Substitute Survival

So you’ve decided to become a teacher. Time to educate, encourage and inspire, unless of course, you didn’t get a job.  Let me be the first to welcome you to the  primitive world of substitute teaching; you had better come prepared or they’ll eat you alive.

Mr. GodzillaCredit:,


Talkin' 'Bout My Generation
Every generation echoes the same worn out phrase, “Kids these days.” Although times have changed dramatically, on a biological level, children have remained the same…they’re animals. The moment a substitute walks through the door, primal instincts take over. Watching for signs of weakness, students scrutinize their potential prey. With no one to come to your rescue, your only option is survival. 
Students(110784)Credit: www.stockvault.netAs a substitute teacher you have a very brief window to establish some measure of respect. A veteran educator once told me that you shouldn’t smile for the first month; useless advice if you only have one day (and in some cases, one hour). Since there is no proven method of success, I can only comment on what has worked for me, something I call “edu-tainment."

Is Anybody Listening?

With the average attention span of a goldfish, today’s students are accustomed to instant access to information. Not only is it a click away, it comes pre packaged with stunning HD visuals and state of the art graphics; the challenge of grabbing their attention has never been greater. So how can you walk into a room, take control and be interesting all at the same time? Make them laugh.

Attention?Credit: Benson Kua, Flickr










The Best Medicine

To establish discipline in a day is incredibly difficult. You haven’t earned their respect nor do you understand the very specific dynamics of any given classroom. If, however, you can make them laugh, the room is yours. Transcending age, creed and color the power of comedy is undeniable. Just look at some of the most popular hits on YouTube; they’re not political speeches or world events, they are the things that make us smile. Most people naturally want to laugh, you just have to give them a reason.  

"I just like to smile, smiling's my favorite." 

Defeating Debt(110792)Edu-tainment is the art of combining the essentials with the absurd. The act of being silly can almost be viewed as a peace-offering. Exposing yourself through humor can build an instant rapport and fast track your way into their collective hearts. Jokes, riddles and brainteasers are perfect icebreakers as well as funny, personal stories that may relate to course material.  Weird facts and strange statistics can also be quite entertaining and, at the same time, stimulate conversation. Just as they can sense weakness, students can also recognize someone who is genuine; although the no-smile policy may work for some, an honest smile is a powerful tool. 

Short Term

Whatever method you choose, remember that most substitute jobs are short-term assignments.  Survive the day and you’ve succeeded, do it with a smile and you might just actually have some fun. 

For a more detailed look at what works in a classroom, check out YouTube's Tips for Substitute Teachers by Ray Appel.