Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Subbing - The First Ten Minutes

I substituted for a class last week, and the situation was the stuff of nightmares. The regular teacher had planned for them to watch a movie that would take up the whole class period. I came prepared with grading to do from my own class, since I was basically not much more than a token supervisor. This was going to be easy. And then the video equipment didn't work. Two hours yawned before me, and the students stared, wondering what I was going to do, and hoping they would be able to run amok.

The most important thing to do in this situation is to not hesitate. I've found when I immediately take command, act confident, and do not let on that there is no plan, potential chaos is averted. Of course, pre-planning and material preparation is vital. I would never walk into a subbing situation without a plan in case everything falls apart. (See next week's blog for ideas on preparation).

With the knowledge that I have a plan ready to go, I can focus on the first impression I am making rather than scrambling for something to do. I do not make a big deal out of what they were supposed to do, or what has gone wrong, but act like plan B is all part of the plan.

The first thing I do in these situations (and unfortunately, there have been plenty) is take roll, calling out names and making eye contact and smiling at each person. It's important that students don't feel invisible or unaccountable in a sub situation. This also helps begin the class with a friendly, but structured and down-to-business atmosphere. I also jot down a seating chart if one is not available so I can refer back to their names during the class.

If I know they are working on a big project, I ask directed questions about what it is and what problems or questions they might have. Sometimes I can pick a spur-of-the-moment lesson that is applicable to what they are doing. I have learned, however, to never let them complain about an assignment or the teacher, because that's a rabbit hole you should never go down.

There is a delicate balance between keeping control and being so strict that the students want to act out. When I started teaching and was nervous about walking this line, I erred on the side of too nice and lenient (because if they like you, they won't behavior badly, right? Wrong!). Now I make an effort to be friendly, but stricter than I am with my own students to stay on task so things don't get off track. A quick transition into an engaging, busy activity is the best strategy.

Subbing, especially when plans derail, is never easy, but by coming prepared, and leaping into confident action in the first ten minutes can make all the difference.


  1. I was a substitute in a classroom where the video was missing. You are so correct that starting anyway with a business like posture will save you.

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  3. I am a new substitute and appreciate any and all constructive suggestions. Thanks!