Alumni English Careers

3 Steps to Effective Substitute Teaching

Many educators feel that to be successful, you need the skills of a tactician, the charisma of a diplomat, and the wit of a psychologist. You don’t need three bachelor’s degrees to be a K-12 substitute teacher. The key to success lies in three simple steps: preparation and time management; attendance and memorization; and confidence and engagement.

I am a substitute teacher for a company called Source4Teachers. I have a licensed substitute teaching certificate from the state of New Jersey to teach in Middlesex County. I’m a floating substitute, which means I’m an independent educator. When a school needs a teaching position filled, they notify Source4Teachers. I have access to an online job portal where the teaching jobs are posted. From there, I click on the assignments that fit my weekly schedule. With teaching, I discovered three steps that help make substituting more effective.

Step 1: Preparation and Time Management

I arrive half an hour before school starts, report to the office, and study the teacher’s plan book or notes for that day. I go over the assignments. Sometimes it’s a test, work packet, or chapter reading. It doesn’t matter what subject is being taught because all subjects entail the same curriculum structure for the most part. I write my name on the whiteboard, in large letters, so students can see it clearly. I also create summary bullet points on the whiteboard, dividing the class into separate time allotments. As class progresses, I cross out the completed tasks. When students see a visual representation of this, it establishes order, time management, and a frame of reference.

Step 2: Attendance and Memorization

Attendance is an important part of class. This is a great opportunity to collect the names of your students and ascertain any information about them. What works best is carrying a notebook and visiting each student at their desk. Upon asking their names, I write them in a sequenced column, by order of desk and row. When all the students are accounted for, I recommend memorizing at least five names: two students in the front row and three students in the back. You can call out on them for questions. As far as the other students go—the ones you haven’t memorized—if one raises their hand for a question, or if another is disengaged, you have all the names in order because of the desk placement written down. You can address them directly, instead of using pronouns to take away student anonymity and allow them to become more open, receptive, and attentive.

Step 3: Confidence and Engagement

Confidence gives substitute teachers the ability to engage students about coursework. It also frames the classroom, giving the instructor the authority to lead. Walk up and down the rows. Engage in positive reinforcement. Don’t hesitate to spend a few minutes teaching from the back of the class. This engagement establishes control. I find this method is more effective than sitting behind the desk all period. If you’re unfamiliar with the teaching material, substitutes can ask for help from a neighboring teacher before class starts or by kindly asking a student in the front row. A studious learner most likely would oblige.

Are you a Sigma Tau Delta Alumni member? Consider submitting a blog to WORDY by Nature to share with your fellow Sigma Tau Delta members how you have been using your English degree.

Charles Lobaito
Alpha Phi Beta Chapter, Alumnus
Southern New Hampshire University—COCE, Manchester, NH


Sigma Tau Delta

Sigma Tau Delta, International English Honor Society, was founded in 1924 at Dakota Wesleyan University. The Society strives to

  • Confer distinction for high achievement in English language and literature in undergraduate, graduate, and professional studies;
  • Provide, through its local chapters, cultural stimulation on college campuses and promote interest in literature and the English language in surrounding communities;
  • Foster all aspects of the discipline of English, including literature, language, and writing;
  • Promote exemplary character and good fellowship among its members;
  • Exhibit high standards of academic excellence; and
  • Serve society by fostering literacy.

With over 900 active chapters located in the United States and abroad, there are more than 1,000 Faculty Advisors, and approximately 9,000 members inducted annually.

Sigma Tau Delta also recognizes the accomplishments of professional writers who have contributed to the fields of language and literature.

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