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Classroom Behavioral Management 101 for New Substitutes

Night Owl City / / CC BY-NC-SA

As a new substitute teacher, entering a classroom for the first time may be both exciting and anxiety-provoking. Effective teaching involves more than providing quality instruction- establishing expectations and managing student behavior are key to being successful (and being invited back to sub in the building!). The following tips will help substitutes prevent and respond effectively to behavioral issues in the classroom:

  • Arrive Early. You'll want to review the schedule and sub lesson plans to prepare for the day- teacher preparation increases confidence while providing instruction, minimizes transitional "down-time", and therefore reduces disruptive student behavior.
  • Play the Part. You are the teacher for the day, so when students enter the room, appear confident and competent, even if you feel nervous. How you "carry yourself" impacts students' perception of your abilities. Carry yourself as a professional and students are more likely to treat you like one.
  • Know the Expectations. Familiarize yourself with behavior expectations in the classroom. These are often posted on walls or may be found on the school website or in student handbooks (copies typically in office). Knowing expectations, and reminding students of these, is critical to ensuring continuity for students and demonstrating that your expectations are the same as the regular classroom teacher.
  • Anticipate Behaviors and Make a Connection. If possible, try to find out if there are any students in the classroom who frequently present behavioral challenges and make a connection early on with them...take the time to find out an interest of theirs (e.g., favorite sports team, hobby, etc.) and use these in examples during instruction. Providing these students with leadership roles or giving them responsibilities (e.g., assist with equipment, collecting materials, etc.) is also a means of establishing a positive connection and preventing behavioral difficulties.
  • Monitor Positive and Negative Behavior. Remember to monitor both desired and problematic behaviors. Acknowledging positive behaviors with specific feedback (e.g., "I appreciate you volunteering to read first", "Thanks for being patient and waiting your turn", etc.) increases the likelihood that students will perform these. Monitoring should also be used to address undesirable behaviors that disrupt learning; students may respond to strategies such as verbal reminders of expectations, redirecting students to the task at hand, teacher proximity (standing near student), and timely questions (e.g., calling on students to promote on-task behavior).
  • Trouble-Shoot as You Go. It's impossible to know the behavioral needs and frustration levels of every child in the room as a first time substitute. Often times students give subtle cues before pronounced behavior issues occur. Watch for signs of anxiety or frustration such as pacing, putting their head down, tightening muscles (e.g, fists, face, shoulders, etc.), and repetitive tapping or movements (e.g., foot shaking, pencil tapping, rocking in seat, etc.). These may be an indication that a student is experiencing difficulty, becoming anxious, or has a need not being met. Intervene early to prevent escalation, and attempt to match your approach to what the student needs. For example, if frustrated about work tasks, consider increasing academic prompting and supports or allowing student to take a brief "refocusing" break. If student appears to have difficulty sustaining attention for extended periods of time, consider allowing the student to complete the work in shorter "chunks", allowing them to do something active for a brief period of time (e.g., take a walk around room), or increasing visual or kinesthetic supports for the child (e.g., show models, provide hands-on materials, allow student to physically stand or sit on floor to complete work, etc.).
  • Follow Discipline Procedures if Needed. You are responsible for maintaining a safe or orderly learning environment. If preventative measures have not been effective, and behaviors warrant it (e.g., significantly interfere with others' learning or present safety risk), do not be afraid to use discipline procedures in place in the classroom and building (e.g., office referrals).
Before stepping into the classroom, think about the following: What will you do to prepare yourself to prevent and deal effectively with student behaviors? Behavior management is not a skillset that's obtained overnight. It requires continual learning, trial and error practice and experience...using foundational suggestions such as those above are the first step toward gaining these skills which are critical to success as a teacher.
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