Eight Ways to Get Secondary Students to Behave for a Substitute


Eight Ways to Prepare for a Sub

Teachers, let’s face it. It is easier to come to school sick than prepare for a sub. And the worst part is coming back to 3 pages of how poorly your class behaved. Oddly, you may have notes about students who have never stepped a toe out of line and it will make you wonder what got into your students and make you sick at your stomach all at the same time. It happens to the best of us. J Be prepared for a sub by having these safe-guards in place.

1. Procedures Procedures Procedures  

I once had a teaching friend who had a schedule opposite of mine which allowed us to cover each other’s classes. Every time he taught my class, he complimented me on the fact that my students came in and met the expectations as if they didn’t notice he was there instead of me. He was so impressed with how well my students knew what to do with their homework without asking, how they knew to begin working quietly and what work they were to do and where to do it. I always answered him that I emphasize teaching and assessing procedures at the beginning of the year. We often discussed the amount of time it took to do all that. I assured him and I assure you that you will get that time back two-fold.

There is nothing more important to the classroom function than procedures. It is also important that you are consistent in following through with the procedures. If you stay consistent with the procedures and behavioral expectations when you are present, students are more likely to stay in the habit of those expectations when you are gone. They will behave as a well-oiled machine. Looking to beef up the way you teach and assess your classroom procedures? Try this method here.

2. Accountability. 

Ask the sub to leave feedback on all things- good and bad. Follow up with written referrals, home calls, detention, etc. for the students who misbehave. Likewise, it is equally important that you follow up with the students whose names were left as being particularly helpful. A short note, a piece of candy, a HW pass, etc. go a long way with positive behavior for a sub.


3. Use a Sub Tub or a Sub Binder.

Have a pre-determined plan in place for what your sub will use to guide their day. I set up my Sub Binder at the beginning of the year which details all the general information: schedule, class lists, procedures and rules, etc. This saves time when prepping for a sub because the only thing left is that day’s lesson and any special circumstance notes.  Need a template to get you going? Get my free, editable binder template by clicking here!

4. Carrot vs. Stick. 

Choose the carrot. (This is more for secondary teachers with multiple classes.) Of course you need to deal with students who do not follow rules and meet the guidelines set forth for them, but there will be fewer of those students if you use a carrot, not a stick.

I learned this strategy from a sub several years ago and it has been one of my favorite tools in my toolkit. Before you are gone, when you are going over the procedure with students for what to do when you are absent, teach them the rules for a class competition. Rules are: the class that is the most helpful, most polite, on-task, well-behaved class according to the sub wins a prize. The sub has final say. Leave a note on the board that the “Class Competition is ON!” and students will hold each other very accountable. They encourage and remind each other so politely…it’s almost weird!

In addition, I have had subs praise this technique and thank me for this, telling me how hard it is to choose the best class. It makes me so proud to come back to a note like that as opposed to one filled with negativity.


5. Clear expectations.

(For students and sub) Plan ahead. When you teach those procedures at the beginning of the year, add in one or two specifically for having a sub. Let students know what you expect of them and the consequences for not meeting the expectations. Ideas for expectations would be something like, “Continue following classroom procedures as if I am here unless the sub tells you differently.”


Ways to Prepare for a Sub

6. Give meaningful work. 

Unless there is a special circumstance, avoid having the students learn any heavy, new material. That puts pressure on the sub and often leads to student confusion, which leads to student frustration. Then, the students either misbehave or shut down. Give them meaningful practice over content they are familiar/confident with. The practice should be reinforcement work without being rote or too repetitive. I try to stick with independent work unless your class has had time to master the procedures associated with cooperative learning.
For example, here are some suggested activities for Secondary Math:



Ways to Prepare for a Sub

7. Classroom jobs.

Assign or select a sub helper. If you already have established classroom jobs, have a sub helper as one of your assignments. How you select this student may be up to you- students can apply, you select from a jar, you select based on student’s ability to fill this role, you select based on seat location/proximity to teacher desk, etc. However you select this student, make sure to emphasize the importance and responsibility of the job. Again, be clear with the expectations for this role and even offer an incentive for a job well done. If you don’t already have classroom jobs, consider having a student or students who would be great for this job.

Ways to Prepare for a Sub

8. Have your teacher friends check in.

Lastly, establish a routine with your teacher bestie or a neighbor teacher that you check on each other’s classes when one of you is absent. Have them check in with the sub, introduce his or herself, and let the sub know they are available to help if needed. Also, set it up with this teacher friend that you can include their name and room number in the note to the sub.
Your substitutes will thank you and you can be absent without additional headaches!





Would you like additional tools to help you prepare for a sub? I love this blog post from Math Giraffe on how to build your emergency substitute kit!

I sincerely hope you have a terrific school year with few absences. But if you have to be gone, I think you will be prepared. :) If you would like to read more about ways to set yourself up for success at the beginning of the year, check out this post!



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