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Tips for substitute teaching in middle schools

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes

It’s an interesting place, middle school. Just ask anyone! Middle-school students no longer the babies of elementary school, and they’re not yet the young adults of high school. They’re in transition both physically and mentally.

Middle schoolers are known for their budding interest in the world around them and their ability to revert back to the immaturity of bathroom humor at a moment’s notice. That’s a big reason why working with this group can be a daily adventure.

With that in mind, here are some ideas of ways to succeed in middle-school classrooms as a substitute teacher.

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Remember, they’re still kids 

Some middle-school students look like young adults. Don’t let this fool you! Behind that rapidly growing exterior is a young person in flux. Keep that in mind when setting expectations.

It’s helpful to circulate around the room to verify students are on-task. Also, keep the sarcasm out of the classroom. Your students won’t likely understand it, and they developmentally take that type of humor to heart. Instead, speak literally when communicating to all students. Students benefit when adults say what they mean and mean what they say. It also garners a lot of respect.

Middle-school students will likely also need a few reminders about things like behavior and work completion. Patience and understanding will get you far with middle graders.

You’re the adult in the room

Like all students, middle schoolers sometimes push boundaries — especially when there’s a substitute teacher in the room. They may strategically “forget” rules that have been in place all year and bend the truth to suit their purposes, especially if they think there’s little chance they’ll be caught.

So, for example, if it sounds outlandish that the regular classroom teacher allows students to listen to the radio on full volume and play on their cell phones, it probably is. Always consult any sub plans or behavioral guidelines that have been left behind. When in doubt, ask the teacher next door or the site admin.

Another helpful tactic is to directly tell students that any behavior that they choose to exhibit will be relayed to their teacher. And remember, students should be supervised at all times.

Provide clear expectations up front

Sometimes we have expectations for our students, but we fail to communicate them. How can students succeed if we don’t share this information? Before class begins, review any behavioral guidance the full-time teacher left behind; let students know at the beginning of class what’s expected of them.

Tell students where they should sit, what materials they are allowed to use, and, generally, what they should be engaged in at all times during activities. Let them know whether talking and collaboration are allowed and what volume students can speak at. Tell them what they’re expected to turn in at activity’s end. And give students reminders to stay on-task.

If you’ve told students what you expect from them, the next step is to enforce it. Students need not be perfect, but after a warning, consider taking a student aside and privately and non-judgmentally discussing their actions before proceeding. Once students are aware of the expectations, it is important that you hold them to that standard.

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