Principal Hotline: What Do You Do When Kids Disrespect Subs?

Plus: coming and going from school events, as well as managing teacher of the month.

An important part of leadership is reaching out to one’s peers for advice and support. All day, every day, our readers do just that. Here are some questions that came in on the principal hotline this week. Have your own question? Email it to

1. Managing Sub Disrespect in the Classroom

I’d love some advice. I spoke with a sub who was in our building yesterday. He was floored at how rude and disrespectful the fifth grade kids were to him. I am going to talk to the kids today and try and give them some understanding of my disappointment in their behavior. Have you ever been able to truly get a group of kids to stop this type of behavior with subs? They do not treat their teacher this way.

Make a substitute teacher-student connection

I’ve invested time setting the tone at the start of the day where I duck into the room just after kickoff, introduce the sub and class to each other, and discuss how the sub is helping us out and that their teacher would have high expectations of them to continue working. Discuss what great kids they are and then ask the class to make the sub’s day with us wonderful by helping out. Sometimes I ask kids to nominate themselves as go-to class members. 

Subs appreciate it, and that five-minute investment at the start of the day helps maintain expected culture and cuts down on lots of inappropriate behavior and the follow-up required for that.

Help subs look professional

It won’t fix everything, but give whatever form of ID your teachers wear to your subs. If you use lanyards, make sure the sub has a lanyard. If it’s a clip badge, make sure they have a clip badge. I was a substitute teacher for five years, and walking into a classroom with a “Hello, my name is …” or visitor sticker says, “I’m not a teacher.” The students act accordingly. Another key element is making sure your subs have an arsenal of class-management strategies. A lot of districts do not require that subs be trained teachers, so they may be learning by trial and error with little guidance.

2. Coming and going from school events

How many principals have rules for events that once a student leaves they are not allowed back in? Do your rules vary depending on the event or the age of the child. Who does the monitoring?

Some rules depend on the event

Depends on the event. Because athletics are public events, we cannot enforce this rule with all community members so we do not enforce it with students. The main reason the rule is only for dances and similar events is due to the social nature of the event. There’s a concern of alcohol and/or drug use when they are coming in and out.

Designate a quiet spot separated location

Where do students go once they’ve been barred reentry? Perhaps designate a location, separate from the festivities, for students who’ve left the event and wish to return. If the goal is preventing inappropriate or illegal behavior, preventing students from rejoining more age-appropriate activities may be counterproductive.

3. Managing teacher of the month

What criteria or rubric do you use to pick the teacher of the month? I want it to be fair, diverse, and engaging.

Ask your student body to nominate teachers


I am working on having the student body nominate their own teachers, using the same criteria we use to select students: being safe, respectful, responsible, and motivated. I’m really curious to see what our students have to say about the staff.

You all had so many wonderful questions, it was hard to choose one, and I enthusiastically support your creativity. Remember to celebrate all of your staff—everyone has strengths. Everyone has room for growth, and a healthy dollop of appreciation can work like Miracle-Gro.

Each week, our brave school leadership expert answers your toughest questions about the daily adventures and challenges we all face as we strive to make our schools great places for kids to learn.