Substitute Preparedness

What to Expect When Arriving at Schools

Be prepared and start your day right with these tips.
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Excitement and Anticipation

You've accepted a substitute teaching job, and your excitement builds as you enter the parking lot. From the moment you exit your car, you can already hear and feel the energy of students who have arrived early.

If this is a school or classroom that you haven't subbed at before, you also have a lot of questions tumbling around in your mind. Where do I go? What are the expectations here? What are the students like? Will I know how to teach the lesson?

It is normal to feel some anticipation along with excitement, but there are some things you can do to feel confident and set yourself up for a great day.

school building and playground with students

Entering the School

Give yourself time to get to school without having to rush. Often, it takes a minute to figure out the parking lot setup and to find a space when it is your first time at a new school. It may also take a minute to locate the office. You can expect that the office staff will have a good amount of information to share with you when you arrive, so you should plan on entering around 15 minutes before the job starts. This will allow you to introduce yourself, get any keys or badges, and learn about any changes to the schedule (fire drill, assembly, etc.). This will also allow you time to ask questions (e.g., Where is the staff bathroom?).

Many schools have policies to check photo IDs before they check in guests to the school, so make sure to have your ID with you.

You can also expect that the office will be a very busy place in the morning, with staff, parents, and students streaming through or perhaps in a long line. Politely approach the front to share that you are there to substitute--the office staff will typically want to get you to your classroom sooner rather than having you wait in line. You are a VIP!

It is important to know that sometimes, schools have staffing changes unfolding just before school begins; although you accepted a certain grade or subject area, you may be asked to cover a different class, or even move around during the day, according to the school's needs. If you are uncomfortable with a change, speak up and see if the school can provide you with support, such as an aide or a helpful teacher nearby. Being flexible is a fast way to build a positive relationship with a school, and they will want to have you back again and again. Many substitutes get offered permanent staff positions because they are willing to help out wherever needed.

An empty classroom

Entering the Classroom

If the office staff does not have the lesson plans for you, then they are most likely waiting for you on the teacher's desk in the classroom. When you accept jobs on the Senya app, you can view any notes or plans ahead of time if the teacher attaches them. However, many teacher absences are unexpected, and some teachers may not remember to attach plans on the app, so you can expect that in many cases, you will be seeing the lesson plans for the first time when you enter the classroom. This is another reason why it is important to arrive at the school early.

Read through the lesson plan and look for the bell schedule, attendance roster, and seating chart. Be sure to watch for important notes, such as students with behavior plans. Get familiar with the layout of the classroom, and make sure you have the materials students will need for the day's work. If the lesson involves technology, take time to turn it on and get familiar with how it works.

You can also take the time to introduce yourself to nearby teachers and aides. They can answer any last-minute questions you have before school starts, and they will be your first line of support during the day for any questions or problems that arise, such as figuring out classroom technology or difficult student behavior.

If possible, write your name on a board in the room, big enough for students to see it easily. Almost all schools have the expectation that substitute teachers go by Mr., Ms., or Mrs. and your last name. However, it is common and acceptable to go by Mr., Ms., or Mrs. and your first name if you are substituting as a classroom aide.

In many schools, students are sent to the classroom right away in the morning. In some schools, you won't have any students until the first warning bell. It is good to ask the office about this so that you know what to expect as you prepare for the day.

substitute high five with elementary students

What to Bring

As mentioned earlier, you should have your ID in case the school needs to check it when you arrive. Although most classrooms have clocks, it is a good idea to have a watch just in case. A watch is also preferable since school staff set an example for students by keeping their cell phones away during the day. You should also bring a pen or pencil . . . You would think that classrooms have ample writing instruments, but you don't want to be in the awkward spot of shuffling through drawers and cabinets so that you can take attendance at the start of class!

Some substitutes might consider coming with backup ideas or materials; substitutes shouldn't bring their own picture books or stories to read to students because many schools have procedures for acceptable curriculum. It is best to stick to the lesson plan, and if there is down time, to use materials already in the classroom (e.g., already-printed activity pages, books from the classroom shelves).

The most important thing that you bring is a positive, caring attitude. Students can get out of sorts when their routines are changed, like their teacher being absent, but you can provide them with a safe, comfortable classroom and keep them engaged in learning. You can expect students to respond well when you maintain high expectations and show an energetic confidence as their substitute teacher.

With these tips in mind, you are ready to step on campus and make it a great day!

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