So You Want to Be the Most Popular Sub on the Block …

Your guide to being the sub on the top of everybody’s call list.

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As a substitute coordinator, I have a confession: Yes, we will take on almost any competent teacher if we’re dealing with a serious enough teacher shortage.

When we’re not midcrisis, though, we get really choosy. Everyone wants the best for our students—and our teachers! So if you’re looking to get more sub work, here are some things we look for when we decide who gets those first calls, texts, and emails for jobs. Many of these may seem like no-brainers, but if you can meet as many of these as possible, I promise you’ll get more sub work at the school of your choice. 

1. Follow the lesson plan. 

Imagine being struck with the season’s worst flu, a wicked dental pain, or some other miserable ailment. You muster every last drop of energy for a sub lesson plan, but when you return to the land of the living, you find out that your substitute didn’t follow it or said they got through it in two hours instead of eight!

It’s okay to take a little latitude with the plan, but always remember that someone put a lot of work into it. At a time when they’d be best served taking care of themselves, they were taking care of their class … and YOU. Ignoring that is a sure way to get passed over when your name comes up in the sub pool.

2. Keep an eye on the clock. 

Be early, and stay all day. It’s that simple. Coming in early gives you time to get yourself situated, hit the staff lounge, and review that lesson plan. You’re ready and smiling when the kids start walking in the room, not rushing around trying to get your bearings.

You’re confident and ready to work—and you stay that way: All. Day. Long. Just like the teacher whose shoes you’re trying to fill, you hang in there until at least that final bell. You show up for any extra duties assigned, and you never cut out early. Gold star.

3. Take good notes. 

But don’t overdo it. Your teacher just got back from who knows what. They want to know what’s going on, but they don’t have time to read a novel before they have to get right back in the swing of things.

4. Sprinkle kindness like confetti. 

Having a chummy relationship with a certain teacher or group is great, but turning on the charm for all the folks you run into each day is a way to make a name for yourself. When you’re tempted to complain (about anything), don’t.

People will remember you. They’ll ask about you in the office. You are constantly building a reputation. Make sure it’s a good one by being a bucket filler instead of a bucket dipper.

5. Be flexible. 

Sometimes things change during the time between you committing to a job and you walking through the door. Trust that administrators and staff are working on the best solution for the best coverage at all times. If you’re asked to switch roles on the fly, jump at the chance. You will instantly gain VIP status, because everyone loves a team player.

6. Take initiative. 

You know that down time you find yourself with? When the teacher is usually doing prep? Use it to work on your own notes, clean up the classroom, or even ask team members or other staff if they need any help. Your energy will not go unnoticed.

7. Ask for help … but not too much.

If your classroom is getting out of control, ask for help. Different schools have different ways of doing this, but most often good resources to have on hand are the teachers next door, other teammates, and the folks in the front office.

When you get in early, make sure you introduce yourself to those people and find out the best way to reach them when you’re in a pinch. But don’t abuse it. Not doing enough troubleshooting of your own can lead them to wonder if you’re a good fit.

8. Stop bribing students. 

Teachers spend every second with students building equity. Their relationships take a lot of work. Don’t expect to step in for the first time and have instant connections and success. You may be tempted to bring them candy or gifts or offer special treatment. However, if it’s not in the lesson plan, it’s not worth doing. 

9. Be there or be square. 

Look, we don’t always expect you to be able to drop everything for a last minute job, but we do expect the best subs not to ghost us. Whether you can or can’t help out, make sure to stay in touch.

If we don’t connect right away, call or message us back as soon as possible. If you’re not sure you can do what’s being asked of you, say so. Keeping the lines of communication open—and being direct, honest, and fair when you do—is a great way to keep your options wide without alienating any certain school.

10. Make nice with the office staff.

They have the beat on everything (and I mean everything) throughout the school. You’ll want them on your side when it comes to getting that call—and prioritizing resources when you get to come in. Want the best gigs, the best tools, the most help, and the fastest responses when you need them? Get in good with the office folks to make all your dreams come true.

11. Know when to zip your lip. 

The news of the day is closer at hand than ever before. Sometimes a student might inform you of some major story before you’ve even heard about it yourself. Other times, there may be updates on an ongoing situation buzzing around. Whatever the topic, consider whether it is your role to discuss it with the class before doing so. Most often, it would really be most appropriate for their regular teacher to address it, if at all. Remember: When in doubt, stick to the lesson plan.

12. Dress the part. 

You’re a substitute teacher—not a student. Whatever grade level you’re there for, dress for success. You want to be comfortable but professional. Try not to leave room for the permanent staff to question whether you’re serious about working there. It’s all about R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

What are your best tips to get more sub work? Share your best tips in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.

Plus, check out nine ways to prepare a substitute for your tough class.

So You Want to Be the Most Popular Sub on the Block ...

Posted by Shawn Sayner

Shawn Sayner is an author, writer, educator, and explorer who supports students, teachers, parents, and administrators as a school office assistant and traveling guest speaker. Shawn’s honors include being featured in the Just Like Me! Book Box as well as being named “Best Office Lady” by a precocious third grader.

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