Substitutes’ Utility Book
Beyond Survival: How to Sub in High Schools

Advice for beginning substitute teachers:
Ignore advice specifically written for beginning substitute teachers. It’s like those tips for novice gardeners that have you turning the compost every week. They always tell you wrong, maybe ’cuz they don’t know any better, or maybe they figure you won’t know any better. Subs’ advice from the school is written for administrators’ approval more than for subs’ benefit.

Typical official advice reads like this:
Start class at the bell. Clearly state your expectations. Review class rules.
Really, your job starts way before the bell—before students arrive if you have the time.
But let’s start at the beginning, or scroll on down to where information looks useable to you.


Call the district office and find out what’s required. Every place has different requirements. If it’s a large district, you might save time by calling again to see if you get a different person, then compare information given. When the process is lengthy, don’t assume it’s progressing along as it should be—call to check on your status. It may bug them, but it’s your livelihood at stake, not theirs.

At first, you may have to sign up in several districts or schools to get enough work to live on. You’ll likely be taking jobs no one else wants. Jobs which require an experienced sub go to those without enough experience to avoid them.

On days when it becomes apparent that you aren’t going to be called, go to schools you are signed up for and introduce yourself to the subs’ secretary. Wear your best teacher costume.

Print business cards. They don’t have to be the real thing, just photocopy onto card stock and cut up. Cards are mainly for prospective teachers, but if the school secretary is also the sub caller, ask if she’d like one. Ask for permission to place your cards in teachers’ boxes. You won’t know who’s in your field, but your card will say and they can toss it or keep it. If you attach it to a sheet of paper, keep your words minimal—teachers don’t have time to read. Post to bulletin boards when available: faculty lounge, teachers’ mail room, and so on.


Locate every school you might be called to sub in. Perhaps bookmark/favorite them on an online map site. If you aren’t sure, go there the evening before or allow more than enough time in the morning, when possible. Write directions and/or printout your route to the school. Note parking situation, travel time, and special considerations so you’ll be able to get to the office faster next time.

The only excuses for being late are being called late and/or being given the wrong arrival time. Get there as early as allowed: when the main office opens. You can’t have too much time for prep before class.


Have the name of the teacher you’re subbing for in your mind when you enter the office.
“May I help you?”
“Yes, I’m subbing for...”

Procedures vary. Usually sign in, including phone number and car license number. Key(s), roll sheets, and whatever is in the mail box are standard items to pick up. Most papers are best left in the mail box, but there’s rarely room to stand there and sort it all out. Often there’s a folder for subs with obsolete and useless information. (See “Subs’ Folder” below) You may have to wear a substitute’s badge, which one sub calls a kick me sign.

Spend as little time in the office as possible at this time—too busy and crowded for non-essential talk. They don’t much care what our commute was like, and questions about lunch can wait.

Learn the name of secretary who checks in subs, and the head secretary if it’s someone else—note in folder. The head secretary runs the school, but, being female, knows how to act as if she doesn’t.


Find lesson plans and materials. Review. Translate for quick reference if too complex.

Write your name, date, and an outline of the day’s lesson on the board.

Test any equipment that will be used. Queue online streaming or DVD. Check and set volume. Figure out remotes for DVD, projector—whatever you’ll be using.

Find emergency information: exit routes, any materials to take, location for class to meet outside. There might not be time before class, but it’s good to do at some time. It’s hard to think clearly with a loud alarm going off.

Get organized and organize some more. When the students come in, you don’t want to waste any time figuring out what’s going on. Your focus will be on the students and the lesson.


A bad start I overheard,
Student: “Oh boy, a sub!”
Sub: “If you think that means you can do whatever you want, you’ve got another think coming.”
My typical response to that same excitement: “Yeah, party time, huh?“
We all know it won’t really be party time, but it doesn’t put a damper on a student’s enthusiasm.
“Nice to have a change, isn’t it?”
“That makes at least two of us glad I’m here.”

“What are we going to do today?” may be answered quickly, since it’s written on the board. An impatient, “It’s on the board,” will not be appreciated. If they care enough to ask, reinforce that.

If they ask in a hostile tone, it’s your opportunity to improve their attitude.
“What boring thing are we going to do today?”
“Well, now that you’re here I don’t see how anything we do could be boring. You’re not boring, are you?”

“What stupid thing are we going to do today?”
“I thought we’d play school. I’ll be the teacher and you can be the student who thinks today’s assignment is stupid.”
“I don’t wanna play.”
“Good job. You’re a good actor. Let’s see, now we need a teacher’s pet... would you rather be that?”

Sometimes joking is appropriate, but we have to be careful not to sound sarcastic.
“I thought we would throw our hands up in the air and wave them about like we just don’t care.”
Following up with the actual lesson avoids a feeling of dismissal.

“Where’s So-and-so?” (The teacher you’re subbing for).
Answers to this question are another opportunity to establish a healthy relationship. The factual aspects are rarely important. Tone of voice and attitude are essential. Every interaction, no matter how small, affects our relationship and their esteem. Respectfully placing a handout on their desks doesn’t take much longer than tossing it sideways.

Begin establishing your rapport when the first student arrives. Acknowledge the existence of each student who enters your room. Eye contact usually suffices, and if they don’t make contact, speak to them. They may ignore you, which doesn’t feel good, but try to not take it personally. You are setting the mood of the class... somewhat. Classes usually have their own moods, which can change daily depending on who’s present.


Determine the mood of your class. There are basically four moods: motivated, social, angry, or anxious.

Motivated: The class to show off when school board members visit. They’ll get books, folders, and so on out before the bell. Give the assignment, then take roll, rather than wasting their class time. Sometimes you can make your seating chart by looking at their papers rather than interrupting their thinking by calling names out loud. Don’t feel guilty about getting paid for this pleasure—things even out in the long run.

Social: They will be talking among themselves, and won’t pay much attention to you. Often, a general lull will occur shortly after the bell, so you can simply look around the class while they get settled in, and then start. Get them to stop talking long enough to let them know that there will be time for socializing after the work is finished, and that they can talk quietly while you take roll. With luck, your plan will allow small group work. Energy levels will vary from chatty to rowdy.

Angry: You’ll earn your pay this period. They will be insulting each other, taking things from each other, Shut up! and worse will echo across the room. Figure out who your main disrupters are. Catch their names and begin the seating chart before the bell if possible. They won’t care how long it takes for roll. Deal with behavior that can’t be ignored, but avoid confrontations before you know their names. Take a deep breath, remain calm, and remind yourself that you are in charge of this class—they know it. If you remind them, they might wonder who you’re trying to convince. Energy levels will range from obstreperous to deathly silent.

Anxious: Sometimes the mood will be malleable, and your performance will determine how the class behaves. You may want to get the day’s lesson rolling right away to keep them occupied in a positive way. Lower-level classes are often volatile when there’s no direction and activity. Roll can wait.


Your introduction will improve with experience, so be willing to change it until you have a few basic acts that work well. Students have lots of subs and don’t much care about our personal lives. Be brief. They have a right to know who this stranger is who’s taking over their class, but our education, marital status, job prospects, and so on are not on their radar screen.

If they ask, it could be an attempt to get out of doing the lesson planned. “The sub took up the whole time talking about themselves.”

Roll will be your second act—it also sets the tone. They have to be quiet enough to hear their names called without you shouting. This can be frustrating, but don’t let it show. Patiently use your tricks, and with luck they will be ready for class by the time you finish. You will also be ready because you have the seating chart, (see below) and can remind people by name to act domesticated when they forget. 

Student enters room like a bull in a china shop:
“Whoa, let’s try that entry again. This is a classroom, not a mosh pit.”
“Jake, I really want you to be with us for the rest of the period today.”
“Fred and Bill, could you guys control yourselves for a little while? I’m kinda busy right now.”

Stating your expectations and/or reviewing the rules starts the class off on the wrong foot. They know what you expect and they know the rules. Display an attitude which assumes they will behave appropriately.
Bringing up the rules says, “This is what we are going to do today.”
Poor introduction: “If you don’t give me any trouble, I won’t give you any trouble.”
Trouble? Sounds like fun.


As far as the school is concerned, roll could be the second most important task you have each period, keeping order in the classroom being first. Accuracy is a must. Attendance at school has been used as evidence in court. You are legally responsible for each student on the roll sheet until you mark them absent. Marking someone absent when they are present can create problems as well. To err is human so you’ll have to be inhuman when it comes to the roll.

Unfortunately, or fortunately in some cases, students skip when there’s a sub, and then say they were in class. Teachers often take their word for it because they assume subs make mistakes.

After calling all names, I announce the names of people marked absent in case they’re present.

Use pencil to mark attendance in the grade book, if that anachronism exists.

Unless specifically requested to do otherwise, always use pencil to enter attendance, grades, anything in teachers’ records.


As far as our needs are concerned, a seating chart could be our most valuable tool.

Pre-printed blank charts are available, but I prefer to create my own to match the desk arrangement. As I call roll, I write the first name and at least the first initial of the last name. There may be time to finish it later. Do not allow the roll sheet to be taken away until you have a complete chart made. If a student leaves class, you can’t ask the others who it was, and you wouldn’t be able to re-take roll to find out.

This also prevents a student from leaving:
“Are you leaving us, Suzie?”
“Yeah, I have a counselor’s appointment.”
“Did they give you a call slip or anything?”
“Okay, I don’t want you to miss your appointment. I’ll just make a note so your teacher knows where you were.”
This works for any early departure which has no authorization. If it’s bogus, they will often change their minds about going. If someone leaves, note on Seating Chart and transfer to Sub’s Summary later. Other students considering a similar ruse will notice.

Make notes next to names: where they were allowed to go and when, return time—too long gone = no pass next time, if there is a next time.

That rare phone call at home about a student will be more effectively handled if you have the seating chart for reference. All the students and classes blur into a gray mess by the end of the day, but if you study your seating chart, a surprising amount of memory will become available to consciousness.


Never set them down, even for a few seconds. It’s too easy to move on and forget where they were. Put them in the same place/pocket as much as practical. I hold them visibly whenever locking a door behind me. This habit has avoided trouble in hotels, rental cars, and my own car.
A single naked key is too easily lost, so I put it on my own key ring or lanyard. Sometimes keys are on rings that aren’t secure enough to be trusted. I put them on my own ring. Forgetting to return the key(s) is a huge nuisance, since they need to be returned the same day if possible—the next if not. Losing the key(s) is one of the cardinal sins for a sub.


Occasionally, report forms will be provided for us to let the teacher know what was accomplished. Printing our own, which includes our name, phone number, and any essential information such as email or personal sub number, allows us more control of the report. An unusual color will make it easy to find among the papers on a desk.

Keep it simple. Writing “Followed your plans,” might be enough for a full report on some days. Any deviations from the plan, and progress made if not completed, should be noted. Teachers don’t have time to read our impressions and judgements about the class as a whole.

If you have a conflict with a student, you might like to forget about it, but usually the teacher should know. Whenever possible, deal with problems rather than leaving them for the teacher to handle on return. Students will feel sniched on, and teachers don’t like the extra work. However, if a student leaves early without permission, all we can do is make a note of it.

Conflicts between students which seem unresolved are important to report.

Confidentiality: If the summary is routed past an administrator before it gets to the teacher, make an official report that they would like, then an additional report for the teacher’s eyes only, if appropriate. A teacher may be on a “Plan of assistance,” which is code for “kiss of death,” and an administrator may check our summary for evidence of incompetence in writing lesson plans for subs.

When possible, write the summary as the day goes, rather than waiting until the end and trying to remember what happened. Easier to recopy than to remember.


Unprepared student:
Give them what they need to do the assignment, unless specifically instructed not to in the plan. Yes, they should learn to come to class prepared. You aren’t going to change that in one period, and a non-working student is potential trouble.

“I need a pencil.”
“I’ve got one you can use.” I hand him one that I hold in a tissue. After it’s in his hand I say. “I found it in the urinal and I don’t want to touch it.“

Non-working student:
“Is there anything I can get you... pencil, paper...?“
If they refuse to work, it’s not worth a confrontation. Encourage, cajole, and perhaps bribe, but ultimately it’s their choice. If they interfere with other students, that must be dealt with. “It’s your choice if you don’t want to pass this class, but I can’t let you bring others down with you.“
“Some of you aren’t pretending to work, what’s the problem here? How many years have been playing school? Get some books and stuff out so no one bothers you.”
Once they’ve done that, they’re likely to actually get busy on it.


On the most basic level, we are in the alpha male role of a baboon troupe. Ostensibly, our goal is to maintain our position and the hierarchy which supports it. The analogy breaks down rather fast... we won’t gain possession of the prime mates of the troupe and we are just as likely to be alpha females. However, the social structure of foreman and crew, boss and workers, sargent and privates, teacher and students, is as pervasive as it is perverse. I’m philosophically opposed to hierarchies, so I present the following to reveal the raw baseness of subjugation, not as techniques we should use without cause.

Ultimately, if we are successful in subjugating our underlings, we are undermining the American ideals of freedom and democracy.

Apply as you see fit

Our challenges are rarely physical, and we want to keep them that way. However, we still must meet the challenges without being over-powered. The tricky part in our situation is to keep the challenger from feeling put down. Trouble will stew if we do.


Get them to do something at your direction, no matter how insignificant. With difficult cases, insignificant is a plus—all the more likely you’ll achieve compliance.
“Take your seats, please. If everyone will be seated, we can get started.”
“Take out a piece of paper and...”
“Please find page whatever in your books.”

Once they have done something at our direction, it’s much easier to get them to do the next thing. Some intuit what this trick is about, and may require cajoling.

Don’t move on until all comply. Allowing non-compliance defeats the purpose of a subjugation trick. Sending someone to the office for not writing their name on a piece of paper may seem petty, but the point is control not the paper. Call it “Refused to follow directions” or “Refused to do assignment,” if it gets to that point. Avoid getting all the way to removing a student from the room.

Traditionally, we identify students as subordinates:

I go by my first name, but well-conditioned students automatically put “Mister” in front of it.
Subliminal phallic symbols of any kind may trigger submissive responses: necktie, yard stick, finger, upright body. Remember to point upwards, not at your target. It’s just a subtle power display, not a weapon for attack.

Ideally, subjugation won’t be necessary. Hierachies are inherantly pathological and nothing good comes out of them. Hierarchy vs anarchy.

“You’re the only sub I’m nice to.”
“Thanks, but why aren’t you nice to subs?”
“Oh, they think they can come in here and tell us what to do.”

That one sentence says so much about the way many students perceive us.

“They think... ” A delusory attitude soon to be doused with reality.
“... they can come in here...” We go into their school, into their classroom. We’re the intruders, or at best guests, in the eyes of most students.
“... and tell us what to do.” Not ask, tell. They don’t like that. Who would? When we present an authoritarian attitude, it’s bound to generate resentment. We might gain compliance, but at a human cost.

Lessons may be presented without making it seem like we’re the sergeant and they’re the platoon. “Ms. Smith would like us to...” “We’re going to do such and such today.” “Here’s what Mr. Jones has for us to do today,” as I verbalize the lesson on the board for aural learners.

When I write the period’s lesson plan on the board, I use “please” and “thank you.” One time I had written something like:
1) Please read Chapter 19 and do questions 1-5 on page 356.
2) If you finish early, please work on something quietly.
Thank you.

I noticed a student looking thoughtfully at the board longer than necessary to get the assignment.
“What do you think?” I asked.
“I’ve just never seen it written like that before.”

No, it’s always written as a command. This might be too subtle for most students to be aware of consciously, but they surely are aware of it on some level. (In retrospect, he may have been referring to my cursive writing, not printing. At the time, I didn't realize how unusual cursive is).

Reading a self-published book on a sub’s experience in middle and high schools, I kept thinking he was doing it all wrong. He was at war, and referred to students as the enemy, regularly sending students to the office. Then I realized I couldn’t criticize his style when I didn't sub in middle schools any more. I accepted a job in one I thought I’d never go back to so I could test my style against his. Sure enough, I was just as ineffective as he was.


Effective acting includes proper costumes. There are traditional costumes for teachers which affirm your position in everyone’s mind. All of us are influenced by appearances, even when we try not to be.
Administrators like to see us in traditional costume. Their supervisors and guests from the community are assured by it. It also places an assumption in their minds that we know what we are doing.
Students will see that we take our job seriously enough to dress for it. It shows respect for them as well.
It’s sure a lot easier and cheaper for males to put together a professional costume than for females. Thrift stores serve me well.


Try to make no assumptions based on attire, hairstyle, accessories, and see the body language through the wrapper. Two students with black clothing covered in spikes and blue hair may hold widely divergent world views.

Their eyes usually speak loudest, especially when they won’t let you see them.
Ask a few questions. Give them a chance to present themselves.

Hickies. There are no appropriate comments. Besides, what if it’s a birthmark?
Beautiful or handsome. Praise of this nature makes students uncomfortable at best, creepy at worst. Comments relating to the student body are rarely appropriate. Many years ago, a girl was told by a male teacher, “You have a cute butt.” She tried to keep from walking past him for the rest of her high school days. It was not considered a compliment, to say the least. A comment that blatant isn’t likely today, but even subtle comments can be damaging.
Clothing. If you like what they’re wearing, make sure the complement can’t be taken in a sexual way.
Hair. Make only comments you wouldn’t mind being made about yours.


Make your own folder for each school. Don’t trust the folder the office gives you, if they give you one.

One time I was about to cross out an obsolete sentence in substitute’s instructions regarding students returning from absence, which would cause problems if followed. The secretary stopped me.
“Frankly, they don’t read them,” she said.
Maybe that’s because they’re out dated and often filled with extraneous words. Like, all we need to know is how to mark someone absent, and the instructions go on about the district’s philosophy concerning the relationship between education and attendance.

Out-of-date instructions show that subs are something of a blind spot for schools. We may not be able to change this, but should keep it in mind to be effective. A good sub folder indicates a well-run school.



Elementary school subs have fun “dittos,” candy, and stickers in their bags of tricks. Ours will be quite different.

This is a personal matter. Some go in with nothing but a folder and self confidence. Others have a briefcase/backpack full of everything that might come up. I’ve tried both and have stuck with the latter. It’s heavy, and I have to keep track of it, but it makes me more effective. Writing out your personal inventory could increase your efficiency.

We might be encouraged to carry a stock lesson in case there’s no plan, but in high school, this doesn’t work unless arrangements are made with the teacher in advance. Students have no incentive to do something that doesn’t gain points. If the lesson is controversial, we risk parental complaints. Responsibility for an unapproved lesson plan rests entirely on our shoulders.


Gather information:

Pull extra duty:


Follow up:

Not do:


Without knowing who hates who, it’s a challenge to anticipate when verbal sparing is leading up to physical confrontation. We can’t always stifle every negative comment, though officially that’s in our job description.

Defusing hostile situations requires skill and quick thinking. If you have an opportunity for training in conflict resolution, take it. This area is sadly neglected, and would prevent a lot of violence if included in curricula from kindergarten through high school.

If we demand that two students stop arguing, we are simply doing the same thing as they are trying to do: win. This creates losers, who feel the need to get even somehow. If we are able to take a little time, maybe no one will feel put down.

“What’s the nature of this conflict?”
“One at a time, please.”
“Is that what you think, too?”
“What can we do to resolve this?”
Yeah, it’s corny, but sometimes it works.

We are not required to physically break up fights, however, everything short of a hands-on approach must be done to stop a fight.
A loud voice is our main tool. “Stop!” Calling their names out if you know them might also help. Often, they want someone to stop them.
If they are far enough apart, you might get between them, but stretch your arms out like a referee when you do so. Take control of the situation with authority and simple orders.
Other students usually stand back and cheer, but they may try to break it up. If one fighter is held back, the other must be stopped as well.
This all happens very fast, and we just have to make our best call at the time.

If they are wrestling rather than punching, yell, “Break on the count of three. One twoTHREE!”

Depending on the PA system, you my have time to press the office call button on the intercom, in which case they will hear what’s going on.

Phones are usually too slow, but if another teacher is dealing with the fight and doesn’t need help, a call for back up is likely appropriate.

Follow up:
Formal paper work is always required. Gone are the days when we could just get the belligerents to shake hands and promise not to fight again. That’s recognized as negligence today. If possible, they should be taken to the student management office, or whatever it’s called at that school, immediately. An escort by a campus monitor, if there is one, allows us to stay in the classroom. An administrator may be called to escort them, or send one and wait for the other to be called for. They can’t be sent together on their own.

We will not be reimbursed for mending or cleaning blood off our costumes, nor will we be able to force the fighters to have their blood screened for pathogens.


There are more differences between individuals within a group than there are differences between groups.

Be the way you want them to be

Give it to get it.

Attention to those who need it:
Give positive before they demand negative. Anecdote.

Without it we’re sunk, but never reveal this fact. War is hell.

Try to remember names, even if it’s just for the period. This gets easier with practice. If you’re ever bored, try memorizing everyone’s first name, then last name.

Abuse signs:
Self-destructive behavior is difficult to separate from fashion these days. We are legally responsible for reporting what appears to be abuse, either from others or from themselves. Definitions of reporting vary by state. Be informed.

Boundary issues, proxemics, and physical contact:
This rates a separate page.

Word manners:
This also rates a separate page CW: obscene/offensive language.

Social Media:
Your district(s) may have rules against being in contact with students through social media, or strongly discourage it. Oregon’s Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment training includes teacher-student contact through social media as something to be concerned about. A shortsighted approach is understandable due to school administrators’ demographic and their subsequent lack of understanding of social media’s potential. It’s also a safer policy from their perspective, whether enforceable or not.

This will change. Some principals are encouraging students to follow them on Twitter so that urgent messages will get out to the student body almost as fast as an announcement over the PA—even when school is out or at lunch when many are out of the building. If it’s important enough, retweets will reach even more students. The principal doesn’t have to follow the student in return, so it’s usually a one way contact.

My guideline for social media which include “friends” and “following” had been to never friendquest or follow a student but to accept theirs and to follow back when I feel like it. I’m “friends” with a lot of former students, but no current students, due to changes in my district’s policy.

Following a teacher’s abuse of students which district administrators allegedly failed to take action on for many years, new rules were instituted against all social media contact, giving students rides unless sanctioned in advance, and so on. This gives the appearance of deflecting responsibility to teachers as a whole, and could avoid dealing with policy flaws.

Activity on social media, even if supposedly private, may be accessed by court request, so improper exchanges between teacher and student are on verifiable record. I think this is sufficient protection and prevention. Nonetheless, subs risk loss of work by going against stated policy, especially without a union.

As Mandatory Reporters, we might not want to read some student’s postings anyway, but I considered this another way a student can get help—perhaps inadvertently. Turning a blind eye may be easier, similar to some parents preferring not to know everything their children are up to. It depends on how far we deem it prudent to extend our involvement with students’ lives. It’s moot in my case now.

I was performing my duties as the teacher of record while a student teacher taught the class, and I noticed a student on Facebook. I was online, and she was a FB friend, so I messaged her: “Are you on FB when you should be doing the lab?” She laughed and got back to work, staying on task the rest of the period.

I’ve commented on student postings that they would likely regret later, and have seen them deleted. Being allowed into students’ conversation as an adult is a sign of trust and I considered it a privilege: they could delete me anytime. Social media includes too many different opportunities to keep up with and they’re changing all the time. Instagram, Tic Tok, Snapchat—I think it’s better to utilize them than to increase ageist segregation. Like unrealistic age restrictions on drinking, requiring our separation on social media unhealthfully segregates society.

Cell phones:
We still call them phones, but that’s only one function of these powerful pocket computers. Using them in class is typically forbidden by the school if not the district. Eventually this will go the way of gum chewing and hair length as battles no longer worth fighting. Unlike those activities, personal electronic devices have the potential for enhancing education. Rather than simply outlawing their visible presence in classrooms, their use could be integrated into a well-rounded curriculum. We didn’t outlaw paper to prevent passing notes, and we shouldn’t try to outlaw phones to prevent texting.

However, as subs we are to maintain continuity by respecting established guidelines. When a plan includes “No cell phone use,” usually underlined, it’s likely a concern the teacher is actively addressing. We’re liable to be playing whack-a-mole.

One strategy is to promise a five-minute text break at the end of the period on the condition that everyone keep their phones put away until then. If it’s a block period, maybe allow a text break halfway through. Be ready with an academic explanation in case an administrator walks in while everyone has their device in use and their jaw drops.

Checking texts has many characteristics of addiction, so punitive methods are as ineffective with students as they are in dealing with adults’ addiction to substances.

Don’t confiscate electronic devices.
These devices can be very expensive, and as soon as one is in our possession, we incur a liability. Official advice might be to put it in a ziplock bag with the student’s name, time and date, and then lock it in a secure place. This usually isn’t practical due to time and resource constraints, and the liability is still ours: don’t drop it.

I recommend we never touch a student’s “phone,” except to help charge it or maybe to retrieve it from another student. Think of it as an extension of the student’s personal space. We wouldn’t want a stranger to take possession of our wallet or purse—our mojo bag—even with the promise of returning it later. Personal space should only be violated for safety, and texting instead of doing the assignment is not a safety concern.

Some schools have forms for writing a “ticket” in duplicate or triplicate. The student might get a copy, one is mailed home, and administration keeps one. Barring this, we can courteously let students know we are obligated to note their continued unauthorized use in our report.

As a last resort, if a student refuses repeated warnings and it’s causing problems, call security/administration and they can deal with the situation.

Calling home:
Unless we are in a long-term assignment, I recommend against calling home regarding a student’s inappropriate activities. We don’t know what their home situation is like and could cause serious trouble, possibly including abuse. Report to the teacher or an administrator, and let them decide what’s appropriate based on their familiarity.

If a student has done something we think their parent(s) would be happy to hear about, write a note and ask the student to give it to them. It’s likely to get delivered.

Teacher’s desk:
No students allowed.
“He always lets us get in it.”
“I don’t doubt you, but my policy is to keep a teacher’s desk private. What do you need?”
Try to leave it exactly as it was, with the exception of student work and your summary of the day. Straightening it up might not be appreciated.

No telling stories out of school, as they say. When legally possible, keep what students and teachers tell you to yourself.

Peer review:
Never say anything unkind about another teacher. Do not criticize the teacher you are subbing for. If students complain about their teacher, try to put a positive spin on it or say nothing.
“She makes us work too much.”
“She has high expectations of you all.”
“He never explains how to do this stuff.”
“You may have to come in after school for a personalized explanation.”

One-to-one talk in the hall:
I recommend against the traditional private talk with a student in the hall. Here’s why.

Habitually put often-used things in the same place in your costume and bag/purse/backpack.

For Fun:
Call roll in reverse, bottom to top. Students at the end on the alphabet deserve a break.
While calling roll, call out some random celebrity’s name.
When someone litters in the room, I try to sneak it into their bag, coat pocket, or hood.
When class is moving to another room, like the library, I run around by another route and meet them there.
Occasionally, when asking student whose name is likely shortened if they go by that: “Madeline, do you go by Maddie?” “Yes.” “Is that with a y or an ie?” “Y” “Oh, no reason, I just like to know.” Yeah, dad joke.
“I’m done.”
“You’re not dumb. You can do this. Don’t let anyone tell you...” That’s as far as I get.

One last look around:
Just before I lock the door for the day, I scan the room to make sure everything is the way it was and I haven’t forgotten anything of mine.


If you don’t enjoy subbing, you’ll probably grow to hate it.

I wish you well in your endeavors, whether you’re making the best of not getting hired in a full time position, you’ve had your position eliminated, you’re subbing in retirement, or you’re a career substitute as I’ve become.

This is a work in progress and always will be, thanks to computers and websites. I welcome your feedback, corrections, and additions. You may freely share whatever you like.

Thank you,

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