5 Things Not to Do on Your First Day in a New Classroom — and What to Do Instead

Swing EducationClassroom Management24 Comments

Your first day in a new classroom is your chance to set the stage for the days to come. You never get a second chance to make a first impression — and with students, if you don’t establish order from the get-go, it’s twice as difficult to get things back on track.

Here are 5 substitute teaching mistakes to avoid — and what to do instead.

Already a certified substitute teacher? Apply today.

Don’t be late.

When it comes to your first day in a new classroom, you’re running late if you arrive right when school starts.  

The biggest favor you can do yourself and your students is to arrive early. This will give you plenty of time to learn the ropes, meet staff, and get ready. Which leads us to Mistake #2 . . .

Don’t come to class unprepared.

It was true when you were a student yourself, and it’s true as a sub: don’t come to class unprepared and expect to succeed by winging it.

Even if you’ve been teaching for years or are familiar with a school, each teacher and classroom is a bit different. Along with giving yourself time to learn about your new assignment, you also want to gather as much info and resources as possible to set yourself up for success.

Here are some quick tips to make sure you’re prepared on your first day:

  • Bring an emergency lesson plan appropriate for the grade level, just in case
  • Bring along your favorite 10-minute activities, games, and contests to keep the class focused if lessons finish early
  • Get the student handbook, school schedule, and other information so you know the school rules
  • Talk to staff at the school and ask them to give you a quick rundown of students that may need more attention or may be ready to help you out

Want more tips to make sure you’re ready? Download our first-day checklist for substitutes.

Don’t skip the ground rules.

It can be tempting to avoid going over the rules for your classroom. It may seem less fun than building rapport with the students from the start or less important than jumping right into the lesson. But, miss out on going over the ground rules, and it can be difficult to establish order in your classroom.  

Come to the classroom with your rules poster. Hang it in a prominent spot and go over it thoroughly with the class. Ask them if you have any questions and you may invite them to share their existing class rules, too.

Don’t let them lose focus.

Even the best students may be tempted to use their teacher’s absence as an opportunity to goof off. If you allow students too much free time or are too lenient when they are off-task, they may take advantage of the freedom to avoid doing their work.

You can keep students on track by using some of these techniques:

  • Use attention grabbers to bring everyone’s focus back to you
  • If students start to break into unfocused chatter, have them do a little physical activity as a group, such as a musical chairs review session or a snowball toss.
  • Have “if you finish early” tasks written on the board so that students don’t disrupt the rest of the class when they are done with an assignment
  • Assign jobs to students so they can always do something helpful

Don’t take student behavior personally.

It’s likely that you’re headed into a new classroom because you want to help out. So, it can be frustrating and disappointing if that first day doesn’t go as well as you’d hoped.

The worst thing you can do in that case is blame yourself. It’ll make it that much more difficult to have a good second day or to start your next assignment off with confidence.

Each student is their own little ecosystem of influences and circumstances — most of which will be unknown to you and have little to do with you.

What’s more, when a teacher is absent, it often disrupts the students’ routines, which can make them more likely to act out.

So, here are some tips to make sure you don’t take any bad behavior personally:

  • Strengthen your position in the classroom with a firm plan. Bring along a list of your favorite classroom management strategies so you can refer to it if things get tense.
  • Remain confident. Remember — you’re in charge! And you’re great at what you do!
  • Take a few deep breaths when things go south — it will calm your nerves and give you a chance to find a good solution
  • Take student misbehavior at face value — don’t read anything into it, just nip it in the bud

There you have it — 5 mistakes not to make on your first day in a new classroom.

Looking for more tips to go into your first day prepared? Check out our 72+ Tips, Templates, and Classroom Resources for Substitute Teachers.

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24 Comments on “5 Things Not to Do on Your First Day in a New Classroom — and What to Do Instead”

  1. Accurate. In learning the woeful don’t as a substitute, the teaching community is the best resource to lean on when times are tight (and certain protocols don’t make sense in whatever condition per say.)

  2. I always arrive quite early to check in, learn about the students I’ll have that day, read the lesson plans, and thoroughly inspect the school rules and schedule. I meet every student at the door as they enter, and I greet every one of them, regardless of grade level. As soon as the bell rings, sometimes a bit before, I briefly introduce myself and take attendance. If I am unfamiliar with the students, I’m a bit severe during this process. I then immediately explain what the students will do that day and ask for questions. During the first ten minutes of class I am vigilant: any hint of bad behavior has to be quashed, though with a sense of humor. Typically I then relax. But I never sit down unless it’s opposite a student. I circulate, comment, assist, and use brief exchanges to learn student names and establish contact.

    This does not always work. Some classes are tough. But I’ll tell you what I never do: yell. The teacher who raises his voice for any length of time has lost.

    1. This information is very important for the substitute teacher who doesn’t know any thing about the first day in the school. Because the first day is very difficult and this day is different from school to school ,and every school has rule different from another school.

  3. Excellent advice. Its a pleasure to obtain information from someone who understands what we go through as Substitute Teachers, Your advice was right on point. Thank you!!!

  4. This is refreshing to know I am doing many things right. Most of all I know strength in the classroom with a firm plan helps the student understand who I am when I sub. I try to bring along my favorite classroom management strategies and in difficult times a great intervention from staff helps. I learn and gain a rapport with staff and campus supervisors.

  5. I am new with Swing so I do know but if possible I believe it would be great if a name thru Swing for Subbing for the students to identify us with would be helpful Another tip would be to speak to the teacher ahead of time if possible. I have done that and then you get to know their classroom and how they are and they work their classes.

  6. Thanks for the opportunity to work in the teaching field with students that I love to share my knowledge and understanding
    with in a learning environment (such as a classroom). I will enjoy engaging the students in thoughtful and meaningful
    conversations as it relates to the subjects that I will be teaching as a substitute.

  7. Thank you for the opportunity to work in the teaching field with students that are the future leaders.
    I hope to engage them in meaningful conversations as it relates to the subjects that I will be teaching as a substitute.

  8. Vivian Ayed
    I was working as an English teacher for 25 years
    For elementary schools
    Middle schools
    And also for High schools
    I started working from 9/1/1990
    To 2/1/2012
    I’m so happy that I got chance to work as a teacher again.

  9. I get to the schools early so that I can read the instructions left for me by the teacher. On several
    occasions I arrived early and was required to sit in the office until the bell rings by office staff,
    causing me to arrive at the class late. There were also times I was not given a key. What do you suggest I do in those instances?

    1. Hi Mamie,

      If something like this happens, please contact Swing Support. You can also leave feedback on a school through the Swing platform. To leave feedback, open the request (after you complete the assignment) and there will be a field for you to leave feedback.

      -The Team at Swing Education

  10. So many of these tips are useful in any job. I love that in setting that example for them and a positive classroom environment can teach them additional life skills.

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