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Super Subs: How to Stand Out as a Substitute Teacher

Super Subs: How to Stand Out (in a good way!) as a Substitute Teacher

If you have been a substitute teacher for any length of time you probably already know all too well that it can be hard to make a lasting mark. Often you switch classrooms and schools and learning new philosophies, curriculums, and name after name after name.

While it can feel exciting to have a fresh opportunity to connect to new children and to learn new ways of doing familiar things, it also can be difficult to feel like you’re standing out as a powerful contributor to the classroom.

Here are 4 ways to elevate yourself to “Super Sub” status, and stand out as a substitute teacher:

A Super substitute teacher is always Prepared:

This one is basic but important. Being prepared doesn’t mean coming with your water bottle and snack bag in hand. It means being on time (being early so you can be in your assigned classroom when your shift begins). It means dressing for the work you will be doing. It means having a few tricks up your sleeve that you can use to help support the classroom. Maybe it’s a few songs you like to sing with the kids, or a fun outdoor game you know they will like. Having some easy to implement activities at-the-ready can make things go smoother. It means calming any anxious thoughts or distractions before walking into the classroom because even the littlest kiddos can pick up on our bad mood and it can change the atmosphere really quickly. If you want to stand out as a sub, be sure to arrive prepared in all manner for the day and willing to do the work as requested.

a super substitute teacher remembers: Kindness Counts!

Once I was walking through Target after having had a tough day (retail therapy, anyone?) and a lady approached me, gave me a huge smile, and said, “I really like your top and thought you should hear that.” That was it. The tough day melted like snow. Her little comment and smile were enough to turn my bad day around. It can be difficult going from room to room or school to school but try to remember that the children you are serving deserve care that is led with kindness. We don’t know what kind of environment they go home to, so all we can do is our best to make the time we spend with them sweet and joyful. Try to smile and find something encouraging to say to the children and the teachers and you will inevitably leave a mark that is hard to forget.

A super Substitute teacher Takes Initiative:

This might seem tricky as a sub because you want to show respect to the Lead teacher, but this is an important one to stand out as a super sub. Taking initiative doesn’t mean stepping on toes or blazing a new way through the room. It means scanning the environment for ways you can step ahead to help make the way forward a little easier. You see on the schedule that snack is at 9:15, so at 9 you begin helping the children wash their hands. You notice the lead teacher is trying to set up an art project and the children are climbing all over to see what it is, so you call them to the carpet for a quick game of Simon Says to buy the Lead some time to finish setting up. You see the box of toys that need to be cleaned and you clean them. Taking initiative in a respectful manner is an important skill that allows you to stand out in the best possible way.

A super substitute teacher will Own Your ‘Oops’:

As super as you are, everyone makes mistakes. So, if you’ve never made a mistake I hate to break it to you, but it’s bound to happen at some point. When that happens it’s best to own it and move forward with the commitment to do better. Being able to admit when you’re wrong is one of the marks of a solid leader. Becoming defensive or combative does little to make the situation better and can lead to tension that may negatively affect your professional relationships. Of course, speak up to support yourself when you need to, but if you know you’ve made a mistake, owning up to it goes a long way in establishing respect among your peers.


So, there you have it. 4 easy to implement, but highly effective ways to establish yourself as a Super Substitute. What would you add?

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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