Substitute Teacher Tips for the First Day [Checklist]

Your first day as a substitute teacher can be exciting. You want to walk away feeling overjoyed…not overwhelmed. So we have put together a checklist of substitute teaching tips for your first day so you know what to expect.

Do your best to prepare beforehand, stay organized, and ask questions, and your first day in that new substitute teaching job will be a rewarding experience for you and your students.

Here is a helpful walk-through of how you can prepare for your first day. 

The Night Before

Dress appropriately and wear comfortable shoes

Each school has its own expectations for teacher dress code. Dressing business casual will help you play it safe and present yourself as a professional to school leaders, students, and families. You’ll be moving around the classroom throughout the day, so comfortable shoes and nonrestrictive outfits are a must! 

Some examples of business casual: 

  • Slacks or khakis 
  • Dress shirt or blouse
  • Open-collar or polo shirt 
  • Dress or skirt at knee length 
  • Knit shirt or sweater 
  • Blazer or jacket 
  • Comfortable, flat shoes 

Prepare a “substitute teacher bag” with back up materials

Substitute teachers should be prepared as much as possible with personal items and simple supplies. This will help you to stay comfortable and have a smooth day.  

Simple checklist for your substitute teacher bag:  

  • Pencils
  • Pens 
  • Notebook
  • Water bottle
  • Snacks (avoid common allergens like peanuts) 
  • Stickers 
  • Folder 
  • Hand sanitizer 
  • Tissues 
  • Photo ID 
  • Phone charger 
  • Sunglasses 
  • Clipboard 
  • Mask (if your school requires them as part of their COVID-19 safety protocol)
  • Small picture book (only if you have a favorite you already own!)

Pack a lunch

You likely won’t have time to leave the building for lunch, and you don’t want to go hungry during a busy day of teaching. Pack your lunch in an insulated bag in case you don’t have easy access to a fridge. Lunch schedules can be unpredictable, so bring extra snacks in case your class has an early or late lunch period.

Bring a water bottle

Staying hydrated is important, especially when you’re talking and moving around all day. While some schools may have vending machines or water fountains, it’s much easier to bring your own water bottle and have easy access throughout the day.

Avoid relying on additional technology

School equipment may vary, so do not rely on any specific devices or access to applications or websites (YouTube, for example). If you have a concern, check in with your supervisor beforehand to see if they have additional information on the school site.

Upon Arrival to the School

Locate restrooms and work areas when you arrive 

Your school should have separate restrooms, work, and break spaces for teachers (You finally get to go into the Teacher’s Lounge!) If these are not pointed out for you, make sure to ask your supervisor so you feel clear on where you should be throughout the day.

Turn your cell phone on silent

Keep yourself and your students focused by minimizing distractions. Calls, texts, or notifications can take away from the flow of your lesson, even when you don’t respond. Avoid using your phone unless it is part of an emergency protocol – this includes taking photos or videos of students at any time.

Post the learning objective on the board 

Most lesson plans will state the objective. Take a few minutes before students arrive to post this objective on the board or somewhere in the room clearly for students to see. 

Many teachers have a designated place for their objectives. If you’re not sure where that is, find your own space on the board to display it clearly.

During the Day

Greet students at the door 

As a substitute teacher, you may be a new face for the students. Set a warm, positive tone by greeting them as they walk in the room. This gives you a chance to have a face-to-face interaction with each student, and kick off the day by building a relationship. These small interactions are powerful and can make a big difference in a child’s day. One of the best reasons to become a substitute teacher!

Circulate the room to ensure students stay engaged

Try to avoid standing or sitting in one place during lessons, especially if students are working independently or in groups. Circulating the room will help students stay on task and give them individualized support. It will also establish you as an engaging substitute teacher and strengthen your classroom management.

Do not leave students unattended for any reason

As a substitute teacher, you are responsible for the safety of your students. Therefore, students should never be alone without an adult in the room. Before the day starts, be clear on school protocols for any incidents or emergencies, and always get approval from an administrator.

Use positive, clean language

Substitute teachers should set a positive example for students. Keep your language clean – especially for younger students, who repeat everything! When in doubt, choose another word or phrase that feels more appropriate.

Provide frequent positive affirmations, celebrations, and words of encouragement

You should give students their personal space at all times. Rather than hugging or touching a student (even with good intent), find other ways to show you care! Some ideas for celebrations or positive affirmations: 

  • Use positive words (“I’m so proud of you!” or “You did a great job today!”) 
  • Leave a sticky note on their desk 
  • Use the reward system set up in their school 
  • GIve shout outs at the end of the day 
  • List students who had a great day in a note to the teacher
  • Lead a celebratory class cheer or chant 
  • Give students a special job (handing out papers, collecting homework, reading aloud, leading the line, etc.)

Wrapping up your first day as a substitute teacher

Leave a note for the teacher 

Provide the teacher with details about the day in a “while you were away” note. In the note, be clear about how the lessons went, progress that was made, where students might be behind, and any behavior issues that occurred and how they were resolved. 

Leave the room just as you found it

A classroom is a personal space for a teacher. Make sure you clean up after any activities and leave the room just as you found it that morning. This includes picking up trash, organizing desks or learning spaces, and rearranging furniture.

Share feedback with the Kokua team

After you’ve completed the day, drop a note to your partner on the Kokua Operations team about any wins, challenges, likes, and dislikes from your experience. Kokua is here for you every step of the way. We want to place you into substitute teaching assignments where you feel successful and energized, and will help you work through any challenges. Kokua wants to celebrate the wins and small moments with you too! 

Not a substitute teacher yet? Apply now to join the Kokua family of substitute teachers.