You Got a Bad Sub Report. Now What?

Advice from teachers who’ve been there.

You Got a Bad Sub Report
Text bubble with "Oh No!" phase, flat pixelated illustration. - Stock vector

The only thing worse than missing school is coming back to a bad sub report. How do you respond, both with your class and to earn back the sub’s trust? Members of our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook weigh in.

1. Write letters of apology.

“My fourth graders were terrible with the latest sub, so when I got back, we had a big talk about respecting our room and class. I taught them how to write an apology letter that says I’m sorry, I was wrong for doing this, this is how I’ll behave next time, and please forgive me. I made them write letters to the substitute. When I had to go back out a few days later, they were great.” —Melana H.

“I have my students write letters of apology to the sub, and they put ‘sub apology letters are due’ in their planners so parents could ask them about it.” —McCann V.

2. Don’t wait for an absence to lay out your expectations.

“I address my sub expectations often, whether I’m planning on being out or not. Anytime a class near mine has a sub, I remind my students my expectations for when and if I am ever away unexpectedly. I also have a note to my class in my emergency sub plans to be shared with the class, so that they can ‘hear’ my voice even though I’m not there. It may sound like overkill, but it seems to work.” Sandy W.


3. But don’t feel like you had to give a disclaimer in order to give a consequence.


Didn’t think to state explicit expectations before you were out? You can still keep your students accountable to their behavior. “I teach sixth grade. It’s good if you set your expectations before you go out, but respect should be automatic, and if they respect you, they should respect the sub. So if a name is left when I’m gone, notice or no notice, that student gets a detention. If the vice principal had to come down, I’d make the whole class stay after school one day to show you mean business.” —S.K.O.

4. Get the parents involved.

“I would write a letter to their parents about their behavior and ask for their support, and I’d require a parent signature on the letter.” —Dawn M.

But be aware that you may get a little push back. Another WeAreTeachers reader wrote: “I did this and had parents—whose children had been listed more than once on the sub list for bad behavior—called me screaming because how dare I accuse their child of this behavior. Not their angel!” Our advice? Involve parents, but be sure to word the letter in the most constructive and positive way to avoid a misunderstanding.

5. Suss out the main perpetrators with student statements.

Chances are, even if the class as a whole was terrible, some players were worse than others, and maybe a few weren’t bad at all. “I make each of them write ‘statements’ detailing what happened from their perspective. The main instigators always emerge, and the appropriate punishment can be given.” —Kristine K.

6. Names matter!

“I have decided to never use the term ‘sub.’ Several years ago, I found out that most students think that a ‘sub’ is not teacher. I refer to them as a ‘guest teacher.’ I explain to my class that the guest teacher has gone to college just as I have done, and they deserve the same respect.” —Belinda M.

7. Focus on the positive.

Instead of telling students how not to act, focus on positive things they can do to ensure a good experience. “The next time a colleague has a sub, you should coach those students on being helpful and make them do something nice for the colleague’s sub as you watch, and use it as a teachable moment.” —Kelly M.

“Read Miss Nelson Is Missing and talk about it. When I get a really good sub report, I will bring in donuts or schedule an extra fun snack or activity. So far this year the positive rewards have been working, thank goodness!” —Shellie S.

We’d love to hear how you’ve handled a bad sub report. Come and share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.

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