4 Success Tips for First-Time Substitute Teachers

Updated: Oct 29

Substitute teaching is an excellent opportunity for grad students, retired teachers, or anyone who loves working with children. It can be an equally rewarding and nerve-inducing experience. If it’s your first day, you may be feeling more of the latter.


Don’t worry! Being a great sub takes practice and a little creativity. These tips for first-time substitute teachers will help you beat those nerves and find success in any classroom.


Arrive Early (and Bring a Sweater)


It’s not uncommon for substitute teachers to be assigned to a different school each time they are called in. Arrive at least 30 minutes early to familiarize yourself with the building, your classroom, and the staff. Introducing yourself to the other teachers and the front office will increase the likelihood of them asking you to come back.


Arriving early also gives you a chance to locate emergency evacuation plans, student behavior policies, and other classroom needs. Also, school buildings are notoriously too cold or too hot. If it’s your first time at a school, look up how to dress for comfort and professionalism before your first day.


Organize Your Work for the Day


Staying organized is crucial. In elementary school, you may cover a classroom, along with lunchtime, recess, or other activities. While teaching high school, you may cover one period for one teacher and another for a different teacher. Familiarizing yourself with your work for the day can help you avoid moments of confusion that leave you and your students frustrated. Try to identify hourly benchmarks to ensure you’re staying on schedule.


Speak With Confidence


Set the tone with the students upfront by speaking clearly and calmly. A new person in the classroom will likely throw the students off their routines. If their teacher prepared them ahead of time, older students might already understand what to do. Younger students will probably need more guidance.


Introduce yourself, write your name on the board, and mention why you’re there and what your students can expect from you for the day. Make sure to state your expectations for the students as well.


Have a Backup Plan


Unfortunately, emergencies happen and teachers don’t always leave lesson plans for subs to follow. Experienced substitutes understand that these events come up and have their own lesson plans and activities as a backup. If you can’t locate the teacher’s materials, having your own backup plan can be a lifesaver.

Some examples of backup lesson plans include:

  • Worksheets of math problems

  • Brainteasers

  • Coloring pages

  • Games, like “20 Questions”

  • Writing prompts, such as “write a short story inspired by your favorite song”

  • Having students create crosswords based on the lesson they are learning

Preparing several activities to pull from can save you time and energy in an emergency.


Substitutes are needed all over the US. Feeling nervous or overwhelmed is normal, especially at the beginning of your career. But planning ahead, familiarizing yourself with the school and staff, and getting organized goes a long way in helping you feel more at ease. When you feel more at ease, you make a better impression on both staff and students. You’ll become the substitute that students love to see and the one that faculty requests again and again. At HelloSubs, we provide resources to help you get certified and hired. Register today to find your perfect subbing role today.