Whether you substitute teach a class for one day or fill in for a week or more, you can bet that there will be a few students who want to challenge your authority. If you want to stay in control of your class, be a strong leader who knows how to keep her poise under pressure. By leading the students effectively, you’re sure to find that the hard work is worth the effort.
Because an assignment can made at the last minute, substitute teaching can be a stressful situation filled with unknowns. You may not know a single student or fellow teacher, and you won’t know what’s on the lesson plan until you show up for work. But none of that should matter when you step up to address your students. Be confident in your ability to handle the situation and communicate the material. Even if you aren’t familiar with the subject, act assured of your position and believe that you are able to do what needs to be done in that period. Being confident helps you win the respect of your class, while insecurity will only make them less likely to trust and follow you as a leader.
As a substitute teacher, you must have a sharp mind and the ability to discern when a student is being truthful or dishonest. Students know what they can and can’t get away with in the presence of their regular teachers, and they also know that you don’t know their tricks. If they sense naiveté, some will try to pull stunts and take advantage of your trusting nature. In your position as a leader, carry yourself with a balance of both shrewd discernment and respect.
The mere fact that you are needed at a school means that the regular routine has been changed for the day. With a deviation from the norm, things are bound to go awry. When problems arise during the day, keep your cool and remain calm. Good leaders can’t be easily shaken when things go wrong -- and as a substitute teacher, they certainly will. During each challenge, stay focused and in control of your emotions, and don't succumb to panic. If you keep your poise, you will earn the respect of your students and maintain your authority over the room.
Good leaders aren’t harsh, and as a substitute teacher you shouldn’t be either. While the position will be challenging and certain students will push your buttons -- sometimes intentionally – you’ll never have a justifiable reason for being mean to your kids. As a role model and authority figure, part of your role is to demonstrate maturity and responsible behavior to those in your class. If you react in anger, use harsh discipline or resort to extreme punishments, you set a poor example and also reveal your own lack of confidence. If, however, you are able to treat each student with kindness even during conflict, you’ll model excellent leadership and teach them a powerful lesson in life.
After graduating from the University of Kansas with a bachelor's degree in sports information, Jill Lee served for 10 years as a magazine editor for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). Also a published author, Lee now works as a professional writer and editor focusing on fitness, sports and careers.