Who Are You Today?

5 Strengths That Make a Good Substitute Teacher

Substitute teacher with paint up to the elbows

This is my 6th year to substitute teach in public and parochial schools. I have learned a thing or two in this time, and one is to pack a sense of humor each morning and keep it on the ready. After all, when classroom teachers see me in their hallways again, remembering that I am a sub they ask, “Who are you today?”

Subs are many things to many people. It takes a certain skill set to be a good sub, but it is our gift of flexibility that makes us who we need to be on that day. I am speaking for myself, but I know other subs and we compare notes and share experiences. There was a time I thought my classroom success depended upon the quality of the lesson plan, but experience has taught me otherwise. I accept each assignment with a plan to do more than required, ready to manage what comes. I always hope for success, but know there is a risk for something less.

After hundreds of sub assignments in six years, I compiled the below list of five strengths that every sub needs to make their day more successful:

  1. Confidence – Students can smell fear. Walk into that classroom with ownership.
  2. Flexibility – Algebra to Art, all in a day’s work.
  3. Patience – Students learn in different ways; be patient to teach it, re-teach it, unpack it and break it down so everyone understands what is expected.
  4. Organization – Skim and highlight the lesson plan, set timers for subject changes, know where to find the lunchroom, playgrounds, specials classes, bathrooms and exits. Know how to contact the office in case of emergency, and introduce yourself to a nearby teacher. Write detailed notes on the lesson plan throughout the day, and if you hope to return there again, leave your name and phone number.
  5. Energetic – Energy mixed with enthusiasm helps to keep a classroom on task. Students are more motivated and interactive when the sub is on task and stays a step ahead.

I bring to the table a bachelor’s degree in Leadership, which equips me with training and ability to instruct, coach, cheerlead and occasionally be a drill sergeant. The key is to know which one to be at the right time. Like a color-changing environment-adapting chameleon, a good sub can morph from History class to computers in a single morning, then jump from outdoor recess to tempera paint up to the elbows by the end of the day, and still have energy to drive home smiling, knowing the answer to the question, “Who are you today?”







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