A typical day for a substitute teacher can be busy and hectic. There’s a lot to do and a lot to learn, particularly if you’re just starting in a new classroom. Either way, one of the most important things you can do is to write detailed notes for the absent teacher.
Here are some helpful tips on how you can do just that — without adding stress to your day.
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Use the Sub Plans
Use your sub plans as a framework to jot notes for the absent teacher throughout the day. The notes can act as a tool to follow the class schedule, and they provide a place for you to write down what lessons plans were accomplished. You can also annotate any changes to the schedule, such as a resource class that went overtime. This is a great help for teachers when they return to school and need to plan out their next lessons.
Using a class list can also give you a way to make detailed notes for the absent teacher. Subbing for an eighth-grade math class? Use your class list to annotate who participated in discussions. Teaching in a third-grade homeroom? Use the class list to record students who struggled with the reading lesson of the day. Teachers will love the feedback. It’s also good for students to know you are paying attention to their learning and participation!
Another helpful pointer: Label work that your students turn in so that the full-time teacher can easily spot which class submitted which assignments.
Note Any Behavioral Issues
There may be students in your class who will not want to follow the management plan set in place by the classroom teacher. So, it is important to make a separate note for any behavioral issues. Do your best to communicate these observations factually and non-judgementally — i.e. instead of noting that a student was rude, describe exactly what happened.
This is important for two reasons. First, if you keep a separate document for behavioral notes, the teacher will be more likely to read it. Second, it will help you keep track of student behavior throughout the day. Take notes regarding student(s) who are having a hard time following your directions, not staying on task, and/or did not respond appropriately to redirection. Also state what actions you took if/when students did not meet expectations.
Behavioral notes aren’t just to spotlight the negative, however. It’s also important for absent teachers to be aware of positive behavior, so remember to make mention of the students who exhibited a great attitude as well! You can also let your students know when you leave a positive note.
Create Your Own Form
One way to stand out from other substitute teachers is to make your own “Sub Notes” form. You can create a simple template using Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or a similar program. Here are some subject headings that would be helpful to put on your template: absent students, class accomplishments, activities that went poorly or really well, and extra comments you have about the day.
Having your own form will help you stand out from other substitute teachers. It will also keep your thoughts organized throughout the day, as you will be familiar with the formatting of the document. If you do not want to invent your own form, you can find examples of templates on websites like Teachers Pay Teachers and Pinterest.
Be Professional Up to the End
If you don’t get the chance to take notes throughout the day, it’s important to write comments before you leave. The teacher will appreciate that and hopefully remember to ask for you directly for the next time they need a sub. Also, if you’d like to be considered for a full-time position at the school, teachers will remember the detailed notes you wrote and may be more likely to say positive things about you to the sub coordinator. The little things are what help you stand out as one of the best substitute teachers.
And remember — it’s important to keep the notes private. Avoid writing them on the whiteboard for all students to see. If the teacher or site administrator doesn’t outline a clear process for turning in notes at the end of the day, ask!
Looking for more classroom resources? Check out 72+ Tips, Templates, and Classroom Resources for Substitute Teachers and 7 Meaningful Activities for Students who Finish Early
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About the Author
Janine Chen, VP of Talent, leads a dedicated team that helps our substitute teachers succeed. Janine has spent her entire career in education, including positions with schools and non-profits. She is an alumna of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.