9 Tips to Help Students Behave for a Substitute Teacher
One of the main reasons you may avoid taking your sick days (even when you’re sick) is making those dreaded sub plans and dealing with the behaviors that inevitably occur after a sub is in your classroom. Even the best of classes can turn into total mayhem as soon as a substitute walks into the room! Before you go to work with more than the sniffles, check out these nine tips to help students behave for a substitute teacher (directly from my readers) to help ease your transition back to class for you and your kids. (This post may contain affiliate links. See disclosure).
Discussing your expectations is crucial to helping your students behave for a substitute teacher. Let your students know from the beginning that the expectations are always about respect of self and others, including guest teachers. One way to introduce these expectations is to use social stories. Special education teacher and reader Liz C. tells a story to her students about a substitute and reviews it before she plans to have a sub. This helped her students when she took an unexpected leave due to an injury. Telling your students that your expectations for them are the same expectations you have for them when a sub is in the classroom.
When students live up to those expectations, use some positive behavior reinforcement and reward them for their exceptional behavior. “I leave special passes that the kids can earn for being on their best behavior all day for the sub. [They are also for] for the students that go above and beyond to help the sub or their classmates while I am gone,” said reader Erin S. When she returns, her students can turn in the passes for a special prize. (You can even find cheap items to use for prizes in bulk packs on Amazon! This is a lot cheaper than the dollar store.)
Follow your Routine
Make sure your students know your rules and procedures enough to be able to explain them to a sub. “ At the beginning of the day, I always [have] the sub should ask the students about certain rules and procedures and have the kids model them,” said reader Erin C. “That way, the sub can say, ‘Earlier you guys told me that we walk in the hallway with our mouths closed and hands behind our backs.’ This gives the students ownership over their behavior.” Ownership will encourage your students to behave for a substitute teacher.
Give Students an Active Role
Before you anticipate having a sub, ask your students to help the sub understand the expectations, rules, and procedures. When you return, you can get back to the fun stuff and not have to deal with behaviors. “ I give each a job to oversee. The job could be showing the sub where my books/plans are to making sure the closet doors are all shut properly,” said reader KerryAnne W. “It certainly helps make the children feel they are an integral part of the running of the class.”
Give Rewards for Good Behavior
Celebrate positive behaviors with preferred activities. Reader Hannah D. rewards her class with a special art project since her students really enjoy art. Other types of rewards include brag tags or punch cards. Students earn punches or beads for positive sub behaviors to exchange for other prizes and rewards. Try these systems to reward your students for good behaviors year round! (And to encourage them to behave for a substitute teacher!)
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Have The Sub Choose a Secret Student
Let your students know that the sub is going to be looking for a secret student to pay particular attention to. “If the student has behaved all day, they win lunch in the classroom with me. [They can also choose to] sit at my desk all day,” said reader Amy B. This reward can be adapted for students depending on their interests or goals. Switch it up every time you have a sub! It is important to reward students who typically behave well and those who are working on improving behaviors. This will encourage students to behave for a substitute teacher, because they never know if they are the secret student!
Teach Students Social and Emotional Skills
Teaching your students about rules and procedures, how to work with others in groups and pairs, and how to handle unexpected changes can lead to positive sub behavior according to reader Kati R. She teaches these social emotional skills early and revisits them throughout the year to help behaviors with or without subs. Kati states:
“Some of the social emotional skills that I teach my students throughout the year include:
- Procedures like what to do if my pencil breaks or I forgot a pencil, what to do if I can’t find my notebook for a particular subject
- How to decide “who goes first” in a game or partner assignment
- Ways to handle a change in the daily schedule (which can occur when a substitute comes)
- How to communicate any issues to me about things that were not resolved through the course of the day with peers/substitute
- I also leave good student pairings for the day to avoid any unhappy pairings”
Teaching students social and emotional skills can be a game changer. They will be able to handle these situations themselves when there is a substitute teacher.
Teach Students Empathy for the Substitute
Substitute teachers are coming into a situation where they may not know the students or the subject matter. Reader Lisa N. does this with her students before she has a sub. “(I) make them understand how difficult it is to be a substitute,” Lisa said. “Until they look at sub plans they don’t know what they’re teaching. I tell them to please make it easier for the sub by being an amazing class.” If students understand the difficulties of being a sub, they are more likely to behave for a substitute teacher.
Help Students Recognize their Own Behavior
Ask students to reflect on their own behavior. “In order to help my kiddos behave for my sub, I leave an anchor chart that says “What did you do to make Mrs. Selima proud today?” reader Courtney P. said. “As the last activity of the day, I ask the sub to hand out a sticky note to each child to respond to the question. I love reading their responses the next day!”
Remind Students That They CAN Do It
Leaving a note for your students with your expectations for behavior in a positive way can instill a sense of pride and responsibility with your kids. “When I know I’m going to be gone, I always leave a letter for my students on the board that they’ll see when they arrive,” said reader Angie L. “The letter encourages them to do their best and act the same as they would if I were there.”
Having a substitute teacher can be a planning nightmare for you and a challenge when you get back to the classroom. Often behaviors arise with your students that may not normally come up if you were in the classroom. Utilizing these nine tips to helps students behave for a substitute teacher will help your students understand the need for positive behaviors and take pride in themselves and others.
To learn even more about having a successful sub day, check out my guide to emergency sub plans.