A great first impression can make your day in the classroom a success. As a sub, you know how kids can quickly pick up on your expectations and your classroom management style. Older students are also tuned into your personality and credibility.
To get the best out of your first day in class, here are 24 tips for how to do it, broken down by age group.
Kindergarten – 2nd
Little children can be sweet, creative, and often really funny. With a warm, outgoing approach, you can set the stage for a focused and happy day.
- More than anything else, young children need to feel safe around new adults. Teachers are a major part of their everyday emotional landscape, and when you’re subbing, they’re missing one of those familiar faces. An approachable smile is essential to establishing trust, comfort, and joy.
- Get them imagining. Young children learn through play. Maria Montessori’s method is just one well-known example of how we learn through discovery. Bring a collection of funny hats or ask them to build a robot out of kitchen utensils. They’ll have a blast and be well on their way to learning!
- Show and tell. Kids in the kindergarten-to-second grade range are passionate about what they love. Let them take turns doing a “show” of a favorite classroom object or book — or ask them to “tell” about a pet or beloved toy at home.
- Make self-portraits. For a spin on show and tell, ask your students to draw self-portraits and tell you a bit about them. You can hang them up in the classroom, too. The kids will be proud, and their parents will be excited to hang the portraits on the fridge.
- Move. Fidgety at their desks? Head off the squirmy-worms by engaging your class in physical activity from the first minute. You can do something as simple as passing a ball, playing hot potato, or using technology to really get them moving. GoNoodle is a program that keeps kids active while they do math, reading, and other activities. Harness the power of kinetic learning.
- Make them laugh. Read a funny, age-appropriate story to the class. Good examples for this age group are B.J. Novak’s The Book with No Pictures or one of the books from Mo Willem’s Elephant and Piggie series. There’s nothing as wonderful to hear as a room full of children laughing, and they’ll be energized for the day.
Older elementary students come with their own set of benefits and challenges. Make the most of the first few minutes of class with approaches that capitalize on their unique strengths.
- Introduce yourself. Children ages 8-10 are developing a better appreciation of what’s outside themselves. That means they’re curious about you — what you like to do, whether you have children or pets, what music you enjoy, or where you live. Give them some information about yourself that might excite them. Don’t be shy — if you have a funny middle name or drive a convertible, they’ll love you all the more.
- Create atmosphere. Consider sprucing up your classroom with decorations before the start of class. The elementary-aged set is old enough to notice something new and exciting, and young enough to appreciate the fun of novelty and festivity. Bring in some posters or streamers to turn your sub day into a special experience they won’t forget.
- Give them a challenge. Kids this age are sophisticated enough to complete fairly complex tasks, and they love a good competition. Divide them into teams and have a scavenger hunt, or get them to build a tower out of solo cups.
- Stop fidgets with a giveaway. Sitting still is hard at any age. Older elementary students are able to stay in their seats longer than the younger set. They still need plenty of movement to stay focused, though. Consider lending them fidget spinners or silly putty to keep those hands busy. Spending a few dollars here will buy you a lot of quiet.
- Bring candy, if school policy allows it. Kids this age can’t get enough sugar! A little treat won’t hurt them, and it will win their affection, too. Turn it into an icebreaker game — toss a piece to any kid who’ll answer your most embarrassing question.
Ah, middle schoolers! We all know they come with a reputation for trouble. Still, there’s a lot to love about these this age group. They’re rapidly gaining intellectual power and making major discoveries every day. Keep them on track with a few tips designed specifically for their strengths.
- Dress the role. For tweens, appearances mean the world. Make an effort to look professional while still being youthful. Clean lines and muted colors will make you fit the bill. Definitely ditch the ugly sweater!
- Make a big entrance. Stroll up to the front of the class with presence, and begin roll call with a boom (or at least a rumble). You’re competing with serious hormones that make these youngsters focused on their peers above anything else. To keep them looking at you during class, establish your authority from the moment you walk through the door.
- Do interviews. There are many options for getting to know your students, and peer interviews are a great way for middle schoolers. Because of their interest in their peers, they’ll be excited to speak to each other and present what they find. Tell them to ask each other open-ended questions and write up a brief profile. This will help you get to know them while also improving their writing skills.
- Show your street cred. For kids this age, there’s no harm in referencing rhymes from the latest pop hits or mentioning current movies you’ve seen. They’ll be impressed you’re in the know and relatable.
- Amaze them. Students in the 6-8 grade range are beginning to grasp the “wonders” of the world, like electricity, the cosmos, and ancient history. Set the course for the class by starting off with a few amazing trivia facts. To make them even more engaging, relate them to the day’s lesson plan.
- Remember, they’re still kids. They may look mature and sometimes shock you with the complexity of their ideas, but they’re very young. Set your expectations accordingly and remember they still need a good deal of warmth and praise.
High school students are pretty amazing. From the time they enter freshman year until their graduation, they make leaps of progress and begin their approach to adulthood. It’s important to relate to them, set some high standards, and have a bit of fun along the way.
- Set ground rules. Adolescents are programmed to test limits, but they still crave structure. You’ll want to establish your ground rules quickly. Be warm and straightforward. They’ll be much more likely to respect your authority, setting the path for a successful class.
- Use confident, approachable, and open body language. Keep your head up, relax your shoulders, and look your students in the eyes. Your self-assuredness will bring out the best of theirs.
- Be genuine. Know your style and work with it. If you’re the kind of person who keeps on top of pop culture, feel free to mention it. If you’re not, don’t sweat it. High schoolers are notorious for their ability to sniff out phoniness. That’s a win for you because all you have to do is play it straight.
- Treat them like adults. You’ll encourage maturity by giving them credit off the bat. Show them you respect what they have to offer. Engage them with questions as soon as you call roll. Ask them polite questions about their hobbies and interests, just as you might a new acquaintance. As class progresses, you’ll be glad you held them to a higher level.
- Start with a debate. Teenagers have opinions on everything! Divide them into groups and ask them to argue out a question until they get consensus. It’s a way to get them energized, especially if it’s a first-period class or one right after lunch.
- Play an icebreaker game. Ask students to share two truths and a lie about them. Then get the class to vote on which one is the fake. They’ll love seeing if they can fool each other, and you’ll get to know them.
And a final word of wisdom for teaching all ages . . .
- Relax! Authenticity is the most important key to succeeding with your new students. Try to avoid starting class off in a rush. Instead, take a few minutes to decompress in your car, enjoy a cup of tea, or listen to music. Your calm energy will set the stage for happy interactions and a great day.
Looking for more classroom tips? Check out our 72+ Tips, Templates, and Classroom Resources for Substitute Teachers.