Suggestions for Substitute Teaching at the High School Level

Substituting at the high school level has all the potential elements of disaster. Students can view it as a day off or worse, a chance to do things they can’t normally get away with. Lesson plans can be scant, especially if the teacher has taken ill suddenly, and even if the lesson is planned perfectly, the subject matter may be one that the substitute is not well versed in, or at an elevated level such as honors physics. Given these potential pitfalls, is there hope for the high school substitute? Absolutely there is. Here are some tips for surviving substituting.


This is probably the most important tip. Being early allows time to see the detail of the lesson plans, and whether they will most likely take up the entire class period. There may also be valuable hints from the teacher as to which students to rely on, and which might need closer supervision. Arriving well before the school day starts can also allow for touring the school to get a feel of the climate, visit with other staff members and administration. Often times helpful hints can be obtained from just such conversations.


It is always wise to bring extra lesson enhancers in case the teacher being substituted for has not left extensive enough plans. These can include logic puzzles, topics for discussion, or even a list of educational websites that students might find interesting enough to fill a void in planning. Be careful not to be so attached to these exercises however, that the lesson left by the instructor fails to be completed. No one wants the reputation of “doing their own thing” and not completing what was asked. Teachers DO appreciate someone who can fill extra time though, when last minute plans are not ideal.


High school students appreciate someone who can make them smile or laugh. Without crossing the line to sheer silliness, humor can add a relaxed tone to a sometimes tense first encounter. Substitutes can still discipline effectively without taking on a defensive or vindictive tone. Someone who can maintain an upbeat energetic demeanor is more likely to develop rapport, then one who appears to be waiting for something bad to happen so they can pounce.


Even though you are the authority in the classroom, it is very important to remember that you are a guest in that mini-culture. Communicate that you are appreciative of students’ attention and efforts. Comment on positive things you see the teacher has done. No one likes a person who comes into their house and is immediately either critical or feels a sense of entitlement. Portraying a grateful attitude can make students want to put their best efforts and behaviors on display.

No substitute is going to go through the process unchallenged. There will be some job assignments that are better than others, obstacles that are unforeseen and students who take great pleasure in trying to rattle the visitor. The key is to possess some strategies that can counter these inevitabilities. By doing so, students can earn a level of trust, respect that leads to them spreading the word that you’re a great person to have when their teacher is gone.