Tips for Substitute Teaching at the Elementary School Level

People choose to substitute for a variety of reasons. One might be a retired teacher who wants to keep teaching on a part time basis with less stress and demands. Another might be fresh out of the university who chooses to substitute while waiting for a more permanent position within the school system. Now and then someone simply wants to contribute to the community, but whatever the reason may be, substituting for teachers within the elementary grades can be a rewarding way to spend a day, a week or even a month if need be.

Substitute teachers play a vital role in the educational system. Sometimes teachers need to spend a few days attending in- service training and teachers get sick too, so school districts depend on their list of quality substitutes. With this in mind, here’s a list of tips on how to be the best and most qualified elementary campus substitute teacher.


1. Be aware and prepared.

Ask teachers, parents and school staff about each grade level curriculum so that you will be aware and prepared to teach what the teacher provides you to teach. This gives you the opportunity to even enhance the teacher’s lesson plans for the day or week you are substituting.

If you frequently substitute for elementary schools, pack a teacher’s bag with a few extra activities to use with various levels of skill in mind. Throw in a few games to play in case in case it rains and the kids can’t go outside. I’d add some stickers too, to give to the students who are extra well behaved. This will provide plenty for you to do with the students when their teacher’s assignments are done. It’s been my experience with elementary school children that it’s better to plan too much than not enough. Stick to the lesson plan and be able to prove you did. Place all assignments neatly on the teacher’s desk, and then when you’re done, use your bag packed with fun stuff to fill in time and provide something new.

2. Be familiar with the school.

Find the cafeteria, office, counselor, library, gym, playgrounds and restrooms ahead of time and find out what the routine of each might be. The teacher should have a class schedule, but it’s good to know what they do in music and the library. As you look around, try to memorize the names of the librarian, coach, cooks, Principal and the secretary. Note specialists as well, like the speech therapist and the special education teachers too. You never know what individual students in your classroom will do or where they’ll need to go.

3. Dress professionally but for comfort too.

Always dress for professional success and like a qualified teacher would, but remember In elementary school, there’s a lot of activity and fun. You might need to bring a pair of sneakers and a sweater for when you have playground duty. In fact, it doesn’t hurt to bring an extra set of clothes, just in case you have an elaborate art project to help the students complete, or you fall in the mud from playing soccer with the kids or on the jungle gym.

4. Attend the faculty meeting.

It’s most likely not required of you, but it’s a nice thing for a substitute to do. Take good notes for the teacher and leave then on her desk so when she comes back, she’ll be up to date on all the news, and besides, she’ll appreciate you.

5. Be on the sweet side but don’t let the rules slide by unobserved.

Elementary students are most often eager to please the teacher, whomever that teacher might be. It will probably be a day that goes by without a hitch, but remember this. Kids can get out of hand when you don’t take a stand and insist that they follow the rules. Be consistent. The teacher should have the list of class rules posted somewhere in the room, so it’s good to go over them with the students at the beginning of the day. Make sure they comprehend that you will be reporting to their teacher how they behave, and make sure you do.

Throughout the day, use a lot of praise and less negative feedback is best. Children thrive when they shine, so find a way to make each and every child shine that day. Say excitedly to the children, “Let’s try with all our might to only have great things to say to your teacher about how you behaved!” Be upbeat, positive and cheerful. If you walk into an elementary classroom, scared to death or out of breath, the kids will pick up on it and take advantage of you. Just be confident that you have the ability to teach, comfort and reach each and every child under your care.


Once you’ve substituted a few times, before you know it the teachers will be requesting you. It’s the first sign that you’re good at what you do, but the truth most likely is that you are even more appreciated than you knew, so allow me to conclude by documenting in print what I’m sure the teachers in your community would say to you. “Thank you. You’re a super substitute and we are blessed and filled with gratitude for you and what you do.”