<img height="1" width="1" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=913546378717206&amp;ev=PageView &amp;noscript=1">

Your Career In Education Begins Here

5 Classroom Management Hacks for Substitute Teachers

Posted by Kevin Kerns on 1/2/17 4:04 PM

It’s no secret that student behavior is one of the most challenging parts of being a substitute teacher. No matter what age group you’re teaching, there could be some behavior problems. The good news is, behavior can be modified. All it takes is knowledge of some basic classroom management skills and consistency.


When you use classroom management skills each time you enter the classroom, you benefit from an orderly environment ideal for student success. That doesn’t mean a boring and stiff environment, but a controlled one that allows everyone to enjoy their time and get something out of it. Read on for classroom management hacks that take even the craziest classroom to calm faster than you can say positive reinforcement.

1. Keep Students Busy

It goes without saying that busy minds equal quiet lips. Keeping your students engaged is the number one classroom management hack. Having plenty to do for students that includes worthwhile and well planned activities will benefit both you and them. Student’s learning will go uninterrupted while their teacher is out, and you will feel confident, competent and have minimal behavior issues.

Teachers will typically leave lesson plans for substitutes to use, but it’s up to you to use it. Good substitute teachers will make sure they follow the teacher’s lesson plans and check off all of the to-dos a teacher leaves. Great substitute teachers will come armed with their own activities to fill in the gaps when they have ran out of teacher-planned lessons.

Rather than resorting to YouTube videos or reading, think of creative ways to keep students engaged and the flow in between lessons moving smoothly. Quick, 5-minute activities that will keep the brain alert and ready to learn are ideal. Pick a few that you feel you can do with minimal materials and can give clear and concise directions on. It’ll be the difference between engaged, busy students and a chaotic, unruly classroom.

2. Set Expectations and Establish Rules

From the moment you step into the classroom, students will test you. It’s one of the things that substitute teachers need to handle, but it can be handled, and with grace. It’s best to know what the full-time teacher uses as far as expectations and rules, but if you’re unsure, develop some of your own that you can use no matter what classroom you’re substituting in. One rule about your rules is to make your expectations clear so that all students are able to understand them.

Think about the world we live in. Having expectations and rules are what makes society work. If we had none, chaos would likely ensue. The same goes for classrooms. Most students, unbeknownst to them, want teachers to set rules and expectations. Students like to know what is and is not acceptable behavior. As a substitute teacher, your job is to maintain the classroom just as if the teacher were there and give the students a barometer for behavior.

A simple expectation that most teachers set is an appropriate noise level in the classroom. Using a count down method or an attention-grabbing phrase works well (think teacher says “macaroni,” students say “and cheese”). Laying the groundwork for what an acceptable noise level is and what the cues are for when it needs to quiet down will make managing the classroom that much easier.

3. Be Proactive Rather Than Reactive

All good scenarios have well thought out plans. While it’s good to be able to fly by the seat of your pants, having a well-structured, organized and effective plan for the day will help things go smoothly. Depending solely on the teacher’s plans could leave you high and dry, so make sure you come with your own material just in case. Plans aren’t the only way that you can be proactive, though.

On day one of substituting, make sure you consult with other teachers and anyone in administration that is available about classroom management tips that they have used or that are effective. Make sure you also understand the school policies on behavior and what happens when something gets serious. Being proactive and understanding this before you enter the classroom will be helpful instead of scrambling if something does go wrong.

4. Use Positive Reinforcement

Plenty of schools and teachers use punishment or discipline when students behave inappropriately, but not enough use the positive reinforcement. When done correctly, positive reinforcement can be one of the most powerful tools in behavior and classroom management.

While it’s not realistic for you as a substitute teacher to create an entire behavior plan for the few days you will spend in a classroom (unless you’re a long-term substitute teacher), using a few simple techniques that you can take with you to any classroom will make a big difference.

A sticker system can be a quick and easy way for you to reward students when they make good choices or exhibit any positive behavior that you want to note. Introduce it at the beginning of the day and give examples of what positive behaviors are. Give a sticker to students who show these behaviors throughout the day. This method can be used with any form of reinforcement- small candies, tokens or even high fives. Just remember to keep it positive and don’t threaten to take away the rewards that students earn.

5. Build in Breaks

While boredom is definitely a reason for students to misbehave, conversely, so is spending too much time behind a desk. Instead of waiting until recess or gym class, build in breaks throughout the day.

According to the Center for Disease Control, physical activity can boost memory, concentration and behavior. Use physical activity in the classroom in creative ways so students can continue to absorb all of the valuable things that you teach them.

Think you’re ready to take on the exciting challenge of becoming a substitute teacher? Keep these classroom management hacks in mind and you’ll be engaging students and having them excited to learn in no time.

Scrambling to fill substitute teacher positions? Get the inside scoop on the STS Guest Teacher Program. Download Our Insider’s Guide


Topics: substitute teaching