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Classroom Management Help For The Substitute Teacher

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Oct 14, 2011

Children make a very rapid collective assessment of you the moment they see you in a classroom. That’s why I think it’s so important to set a positive, authoritative tone at the start of the day. Most children feel relieved when a confident sub takes charge. It’s scary to be in a room with no control.

Within the first few minutes, it’s likely that one or two students will try to challenge your authority. They’re testing for weakness, unconsciously trying to establish dominance. You have to win the first skirmish by being kind but firm. Issue your directions in a way that leaves no room for debate or argument.

A petite girl raises her hand, “Mrs. Camileri [the regular classroom teacher] always lets us switch seats so that we can work together.”

Your reaction must be calm but firm. In a no-nonsense voice, you respond, “No, you may not switch seats for group work. Your teacher may let you work with your friends and that’s great. But on sub days, we do things a little differently. Thank you for understanding.”

All the begging in the world will not change your mind. The class sees that you are serious, and they are relieved. Someone is in control.

Should I Try to Make the Class Like Me?

All of us want to be liked, and substitute teachers are no exception. But it’s a mistake to try too hard to be liked by your students. There are times when your students won’t like you, and that’s okay!

Students are happiest when they feel safe and protected. It’s your job to establish a safe and secure classroom environment, even if it means that your students feel that you’re being authoritarian. “That’s not fair” is a common exclamation when you work to avoid chaos. But a few frowns are a small price to pay in order to maintain control.

Remember, when chaos reigns in the classroom, everyone is miserable. The quiet, well-behaved children are uneasy, even frightened. And the boisterous few who are trying to disrupt the flow of the classroom aren’t really happy. Someone needs to be the “heavy,” and that someone is you! Even if the students don’t like you for that instant, they will all feel better in a classroom that is calm and orderly.

Should I Raise my Voice or Even Yell if it’s Appropriate?

It’s very important to understand that classroom management is not about yelling. In a firm, confident voice, you say, “No, that is not acceptable.” Your tone and body language—your most important communication tools—telegraph the absolute expectation that your comments will be heeded. If the students try to ignore you, repeat yourself, calmly.

I recommend that as the volume of student voices goes up, your voice level should go down. A quiet, but strong voice in the midst of chaos can have a profound effect on those who hear it. It is never acceptable for students to ignore your words.

When order is restored (without yelling), you will be liked and respected for your strength and fairness. This is a wonderful feeling, and it is what makes you an effective substitute teacher.

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