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7 qualities the best substitutes look for in a school

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While substitute teachers get to repeatedly practice the art of the first impression, schools have fewer opportunities to ‘wow’ new subs.

Substitutes gather valuable information during their time at your school; they learn about the school’s culture through what you tell them about your guidelines and expectations, and also how you deliver that information. 

Want your school to stand out from the crowd? Here are the seven qualities the best subs look for in a school.

1. A warm welcome

Be sure to greet your subs with a smile and a warm hello. No sub wants to feel like a nuisance or like the school doesn’t have time to show them the ropes. A little attention and guidance will go a long way!

2. Readily-available resources

Start the day off strong with world class check-in and orientation protocols. Having an organized and consistent procedure in place to welcome subs is another great way to make a strong first impression.

Be sure you provide the following for each and every substitute teacher that comes through your doors:

 School map
 School schedule
 Emergency protocol info
 Attendance procedure
 Class list
 Wifi passwords
 Out-of-class procedures (bathroom, water fountain, etc.)
 End-of-the-day procedures
 School-wide behavior management plan
Directory with staff contact information

3. A system of support

Incorporate substitute teachers into your community by surrounding them with a system of support — this will give a positive spin to even the most difficult days.

Before onboarding a new substitute teacher, ask yourself:

  • Who will take responsibility for showing the subs where the break room or communal space is and introducing them to other teachers and staff members?
  • Who can be available in case the substitute has questions? This may be an aide, team teacher, or neighboring teacher
  • Who in the office will be the point-person if sub plans are unclear or altogether missing?

Along with designating a clear point person to answer your subs’ various administrative and classroom questions, you also want to make sure they feel generally comfortable and welcome. Invite them into the faculty room for their breaks, encourage your teachers and staff to include them in conversation, and keep up the kind of friendly atmosphere that’s welcoming to a newcomer.

4. Crystal clear communication

There is nothing worse than feeling unsure of what your job expectations are. A substitute in a new school doesn’t have the luxury of familiarity. Be sure to clearly communicate what you need from your subs, what your school policies are, and what other protocols they’re responsible for understanding.

Provide clarity for your substitutes with:

  • A streamlined protocol for their first day
  • A consistent school-wide system for behavioral expectations and consequences
  • Easy instructions for operating technology
  • Templates and precise guides for end-of-day report forms

5. Respect and responsibility

Being new and unsure of a new work environment is not the same as being inexperienced. Though subs may be unfamiliar with your school, they are likely very familiar with the classroom. As skilled educators, subs may seek a degree of autonomy to flex their pedagogical muscles — and that’s a great thing!

As long as you provide clear expectations and ground rules specific to your school, welcome subs to make the classroom their own too. Invite them to use lessons, activities, rewards, and other techniques they’ve used in the past. Students may benefit from a new style, and your teachers may gain new insights into how to improve their classrooms.

6. Feedback for the future

Many subs move into the field for the opportunity to grow professionally. They may be returning to the workforce after a hiatus, or on a path to become a permanent teacher and looking to grow their classroom experience. Whatever the reason that brought them to substitute teaching, they are likely looking for the kind of professional development that can only come from candid feedback.

So, let your substitute teachers know what they did well and where they could improve. Because they’re temporary employees, subs often miss out on discussions about their missteps. But, that frank talk might be just what it takes to make a sub a better teacher and improve on upcoming assignments.

And don’t hesitate to praise subs when they shine, too — some subs may not know what tactics and behaviors to bring into the classroom more often until they get positive feedback from an experienced educator.

7. Appreciation

Most teachers enjoy a lot of recognition — they get thank-yous from parents, cards from students, and even schoolwide days of celebration. Because of the nature of subs’ jobs, they often miss out on the accolades. To really stand out from other schools, consider reaching out to your subs in thanks for all they do.

  • Send them a warm greeting on their birthdays
  • Have students make thank you cards
  • Include them in teacher recognition events
  • Celebrate Sub Appreciation Week the first full week of May

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A proactive approach to your sub pool can help your district recruit, hire, and retain substitute teachers so you are better prepared for unexpected teacher vacancies.