How to Discipline Students as a Substitute Teacher

As a substitute teacher you will have good days and bad days. There will be students that will help you through your day and there will be students that will try to undermine you at every turn. Inevitably there will come a time during your teaching assignment that you will have to discipline a student or the entire class.

Disciplining students as a substitute teacher can be daunting. After all, the students are fully aware that you will probably only be in the class for one day, maybe two. Despite the challenge, it is important to be able to discipline students effectively so you can maintain a well-run classroom and fulfill your duties.

From the moment your students come into the classroom, earn their respect. Earn it by letting the students know what will be expected of them, by getting to know their names, by being fair, consistent and respectful and even by dressing appropriately. Have some fun with your students. Laugh at some of their jokes and tell them a little bit about yourself.

If you welcome the students by barking out commands as soon as they walk in the door, you will have a hard time the rest of the day.

As a substitute teacher you are responsible for your class. You are not just a figure head filling in a chair for 8 hours. Arrive early and go through the materials that the teacher may have left as well as the substitute teacher folder that is normally found in every classroom.

Word will spread quickly through middle and high schools that there is a substitute for Mr. Smith. Students will take advantage of this by coming in 10 minutes late or going to the bathroom with 4 other classmates. If the school policy for being late to class is a note to the office, then make sure you write the note. If only one student is allowed a bathroom pass at a time, make sure only one student gets one.

Be consistent with enforcing the rules.

“Mr. Smith always lets us do that!” Every substitute teacher has heard this many times and if you hear it, there is a 99% chance that Mr. Smith does not let them do that. Explain to the students that Mr. Smith is not in school today and that you are in charge of the class. You will be letting them know what they will be doing for the day. If the teacher has left lesson plans for the day, use them.

Always have a few tricks up your sleeve that will help you with disciplining the students.

YOUNGER STUDENTS

  • Keep the students busy. Sometimes teachers will not leave lesson plans for you to follow. Always have some age appropriate worksheets with you so that students are not sitting around with nothing to do.
  • Sentence on the Board – Write a sentence on the board and explain to the students that when they misbehave you’ll erase a letter from the sentence. Let them know that if there is any part of the sentence left on the board by a certain time (say a half hour before school ends), the class will play a game. It’s amazing how well this trick works.
  • Turn out the lights – If the class starts getting too loud or wild, give them a warning and let them know that if they don’t settle down, the lights will be turned off and the students will have to lay their heads down on their desk for a few moments. This will help settle them down.
  • Let students know that you will be writing down the names of those who misbehave and giving the list to their teacher. Let them see you writing the names down.

OLDER STUDENTS

  • Keep the students busy. Sometimes teachers will not leave lesson plans for you to follow. Always have some age appropriate worksheets with you so that students are not sitting around with nothing to do.
  • Give the students an option to do something they normally would not do at the end of the class, like work on the computers, finish homework for another class or even talk quietly. Let them know that if they misbehave, they won’t be able do that and they’ll have to work on their lesson until the end of the period.
  • Let students know that you will be writing down the names of those who misbehave and giving the list to their teacher. Let them see you writing the names down.
  • Walk around the class when the students are doing their work. Proximity reminds them that you are in charge of the class.
  • Enforce the school policies. If no cell phones are allowed, then, if a student is playing on one during class, quietly take it away from the student and either give it back at the end of the class or turn it in to the office, with a note for the staff letting them know the situation. Inform the student that he/she can pick it up in the school office at the end of the day.
  • In high school in particular, there will be times when students will fight or get so out of hand that you will be unable to discipline them. Call on another teacher to help and know the office phone extension so you can call them in an emergency.

While you won’t normally have a drastic situation where you’ll need to call the office for emergency help, you will have situations arise when you will need to use all of your skills as a substitute teacher to get you through the day. When you leave your note to the classroom teacher, make sure to let them know what problems came up and, if applicable, give the teacher the name(s) of students who had issues. The students will hear about it and when you are in that classroom again chances are you won’t have as many problems.

As a Substitute Teacher, you soon learn that certain things work with certain classes and that there is no promise that you will have a perfect day. Just know that maintaining discipline in your class will go a long way to making your day easier and, at the end of the day, you will know that you have tried your best.