Success for Substitutes

Just about every teacher needs to be away from the classroom at some point during the year. Whether you’re away for a half day, a day, or several days, you’ll want to make sure that the time goes smoothly for your students and for the substitute or “guest teacher.” Some things to think about:


It may be tempting to plan something different to make the day with the substitute feel more special. But in your absence, “different” or “special” may feel uncomfortable to your students, with the end result that the day will actually go less smoothly than if you’d stuck with your typical schedule.


Be specific in your lesson plans about any special routines or traditions the class has. For instance, if you typically begin math with a warm-up activity, choose an easy one for the substitute, but do not have her skip it.

Other ways to help things go smoothly:
  • Choose several students the substitute can ask about the schedule and routines (rotate this role among students over the course of the year).
  • Discuss ways the class ways can take care of each other and the substitute while you’re out (for example, do what the substitute says even if it’s different from what you would do, treat the substitute teacher with the same respect with which they treat you and each other, remind anxious classmates that you will be back soon, etc.) Write these ideas on chart paper and leave them for the substitute to review with the class.
  • Model and practice being with a substitute. For example, have a colleague, pretending to be the substitute, act out doing activities in the wrong order. Model how to respectfully let the substitute know the correct order.

I’d love to hear how you’ve handled having a substitute teacher in your classroom. What’s worked well? What would you do differently next time?

What Every Teacher Needs to Know
About Setting Up and Running a Classroom

Six grade-specific books, each packed with concrete, practical tips for tailoring your teaching to students’ developmental needs:

  • Best ways to arrange your classroom
  • What supplies and types of books to provide
  • How to best schedule the day
  • What routines to teach
  • Tips for greetings, games, and class celebrations
  • How to communicate well with parents

Perfect for new teachers, teachers switching grades, substitute teachers, and paraprofessionals. Seasoned teachers will find new ideas, too.

Margaret Berry Wilson is the author of several books, including: The Language of Learning, Doing Science in Morning Meeting (co-authored with Lara Webb), Interactive Modeling, and Teasing, Tattling, Defiance & More.

Tags: Classroom Rules, Guest Teachers, Substitute Teacher

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