4 Tips For When the Sub Assignment or Role Is Unclear

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Many schools’ rules, guidelines, plans, and procedures have been developed over multiple years. Along those lines, a full-time teacher might spend weeks setting up daily classroom routines within the structure of their school policies. So when you walk into the building for the first time as a substitute teacher, the last thing you’d want is to disrupt the flow.

A truth to keep in mind, though: Every school is different. While it would be beneficial to have a detailed, hour-to-hour plan of operations, that won’t always occur. Sometimes administrators are forgetful, plans can be moved off a desk, or maybe the teacher was so ill that drafting a day’s plans wasn’t possible. 

You might arrive at school and no one is in the office to give you directions. Perhaps you were one of two subs called for the same job. Maybe the last period of your day is that teacher’s planning period, your students are dismissed, and no one can tell you what to do. (These are all very real situations that have happened to very real substitutes.)

But when times get shaky, there’s no need to fret. Buckle down and remember a few things.

1. Don’t leave the campus until you’re dismissed by your point of contact or an administrator. If there’s some kind of mix-up with your class assignment and the teacher is present or another sub has claimed your spot, wait for further direction from the administration. Perhaps there’s another role they’d want you to take at the school!

2. Always fully follow each school’s check-out procedure. Talk to someone who would know how to properly dismiss the students. Best bet? Talk to the teacher next door. Odds are they’ve seen the primary teacher’s release protocol and know just the right way to send the students on their way.

3. Under no circumstances should you ever leave students unattended. This really should be a general rule at all schools. At no point should you step out of the room for any extended period of time and leave the kids alone. Stay with them until the end of the day, until they’re officially dismissed from class, or until you are relieved by another qualified adult in the school.

4. If you arrive at the school and they’ve for whatever reason concluded they don’t need your services for the day, then you will still get paid for the day. The old saying goes, “Showing up is half the battle.” As long as you’ve faithfully attempted to fulfill the duties of your assignment, there’s no need to worry. Simply wait until you’re officially dismissed for the day.

Looking for more resources to help you succeed as a substitute teacher? Check out this piece that highlights 72 tips, templates, and ideas for the classroom.

About the Author

Robert Acosta is an elementary school teacher with his Bachelor’s in Elementary Education from the University of Arizona.

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