Tips for Science Substitute Teachers

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Thomas Huxley once said “Science is simply common sense at its best.” If that is true, then you will be glad to know there are some common sense tips to help you prepare for any science substitute teaching position. 

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Preparing for Your Science Subbing Assignment

The most important step of successfully subbing in science class is to get there early and check for the lesson plan. Teachers often spend a lot of time coming up with detailed plans in their absence. Make sure you understand the plans for the day and any requests that the teacher has made. If you are confused at all, don’t be ashamed to ask a neighboring teacher or department head for clarification. (Similarly, if the absent teacher did not leave behind a plan or you’re having trouble understanding it, ask the other grade level teachers or one of the school administrators for help.)

It is very likely that you will not be asked to introduce new content, especially in a science class. You probably won’t be asked to do any sort of lab experiment either. Students will most likely be working on an extension of a prior day’s lesson.

In the event that you are asked to present new material, make sure you are familiar with the content and do any last-minute research before the students enter the room. A great resource to check out is Next Generation Science, which has science curriculum posted from K-12. A quick grade-level search should help navigate any confusion you have about the day’s lesson. It is a great idea to have the plans posted on the board before the class begins.

Once the Students Arrive

As the students enter the class, stick to a seating chart if one was provided. Introduce yourself to the class and go over the lesson for the day. As students begin to work on their assignment, circulate the room and provide assistance. Remember, science can be tricky, and students may need help. Do your best to clarify any problems the students encounter. If you aren’t necessarily a science expert, you can encourage students to ask a buddy for help or consult their books or, if allowed, the internet for help. 

Subs can also review the material as a class, leveraging the knowledge of those who have a better understanding of the material to explain to others. To prepare for this, decide which students will share and tell/ask them ahead of time to share their answer and reasoning with the class.

Alternatively, sometimes asking students a question when they are confused can really help. For example, you could ask an elementary-school student struggling with a lesson on matter:

  • “What patterns do you notice in these properties? How are they alike?”
  • You can also ask students to re-read the section. If they struggle with reading, you can read with them.

You could ask a middle-school student or a high-school student any number of questions on the scientific method, such as:

  • What’s the purpose for this experiment or argument?”
  • “What evidence or data are given that prove your point?”
  • “How can we verify or test that data?”

As students work, do your best to keep them on task and assist to the best of your ability. If you were asked to, collect their assignments at the end of class.

After Class 

What you do after class ends is probably the most important step of the day. Make sure you take a moment to leave the teacher a detailed note about how the class went. Explain how far the class got in the assignment and leave any details about any behavior issues that may have come up. 

Make sure you leave any work along with your note and also leave the room as neat as you found it. Teachers appreciate this step so much, and it will go a long way in your being invited back to substitute again.

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