Making Substitute Days Count


It is normal for many teachers not to trust substitutes to facilitate meaningful learning and as such, very little time is spent on creating lesson plans. On the other hand, substitutes usually expect to assign busy work. The common expectation here is that students will often be playful disengaged at best or disrespectful and disruptive at worst. Students often assume that lessons taught by substitutes have little or no relevance. But how can this vicious cycle be broken and ensure that substitute days count for something? Here are a few suggestions.

Student-centered classroom structure:

Creating a student-centered classroom structure where the regular and substitute teachers assume supportive roles is very important. Try putting your students in teams of 5-6 and have them work together at a table. Assign a score for their work and give each the team the score of a randomly chosen group member. By doing so, you teach your students learn to work together. This is because while their individual grades may reflect on their work, they also understand that a fraction rides on the work of the other group members.

In absentia, raise the stakes for your students:

The kind of behavior that’s demonstrated or work accomplished on any given substitute day should be considered just as valuable for your students’ grades as is their performance during regular days.

Keep it meaningful and relevant:

Telling and showing your students that what they learn in class isn’t just important for their grades, but that it will also help them in future is a key element of teaching. As a teacher, you should have a commitment in expecting your students to do the same work they do with you even when you aren’t present.

Carrot and sticks system:

During substitute days, you can tweak the reward system a little bit differently. For instance, rather than award team points according to the score of a randomly selected student, you can award them depending on the motivation and determination of the entire team. The following are a few rules that may come in handy when creating your carrots and sticks system.

  • Award double points to teams that behave well and turn in excellent work on sub days
  • Behavior is important – Those who get sent to the principal’s office or get their name on a note from the substitute teacher earn zero points for the entire team.
  • Those who are slow to class or submitting their work can be awarded half credit for their groups
  • Every student who submits their work to the sub can contribute points towards the final score for their team

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One comment

  1. Wonderful tips here. I just signed up with the school system here to be a sub this coming year, and I need all the help I can get! I’ll have to take notes on what I’ve read on this site. 🙂

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