Substitute Teaching on the First Day of School

The teacher is in hospital, her mother died, she sent inappropriate and frankly unflattering photos to a student… any number of things could have happened that lead to you substitute teaching on the first day of school. Good things could have happened as well – she got a promotion, more students registered than expected, she won the lottery the year before she was going to retire. Here’s hoping it was the lottery! So, they called you in for the first day, and maybe the next day, the week or the whole year – who knows? What do you do?

  1. Get to know the students. The first day is about getting to know the students, even if you don’t know how long you will be there. Be confident or at least pretend! Play a name game, tell them (appropriate – let’s learn from other’s mistakes…) stories about yourself, let them tell something that happened over the summer, have them write about what happened over the summer, have them draw a picture of a sunset they saw this summer, make classroom rules together, play a board game in the classroom or play outside. The first day is usually fairly relaxed and fun. It’s ok not to have a lot of structure. If you need more ideas, ask the teacher next door. She may have a handout or game you can copy and give to the students.
  2. Establish routines. This is a bit more difficult, especially if they called you last minute. However, they called you for a reason and it may be that they want you to take the class the whole year. Where do students put their coats and bags? How do they enter the room? Are they allowed to eat yogurt on the carpet? (No – definitely no!) How loud or quiet do you like it to be when students are working? All of these things are ok to discuss with the class – even if it is only for one day.
  3. Do you tell them you are a substitute teacher? Follow the principal’s lead on this one. Ask the principal what they would like you to do. If there is no time to ask or if the principal doesn’t have an opinion, do whatever you feel comfortable with. Telling the students that you are not sure how long you will be there is honest and gives them a bit of warning in case you leave. It also may cause unnecessary stress. Not telling the students works out very well if you are hired for the whole year and delays stress the students may feel until it is absolutely necessary however it may also cause more stress for students who like to prepare for change. Have an answer ready in case students ask e.g. “I’m here for the foreseeable future” or “I don’t know” are both good answers. “I’m sorry, I won’t teach kindergarten all year for any amount of money” is not a great answer.
  4. Plan for the week. If they ask you back for a second day, the chances are good you will be there for at least the week. If there is another teacher teaching the same grade, see if you can use their plans. The first week is about assessing how much the children know. Give them work that they would have done in June of the previous year to see how much they remember and what level they are at. Continue with the get-to-know-you games and establishing routines. Make sure they don’t leave the hall pass in the toilet!!

Congratulations on working the first day of the school year! Working at all in September as a substitute is a great accomplishment! Good luck in the interview! (The one where you interview for the job you are already doing!!)


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