in them anymore! 

How do we find the balance of a well run, efficient school while also putting responsibility into the hands of students to behave and act in a respectful, responsible manner? And how do we get to the point where the two can become one? A well-run school that promotes student decision making and taking off the “outlet covers”? Tell me your thoughts.

Featured Image: pexels.com

My Best Field Trip Tips

Field trips season is coming this spring! Nothing causes kids more excitement and teachers more anxiety than a day outside of school in unfamiliar territory. Field trips can be so nerve-wracking because it takes planning, permission slips, parent volunteer sign-ups, and more. 

I spent two months in a 4th-grade classroom during my time student teaching, and during that time we as a 4th-grade team went on SIX different field trips! In my next block of student teaching, I was in a 2nd-grade classroom where we went on two field trips in two months. In my first long-term substitute teaching job after graduation, the first-grade team I was working with brought the kids on a field trip to the aquarium. All within the same school year, I was able to experience TEN field trips. 

Ten field trips in nine months with three different age groups gave me a lot of experience that I am here to share with you now! 

  • Prep the students beforehand- Don’t leave them with uncertainty, walk them through what will happen, how it will happen, and how you expect it to happen. Tell them how to enter the bus, how to sit on the bus, how to handle lunchtime, how to find you if they need you, and more. Set CLEAR expectations and repeat them again and again. 
Exploring and learning about The Great Salt Lake by getting into it!
  • Give your students examples and stories of why your expectations are set the way they are. The first field trip I went on with my 4th-grade class, their teacher told them a story of how she lost a student on a field trip because the student wasn’t following instructions and she wasn’t paying close enough attention. She made them a promise that she would pay extra attention to every single one of them and do her part if they did their part by adhering to expectations. Adding a personal experience helped those students realize just how important paying attention and following procedures really was. 
  • Count your students. Then Count again. And again. Always be counting the students.
  • Use the buddy system. It is used often and is somewhat obvious for teachers, and for good reason, it works! 
Writing in their field trip journals
  • Have your students keep a field trip journal to record their learning. Give them prompts during breaks to write about what they are seeing, learning, and doing.
  • Parents. You most likely have at least one parent in your classroom that is willing to step up and to help you with what you need. Utilize these parents as chaperones, organizers, and more! Use them as often as possible. 
  • Take pictures. If possible, take pictures of your students for parents to see and to show your students later as well. These memories are priceless and everyone will appreciate them later. 
  • HAVE FUN. There is no lie a certain level of stress accompanies any given field trip. But when it comes down to it, you’ve done the planning, you’ve prepped the kids, and now it’s time to enjoy the field trip and watch the students learn and grow in a new environment. 
Handcarts and pioneers are a deep part of Utah’s state history. Field trip at the American West Heritage Center in Wellsville, Utah.
Touring Utah State University’s campus

Field trips can be incredibly rewarding if they are done correctly. Students can learn and grow outside of the classroom and it can give them the hands-on experience they need to understand how the world works around them. Gone are the days of passive learning where we sit in desks and copy notes. Now is the time for active learning and putting understanding into the hands of the students. 

What are your best field trip tips that you would add to this list?