5 Tips for Substitute Teachers in High School Classrooms

High school students are generally independent and capable of working somewhat autonomously. Most are capable of abstract thinking and problem-solving. When detailed lesson plans are available, a substitute teacher may be able to give directions, then support students as they work through their assignments independently. Having competent and confident substitutes ready to fill high school placements can mean the difference between a difficult day and a positive learning experience.

5 Tips That Substitute Teachers Can Implement in High School Classrooms

To increase the likelihood that a substitute teacher has a successful day in a high school classroom, there are a few considerations to keep in mind:

  1. Be clear about expectations. High school substitutes generally see a new group of students each hour. Rules and expectations should be clearly articulated as each class arrives. Effective substitutes are familiar with building policies, but when in doubt tend to err on the side of caution if there is a question about what is typically allowed.
  2. Treat them like adults. Between family and employment obligations, many high school students are acting in adult roles outside of the school day. By acknowledging and respecting this fact, substitute teachers will be more successful in gaining reciprocal respect.
  3. Use a direct and friendly approach. Effective substitute teachers gain cooperation with openness and humor, rather than a confrontational or dictatorial tone.
  4. Redirect privately. Inevitably, there will be students who question a substitute teacher’s authority or require some redirection. Speaking to them privately avoids an uncomfortable confrontation in front of their peers.
  5. Keep students busy. Just as with other age groups, keeping students busy is a proactive way to prevent them from finding their own diversions. Make introductions as soon as students arrive and get them started on their assignment. Have extra activities ready for fast finishers or to fill time at the end of the hour.

Back-Up Activities Are Essential

It is essential for substitutes to follow the lesson plans left by the regular teacher. However, when lesson plans are missing or insufficient to cover the time frame, effective high school substitutes have a few back-up activities ready. Ideally, they are subject-specific, but most importantly, they are appropriate and challenging for the developmental stage of high school students. Appealing to what is interesting and meaningful to teens will help to keep students engaged.

  • Explore biographies of Famous People of the World. These ninety 6 to 7-minute videos available on Amazon Prime give a short, thought-provoking history of the life of famous historical figures (artists, composers, poets, revolutionaries, leaders, scientists, and others). A substitute can quickly build a subject-specific lesson by sharing a video and prompting students to write a short essay on how the person has influenced the present-day study of the content area. A class discussion would round out the lesson and allow students to share their thoughts with the class.
  • Create a budget based on their potential career choice. Record a list as students brainstorm all of the expenses they will have when they start their chosen career someday. After researching the starting salary for a career that interests them and typical living expenses on a laptop or mobile device, students independently create a budget that includes rent and utilities, transportation, food, clothing, and insurance. Bring them back together to discuss whether there is money left over for entertainment and travel, how much they should put away for retirement, how student loan payments or childcare would impact the budget, etc. 
  • Hold an informal debate. Choose a high-interest debate topic (school uniforms, healthy food only in the school cafeterias, pay-to-play school sports, year-round school, free college tuition) and randomly assign students to take a pro or con position. After giving students some time to come up with three arguments and supporting evidence, have the “pros” move to one side of the room while the “cons” move to the other. Moderate an informal debate where one student speaks at a time offering a point-counterpoint format. Have them write a brief exit ticket stating whether the exchange of ideas changed their personal stance on the topic.
  • Embed study skills training in their textbook assignments. Teach students a useful notetaking skill that will benefit their future studies. Provide a blank organizer or draw the format on the board to help students learn SQ3R or Cornell Notetaking.      

Finding Well-Qualified Substitute Teachers for High School Classrooms

To ensure that schools have access to substitute teachers who are well-suited to working with high school students, many districts are turning to substitute staffing agencies. A staffing company devotes valuable resources to recruiting and hiring the best candidates for the job so that school districts do not have to. They work with schools to set up integrated systems for scheduling and managing substitute teachers for the long term. A company like ESS, with decades of experience, trains substitutes in effective instructional strategies and developmentally-appropriate classroom management, so they can handle the intricacies of working with each of the various age groups.

Contact ESS for help building your substitute teacher pool and getting them ready for all of the challenges ahead. We will orient your substitutes, nurture them with ongoing professional development opportunities, and sustain their engagement for the long term with incentives and professional recognition.