Practical Life Hacks for the Substitute Teacher

I’ve been adding to my “teacher toolbox”…

My last post about life as a substitute teacher got me thinking about how much I’ve learned at my job and all the advice I would’ve loved to have been given before I began. Subbing over the past year has helped me gain some practical and professional insights into how to have successful days in an ever changing environment – a challenging setting in any profession! I’m so glad I’ve been able to adapt my approach over the course of this year, since many of the adjustments I’ve made have helped me really enjoy my job much more than I did when I was just starting out. The tips I’ve included in this post would be useful to any new sub. If you’re not at all involved in the education world, maybe you’ll find my advice interesting as a kind of sneak peek into the lives of teachers! After this post, I’ll share more ideas geared towards the education aspect of the job.

Like any new job, substitute teaching has a bit of a learning curve to overcome. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not rocket science! But there are a few in’s and out’s of the job that would be helpful for any new sub to know before going in for their first day. My most practical subbing life hacks are about taking care of #1 – that’s you. You are the big deal when you get to stand up in front of twenty or thirty people and tell them what to do all day, so minding your own health and happiness is going to be essential to the success of your students.

#1 – Bring a water bottle

My most important substitute teacher life hack is to ALWAYS bring a water bottle. This sounds like a no-brainer, but staying hydrated will make you a happier camper all day long! Maybe it’s just me, but I am thirsty like all of the time. If you are at an elementary placement, chances are you’ll be using your voice to give instructions, redirect students and interact with other teachers almost constantly. You will get thirsty and you will not have a break to go get water for multiple hours. You don’t want to be caught leaving your students alone to stoop down outside your classroom to get a drink from the kids’ drinking fountain when your mouth gets dry! There are too many other potentially embarrassing things that could happen to you as a sub, so just bring a water bottle and fill it up in the teacher’s lounge to avoid looking like a goofball in this situation. Plus, you’ll be nicer to the kids if your throat isn’t dying.

#2 – Eat lunch

Being a person means that eating and drinking are basic needs… so this next tip is on eating, a natural follow up to tip number one. Keep some spare change on you for trips to the vending machine. Who knows when you might get an upset tummy and need a granola bar or bag of chips to get you through the next few hours? Or if you have extra time in the morning, pack a lunch with snacks included. I have a super fast metabolism and start to feel sick if I get too hungry, so snacks help me be a happier, healthier teacher. The same goes for lunch – eat it. I’m terrible about packing a lunch in the mornings, even though I know it would be so much healthier than eating a school lunch. But, *confession*, most of the time I bring cash so I can grab a slice of pizza and salad for about $3 at the cafeteria. (Psst – lunch ladies don’t take credit cards, so the cash part is important.) Skipping lunch is not a good idea, at least in my experience, and there is no going off campus to eat when you’re a substitute teacher. So bring a lunch or buy one!

#3 – Look busy

Bring something to do. Unlike an elementary placement, if you are assigned to a middle or high school, the lesson plans are likely to leave students working on self-directed activities whether it’s a test, worksheets, or group project. In other words, if the students are working independently, all you have to do is be a warm adult body in the room making sure kids stay on task and stay safe. Though it may be tempting to bring your ball of yarn you’re in the process of knitting into a warm cozy scarf and click your needles back and forth while students study, just don’t. Don’t bring anything to do that makes you look unprofessional. The students will make fun of you later and other teachers will hear about it! Reading a book is always a good choice, and blogging works too! (When do you think most of my posts get brainstormed and drafted? *wink*). Pretty much any work on the teacher’s desk computer appears professional – working on your own device is a no-no. Think email checking, web browsing, and reading the news – as long as you aren’t so engrossed that you don’t notice the class clown setting the trash bin on fire, or, God forbid, kids cheating on a test!

Next up, advice on things like how to get a room full of students to do exactly what you say. (Otherwise known as herding cats.)


3 thoughts on “Practical Life Hacks for the Substitute Teacher

    • I’m glad to know my hard-earned experience is going to good use! Best of luck to her. I’m planning to post the “herding cats” instructions tomorrow, haha 🙂 Thanks for your comment, Peggy, and congrats on your new blog! I’m looking forward to reading your posts!


  1. You’re so right about drinking water and eating during the day! This year I finally started packing my snacks and lunch the night before. I eat lots of snacks between classes!


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