A Fresh Perspective for the New Year: how to change a classroom as a substitute teacher

A Fresh Perspective for the New Year: how to change a classroom as a substitute teacher

I know you might be thinking, “Huh? Change a classroom as a substitute? How is that even possible?” Most of the time you might not even know which classroom you’re going to be in until you arrive on site, or it changes every few hours. So, how can you change the classroom? Well, truth be told, you can’t. 

But you can change you.

And that will ultimately change the classroom.

Here’s how to start:

Reframe Your Thinking:

This is a fairly simple practice, but it’s just that. It takes practice. If you’re someone who typically operates best when you have a firm routine and a clear plan in place, then being a substitute might be especially challenging for you. If you’re someone who thrives when you can check off a list (heck, if you’re the kind of person who makes a list just to have things to check off), then you might be especially challenged in the substitute arena. But rather than allowing that to throw you off your optimal trajectory, now is as good a time as any to take a moment to reframe your thinking.

Change “I feel frustrated with my workday because I never know what to expect and it changes so frequently.” To “I feel excited at this new opportunity to introduce myself to a new group of children and coworkers and to allow them to see the unique experiences I bring.” If you are still someone who does best when checking off your to-do’s, then try making a list that isn’t related to work. A list that encourages you to look at other avenues in your life to check off (e.g. grocery shopping, household tasks, short-term personal goals, etc.). This will help to scratch that itch but allow you to be flexible at work too.

Be Teachable:

I spent the better part of the last decade teaching at CSUF and most of my students were in the program to be teachers someday. I can’t tell you the number of times I had to remind students to turn assignments in on time or to check them for spelling/grammar mistakes before submitting them. We would talk at length about classroom management and yet, guess how many times I had to remind students to reduce the volume of side conversations during the lecture, or to put their cell phones away? I would sometimes say directly, “You all want to be teacher’s someday, but it seems like following the basic tenants of a classroom is a challenge today.” Usually that was enough to get everyone back on track. This little reminder was that they are there to be taught. This is something we can all try to remember: there is always an opportunity to learn. We never know all the things. Classrooms change because teachers are willing to change. It doesn’t matter if you have been doing this for decades and decades or you’re just getting started. Always be willing to learn and be willing to be taught. By whom? Well, by anyone or anything. A coworker, a student, the classroom itself. Your willingness to change and to be taught will lead to a classroom that embodies a growth mindset. It starts with you.


So, as we begin this new year and everyone seems more willing to embrace change and growth, my hope is that it begins right here with you. As you get ready to embrace new assignments and new challenges, allow yourself the freedom to bring change, but also to allow change to happen to you. The children will benefit from a teacher who values internal growth as much as they encourage it to happen to those around them.

Contributing Expert Author

Samantha Reeves, M.A.

Samantha has over 25 years of experience in the field of child development. She has worked in all manner of professions as they relate to children including beginning her career as a floater teacher with 3 units, to a multisite center
regional director, and most recently, a professor in the Child and Adolescent Studies department at CSUF.

Samantha earned her B.S. at Cal State Fullerton in the same department she would later instruct in. She has a M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University where she focused her research on attachment theory and attachment related disorders.

Samantha lives in Anaheim Hills with her husband and 4 children. She recently made the decision to put her teaching career on pause to stay home with her kids, but plans to return to the classroom in some format in the future.

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