Day in the Life: What It’s Like to Be a Substitute Teacher

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So, you’re thinking about becoming a substitute teacher, but maybe you’re still wondering: What do subs do all day? Here’s what you can expect on a typical day.

Accepting Your Assignment

6:30 a.m. — Your day might begin with the ring of your cellphone: A school needs you. The person on the line tells you what class needs a substitute and where and when to be there, and you accept.

Alternatively, some schools and districts use text- and/or web-based notifications instead, where you can view and accept assignments online or via text message. For example, Swing Education notifies its substitute teachers of assignments via text and the web rather than a phone call.

Once you’ve accepted, it’s time to get ready and head into school.

(Note: Some substitute teacher requests are posted in advance of the assignment, so you might complete this step a few days ahead of time. Also, different schools and districts have different daily schedules, so exact start and end times may vary.)

What Your Day is Like

8:00 a.m. — You arrive at school, ready to own the day. First stop: the office (or the location that’s specified in the assignment). You meet the school secretary, who gives you keys to your classroom and any instructions. You make your way to your destination and find sub plans, a roster, a daily schedule, and information about emergency procedures on the teacher’s desk.

The first order of business is to familiarize yourself with the plans. Locate all the lesson’s necessary materials and make sure you understand the information the teacher has left for you. Hopefully, they’ve provided you the name of a contact person, another teacher who can help in case of questions. If not, don’t worry; the teacher next door will do their best to answer any questions you have. Teachers are helpful people. Pop over and introduce yourself.

The sub plans will have all the important information you need: the timing of each class, whether you have a duty to attend (like lunch or bus duty), and what time breaks and lunch are. Stick to this plan faithfully; when it comes to transitions, schools run like well-oiled machines. Students need supervision at all times, so it’s important you’re at the correct place at the correct time. Know where you’re going in advance so there’s no chance you’ll get lost in the halls and end up late.

8:15 a.m. — Before students arrive, write any instructions and your name on the board. When the time comes, be at the door to greet students as they enter. Give them a warm welcome and get down to business straightaway. Follow the teacher’s plans to the best of your ability. Remember to take attendance and write down the names of any students who are especially helpful and those who are less than helpful, if necessary.

If you’re teaching middle or high school students, be prepared to give this lesson multiple times for different groups of students, following the school’s daily bell schedule. If you’re assigned to an elementary classroom, you’ll escort your students to their different specials: PE, music, or art, and remember those bathroom breaks! When in doubt, ask that neighbor teacher.

12:00 p.m. — Based on the school and grade level, you may have a lunch to yourself; however, you may need to eat with your students. The sub plans will make this clear. If you’re all on your own for lunch, head to the teacher’s lounge and introduce yourself; building relationships leads to more work as a substitute, so take advantage of opportunities to network!

Wrapping Up Your Day

2:30 p.m. — As the day draws to a close, make sure to have students tidy up their messes and turn in their assignments. After the final bell, the last students leave and you smile and wave goodbye. Whew!  You made it! But wait — you’re not done yet. There are just a few more details to tackle.

It’s expected that you’ll leave a detailed report for the absent teacher. Write them a note and be sure to include important information, including how the lesson went, where students left off in their work, and any trouble or modifications to lesson that were made.

Most teachers also expect a report on behavior: Who was helpful and on-task all day? Who needed redirection? If there were any behavior problems, don’t be shy — tell the teacher. They’ll want to know how their students behaved in their absence, and they’ll likely administer consequences, positive or negative, upon their return as necessary.

Teachers can often request substitutes, so if you enjoyed working with this group of students, remember to let the teacher know!  This will increase the likelihood of repeat bookings. Almost all teachers prefer to go with a sub they know has a proven track record.

Finally, it’s always a good idea to tidy up the room behind you. Leave it just a little straighter than you found it. Bundle and paper clip student work, and label it with class period and date.

2:45 p.m. — Pop into the office to drop off your keys, and you’re officially done. Now head home and put your feet up — you’ve earned a break. Get ready to do it all over again tomorrow.

Learn More About Becoming a Substitute Teacher

Check out our complete guides to subbing in the following states: Arizona New Jersey | Texas | California | New York

Or, if you’re ready to start subbing in one of those regions, spend two minutes registering with Swing Education today!

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7 Comments on “Day in the Life: What It’s Like to Be a Substitute Teacher”

  1. You described a perfect day.. having taught as a guest teacher for 13 years..sometimes its:
    Difficult to find the sign in sheet
    The door is locked
    The sub plans are hard to decipher..a answer sheet is not provided
    You may be switched or assigned to another room during plan period
    Challenged by students and teachers as well that you aren’t qualified
    Never called by your name
    Falsely accused of being mean
    And this is just the morning session

  2. I was a sub for awhile and it was horrible. The entire subbing role sets you up for failure though. I mean when you don’t know the kids, school, classroom flow and you’re underpaid with no respect from staff or students…a horrible exprience should be expected.

    I was a sub at a school and was told I had to go to the office to use the bathroom because all the adult bathrooms we’re locked and only teachers had a key. I was told this while on the second floor of the school and pregnant. A teacher, standing right next to the bathroom told me this. This was after main teacher who requested me, showed up late and told me the school had made her hire me and she didn’t know why but I should go to the office and ask them where to go. You’re a throw away human when you’re a sub. Honestly, I’m glad some schools are suffering due to coronavirus…I’m sad for th children…but atleast now schools are forced to treat subs a little better. Although you know they had all the facts and didn’t give a crap before.

  3. I’m done as a substitute after 15 years. I reached my limit of being disrespected by some students, teachers and principals. Low pay and little respect doesn’t contribute to being satisfied at the end of the school day. Sorry, but I’m not going to be used as a punching bag anymore.

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