6 Quick Tips to Support New Substitute Teachers

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Bringing a new substitute teacher onto your campus for the first time can be an adjustment for both your staff and the sub. But connecting the sub with helpful information — and a warm smile — early on can go a long way toward easing their concerns (and helping them understanding your expectations).

That’s part of why it’s so helpful to support your new substitute teachers as much as you can — from the start of their assignment to the end.

Here are six steps your staff can take to do just that.

1. Communicate important details before the day of the assignment

Even the most experienced substitute teachers might get off to a rough start if they don’t have clear direction on what to do before commuting to your building for the first time. This includes important information like:

  • Where to park
  • Where to enter the building
  • Who they should meet at the beginning of the day
  • Who to contact (and how to contact them) if they hit any delays in their commute

Consider emailing a packet to your new substitute teachers that includes this information, or if you’re working with a substitute teacher staffing agency or other provider, make sure to communicate these important updates to the company.

2. Create a clear welcome process

When subs arrive at your school, there’s often a lot of information to go over and not a lot of time to cover it. The more organized, direct, and clearly articulated your orientation procedures are, the more information your subs can take in, the better their questions will be, and the more prepared they’ll be when that first class begins.

Here are some hallmarks of a great welcome process:

  • Give subs a thorough tour of your school, highlighting points of interest such as:
    • Bathrooms
    • Break rooms
    • Emergency exits
  • Provide physical copies of relevant fundamental information, such as:
    • Bell schedule
    • Campus map
    • Emergency protocols
    • Staff contact info

When communicating that information to teachers who are already on campus, think about using paper documents. First days are notorious for login and access problems, and hard copies help ensure that your subs are ready to go — even if their computers aren’t.

3. Emphasize a warm and welcoming culture

At Swing Education, we work closely with thousands of substitute teachers around the country. One of the most common pieces of feedback we receive is appreciation when site administrators treat them with respect and make it clear that they are valued.

This starts when the substitute teacher walks into your building — meeting subs with a friendly greeting, warm smile, and welcoming handshake are small but meaningful gestures.

Too often, substitutes spend lonely breaks tucked away in their classrooms. To make sure they have social support if they would like it, be sure to reinforce that they are welcome to join staff for breaks and lunch. Err on the side of overemphasizing that they don’t need to hesitate to ask for help — make them feel part of the team!

4. Provide classroom management and lesson plans

Each school is different when it comes to behavioral expectations, disciplinary protocols, culture, and fundamental rules.

So, provide your subs with classroom management “cheat sheets” that give them a clear picture of what the students are used to, what expectations the school has for behavior, and how they should proceed given various levels of misbehavior or disruption.

These plans may include:

  • Info on school-wide behavioral guidelines
  • Explanation of classroom expectations
  • Ideas for rewards and discipline that the students are familiar with
  • Classroom-specific notes on student helpers and challenging students
  • Emergency procedures and who to contact in case of an emergency or out-of-hand students
  • Attendance procedures

It also never hurts to have a school leader drop by the sub’s classroom to communicate to students that a strong day of learning is still critically important — even though the regular teacher is out.

It’s also important to provide lesson plans as well as guidance on how closely the substitute teacher should follow them. Creating backup lesson plans (that might include information like appropriate books for the class to read) can also be helpful for instances when the regular teacher has an unexpected absence and isn’t able to leave a plan for that specific day.

5. Connect subs with a contact in the building

Even the most prepared substitute teacher may run into unforeseen snags, technical difficulties, or classroom management challenges. Introduce your subs to a contact in your building who can help if the sub needs immediate backup or quick guidance.

Be sure the sub knows where their the contact is stationed and how to reach them if they are out and about. You may even want to provide your subs with the contact’s schedule, along with a backup option if the primary contact is unavailable.

6. End the assignment on a high note

The final bell of the assignment doesn’t necessarily mean the end of your relationship with a new substitute teacher. Spending a few minutes chatting to hear how things went and to express your appreciation can have long-lasting benefits.

First and foremost, this brief discussion can offer valuable information about what worked and what didn’t for the substitute teacher, which can help your team adjust its procedures. It also gives you an opportunity to provide constructive feedback to the sub to assist in their development.

Finally, expressing gratitude to the substitute teacher for their hard work might seem like a small thing, but it can actually encourage your top substitute teachers to accept assignments at your school time and again.

Want more information on substitute teacher success? Check out this piece, which discusses five steps to help you retain your top subs.

About the author

As the Director of Talent at Swing Education, Alex works to give our substitute teachers the tools and support they need to succeed. Before joining Swing, Alex spent more than five years working for a nationwide network of high-performing elementary schools.

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