Tips for Substitute Teaching at the High School Level

“A hundred mistakes are an education, if you make it a point to learn from each one.”

IF YOU ARE A SUBSTITUTE TEACHER, YOU’VE BEEN THROUGH THE TRAINING: I will not repeat the information you got there. …You’re welcome. Since there are a thousand plus other things that you were not taught, I will also not try to cover everything. …You’re welcome. As a matter of fact, rather than give you tips that you most likely have heard or have already used your own common sense to develop, I will try to give you some ideas that require you to walk on the edge where you may not feel so safe or comfortable . When you walk there once or twice, you will learn that even if you stumble you will not fall far. You really are safe. Note: Your priority is to complete the assignment and instructions given to you by the teacher. The tips that I offer here are optional, but are give to let you know that you can go beyond the stuffy rules and strict guidelines and enjoy being a substitute teacher. So, come along with me and lets see if we can add a little thrill to your substitute teaching experience.

DON’T JUST BE ON TIME – BE EARLY: You were taught that you need to be on time, and you knew that already. Being early is better, and can be time well spent. Meeting the teachers, administrators, and finding your way around the school are very important, but why not try locating a few students and asking them to show you around. High school students are very social people and someone in the group will be happy to help. Ask them questions about themselves. Be prepared for the unexpected because they may have answers that will shock you. However, respond rather than react. Ask them to explain their answer if it surprises you. Show genuinely interest. This student will be telling other students that you are a “cool,” or nice, or kind person. That will help as your newly acquired reputation will precede you through the day.

SPONGES THAT MAKE BANGING YOUR HEAD AGAINST THE WALL LESS PAINFUL: Of course you need to have “sponges” or fill-ins in case the teacher did not leave enough work to take the full class period. You have been warned that can happen. How about bringing some riddles related to the subject matter in that class. This is within the “appropriate” category because the students have to think and use what they have learned to solve the riddles. They also enjoy it. Unusual facts (trivia) about the subject matter is always interesting, and you can have fun presenting it to the class. Who says the sponges have to be work? Try something fun and interesting. Be interactive. Have discussions about the topic of the day.

CALL STUDENTS BY NAME – But try to secretly obtain those names. If you have a seating chart, address the students by name. If you don’t have a chart, use creative ways to secretly learn some of the names. If they have an assignment on their desk, catch the name in passing. Pay attention when a student speaks another persons name. Pass a page around to have students write their names for attendance, and put numbers on it so you can figure out who is who in the seating order where they signed in. Use the names you know to ask a student for help, or to compliment them. It is a great surprise when a student is acting up, and you call them by name. Never let them know how you know their name, but you can have some fun with by telling them that the teacher next door told you about him or her, or you have extra powers. By knowing their names you makes them feel like they are a significant part of your class.

YOUR TALENT AND SKILLS ARE A PLUS – USE THEM: I used illusions and calligraphy in the classroom to bribe the kids into behaving. It usually worked. Students love illusions, and you can tell them you will entertain them for the last five minutes of class (If there is actually time), if their behavior is appropriate. If you are an artist, use art to draw goods behavior out of the students. Art is like object lessons, you can always make it relevant. Jokes that they have not heard before will always leave a good impression. The students will want you to come back. When a student is exceptional I used to write their name out really fancy in calligraphy. Word gets around and soon you have good behaviors everywhere because they love to see their names written in a way that makes them proud. Don’t be afraid to entertain when there is time. If you cannot sing, please don’t. Remember, these only apply after the teacher’s assignments are completed.

EVERYONE GREETS AT THE DOOR, GIVE FRIENDLY GREETINGS THROUGHOUT THE SCHOOL, AND THROUGHOUT THE DAY : Greet students and teachers wherever you are in the building. Greeting the students at the door is the necessary norm, but I suggest that wherever you are in the school you will be actively greeting students. Some of them will be in your classroom during the day, and you will have already met them informally. You will be a step ahead because you will know their names and a little about them. Mostly, you will have already made the classroom comfortable for the students you have met.

BRING A GOOD ATTITUDE, I DOUBT YOU WILL FIND IT AFTER YOU GET TO THE SCHOOL: Make sure that attitude is well anchored, otherwise it will me blown by the winds of disrespect, and tossed by the waives of disruptions. Students will do whatever it takes to rock your boat, and you don’t want that rocking boat to drift into stormy seas. You can count on it, high school students know the buttons to push. Disconnect those buttons so that when they are pushed nothing happens. That sometimes rocks their boats, and when that happens you are in control and can change their attitude by whatever you do next. Be creative and be willing to take risks. You cannot really pick your battles, but you can choose a strategy with which you can either end the battle or win it. I like to let the kids know that they can do whatever they want to do (outside of hurting themselves or someone else) and there really is nothing I can do to stop them. However, once they make their choice they have to deal with the consequences. That is the part where I have control.

So, go to the high school with high expectations of the students. Try to help them reach those expectations and get the job done that you are sent there to do. Step out of the box, and you will have memories to write in your journal at the end of the day.