Looking for classroom management tips for substitute teachers? You’ll find information on discipline and behavior management while subbing, organization ideas, and more!

Advice from one substitute teacher to another


I’ve never substituted a day in my life, so I can’t imagine the challenge of being a sub. However, I’m frequently asked about tips for substitute teachers, so I’ve pulled together some wonderful resources to recommend to you.

I’ve also recruited an outstanding educator to offer you first-hand experience. The information in the following section is a guest post written by Rachel Friedrich Rachel is a wonderful teacher who shares lots of substitute teacher tips and tricks on her website, Sub Hub Online.

7 tips for substitute teacher survival by Rachel Friedrich

Let’s face it. Subbing is not easy. Even if you are an experienced, certified teacher, it can be difficult to step into a strange classroom and expect to have a smooth day. And if the groundwork has not been laid for you to be there, it can be darn near impossible. However, there are some strategies you can use to be successful.

1) Arrive early.

This gives you time to find the classroom, locate the lesson plans and materials, and introduce yourself to a neighboring teacher. It is vital to know an ally who is nearby.

2) Chunk the day.

I always start by reading through all of the lesson plans. Then I look for where breaks are (lunch, specials, recess, etc.). I go back and closely study the lessons for the first chunk of the day, looking over teacher materials and asking that ally any questions I might have. At the breaks, I will do the same for the next chunk of the day and so on.

3) Don’t assume anything.

First thing in the morning, you need to introduce yourself, making sure the students know your name and expectations. And be sure to word those expectations in a Love and Logic style by making them enforceable statements you know you can control. “I listen to one student at a time.” “I call on students who raise their hand.” “I teach when I have your attention.” “I take quiet classes to recess.” Those are all favorites of mine.

4) Have a reward system.

I always carry my own reward system, but I don’t always use it. It truly depends on the class. I use a punch system, but you can use anything you find convenient. I hand out sticky notes to each student. Then when I see students on task, I use my cute little frog hole puncher to give a punch to their note. At the end of the day, I reward the top group of students with the most punches by letting them choose from my treasure box.

5) Come prepared for the just-in-case.

It happens plenty. Either the lesson plans don’t take up the whole time allotted, or you discover there are no lesson plans. Come prepared with a few things of your own. I always have at least one picture book that I know I could do a reading or language arts activity with. I also tend to carry graphic organizers since they can be adapted to any grade and subject. Busy students cause much fewer problems.

6) Use your allies.

Remember that teacher you introduced yourself to at the beginning of the day? Don’t forget about her if you have an overly disruptive student. Clear with the ally ahead of time that you could send a student to her room to cool off if need be. Then you have a place for that disruptive student to get control of themselves.

7) Use interesting teaching strategies.

Even the best lessons and classroom management will go awry if all you do is drone at the front of the class. Using interesting teaching strategies such as cooperative learning, hands-on learning, and engaged storytelling as much as you can will keep teaching interesting and students paying attention.

Remember, you are often times only in the class for a day. You are not going to make earth-shattering breakthroughs with the students. But you can follow these tips and make the most of a challenging profession.



  1. Diane Landis

    Hi Angela,

    You offered some great tips. I’m a retired first and second grade teacher; currently substitute teaching. My biggest breakthrough was when I figured out how to handle potential “troublemakers” while subbing. Are you interested in hearing about it?

    Thanks again.

    • Angela Watson

      Sure, that would be helpful to a lot of people, I’m sure!

      • Heidi

        I would love to hear about it too. Thanks!

      • Susan K Maronde

        Is there a management tool for a one day job that does not involve a physical reward?

    • Christina Scaduto

      These are great tips. Unfortunately most of then dont work for secondary school subs. Any tips for them?

    • Dona

      yes….please continue because I am experiencing the same thing. Retired and sub a couple days a week and find there are more troublemakers than need be

    • Joan

      Diane, I am years late to this post but would love to hear from you if at all possible!!


    • Shari

      I’m interested in hearing about how to handle the trouble makers.

    • Winifred Bradley

      Yes please!

    • Holly Mullen

      I want to hear how you handle the trouble-makers.

    • Deborah Paton

      I am very interested in how to handle troublemakers. Please let me know the suggestions. Thank you,
      Deborah Paton

    • Dina Wolstromer

      Yes! I’m interested!

  2. payal

    yes please I would love to hear about it .

  3. dorriss tatum

    any games you know especially small group interactive ones.

  4. Linda Marina

    Thank- you Angela!

  5. Stephanie D. Taylor

    I have been away from teaching for 7 yrs. & just picked up on it again at age 69after losing my husband & then having open heart surgery. Whilebo I was looking the other way start boards & laptops creeped in.
    What I need is some help coping with these tools. No one has time to help me at the schools.

    • Michelle Gardner

      Hi, Stephanie!

      I wish I could help you — meaning, I wish we could put our heads together over this. But I’m not sure how your school is using laptops. Try to corner a friendly teacher and ask for an hour together just three times (be holding a calendar and set the dates together). The other teacher would be probably please to help, as long as they know it’s only for a set time, and won’t go on forever. They probably picture you knocking on their door for “help” daily for the rest of the year. Just be proactive and go ahead and ask. By the way, congratulations on going ahead with life to the full. Your husband surely would be very proud of you!

  6. Rachel Bourke

    Helpful comments. Also take a whistle for any outside games and I also take a duty vest. Make sure you have a few games for both inside and outside to play such as octopus, or barbed wire, or if inside 4 corners. For full attention something you can try is raise your hand, if you get to 5 and students are still talking you get a point, if all quiet they get a point, at some time they or you could choose a game or some other activity depending who has the most points. When they are doing seat work make sure they put their name on it, helps to remember them. If you need help with laptops, ask the kids, there is always someone who wants to help and knows more than I do.

  7. GTG

    Thanks—-These at good general tips
    might add remaining calm no matter what happens, tends to baffle and steady the students

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