How to Act when You Have a Substitute Teacher

Three Parts:Following InstructionsBehaving AppropriatelyHandling a Substitute Teacher You Don’t Like

Having a substitute teacher is something that almost all students will experience at least a few times throughout school. When you have a substitute teacher you may get to have a “day off” from your normal learning, but this doesn’t mean that you can do whatever you want and act however you want towards the substitute. Though some substitute teachers are easier to deal with than others, you should do your best to follow the instructions that they give. You should also behave politely and sincerely towards the substitute in order to avoid causing problems for yourself with your normal teacher.

Part 1
Following Instructions

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    Pay attention to what they are saying. Your substitute may introduce themselves and explain why your normal teacher could not be there that day. The substitute may also choose to tell you a bit about themselves, or they may not. When they begin speaking at the beginning of class, give them your full and undivided attention. [1]
    • This means that you should put away anything you were working on for a different class. You should also put away any cell phones, laptops, tablets, or or other electronic devices that may take your attention away from the teacher.
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    Answer politely when they take attendance. Many substitute teachers will take attendance by calling out the name of each student at the beginning of class. This is because they don’t know the names of everyone and they want to see who is present and who is not. Though some students may try to give the substitute a hard time by making jokes or telling them the wrong name, resist this temptation. Giving them a hard time will only show them that they have to be very strict with you to keep you under control. [2]
    • When they say your name, simply say “here” and raise your hand so they can find you quickly and easily. If they go around the room asking everyone’s name then say your name clearly and loud enough for them to hear when it is your turn.
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    Complete the assignment as instructed. Your teacher likely left behind an assignment for you to complete while they are away. If so, complete the assignment as instructed. If the substitute makes it clear that you are allowed to work with your neighbor on the assignment, then talk quietly. If you are not normally allowed to work together, don’t push the boundaries by trying to work together on the assignment when the substitute is there. [3]
    • If you need help with the assignment, take it up to the teacher and ask if they can help you with your question. Understand that they may not be able to help you since they don’t normally teach the class. Try to ask your question quietly so that you don’t embarrass them in front of the whole class if they don’t know the answer.
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    Work on other homework if there is no assignment. If your teacher has given you a free-day, then use the time to work on other assignments. If the substitute has said they don’t mind if you talk to one another, then feel free to do so, but keep it quiet. Don’t take this as permission to go crazy.
    • Sometimes substitute teachers will put on a movie to watch. If you don’t want to watch the movie you don’t have to, but don’t be disruptive to everyone else. Work on another assignment or do something quiet like drawing or journalling.
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    Turn in your work when instructed. When the substitute gave you the assignment, they likely explained when you should hand it in. If they instructed you to hand it in as soon as you are finished then bring the assignment up to their desk as soon as you are finished. If they instructed you to hold on to the assignment until the end of class, then leave it lying on your desk until you have been instructed to pass it in.
    • If the substitute has not made it explicit that you can work together, then don’t share your answers with a classmate. The teacher may think you are cheating, which could cause a lot of problems.
    • You may also be asked to turn in the assignment when your teacher returns. If this is the case, keep it in your school bag so you don’t lose it.

Part 2
Behaving Appropriately

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    Be on time to class. Just because you know you have a substitute teacher doesn’t mean you can be late. Even if your normal teacher doesn’t usually get mad if you are late, you should plan to be on time. A strict substitute teacher may send you to the principal if you are late. Even if they don’t send you to the principal, being late to class still gives your substitute teacher a bad first impression.[4]
    • If you are late because, for example, you were finishing up an assignment from a different teacher, ask that teacher if they can give you a note explaining why you were late.
    • If you have to be late, but aren’t able to get a note to excuse your lateness, apologize to the teacher when you arrive in the classroom and sit down as quickly and quietly as possible in order to avoid being too disruptive.
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    Sit quietly in your seat. If you are on time and waiting for class to begin then sit quietly. If the substitute has not arrived to class yet, you can chat quietly with whoever is sitting next to you, but as soon as they arrive stop talking and wait quietly for them to begin class.[5]
    • Some substitute teachers will feel intimidated walking into a full classroom. If everyone is chatting and ignoring them, it will only make them feel more anxious about taking control of the class. If they can see that you are trying to be respectful and not give them a hard time they will be more relaxed and friendly.
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    Help your substitute teacher. Sometimes there will be situations where the substitute doesn’t know everything about how things are normally done. If your substitute isn’t sure about something, such as when class normally ends, then help them out. If they don’t know how to work the smart board or the computer offer to help them if you know how.[6]
    • If your substitute teacher has had bad experiences with students in the past they may be a bit distrusting. If the teacher isn’t sure what time class ends raise your hand and politely say what time the class ends. Offer to show them a copy of your class schedule, which will show the beginning and ending time of each class if they seem skeptical about you are telling them.
    • If the substitute has asked you to stay for some reason wait as instructed. However, you should politely remind them that you have to get to your next class on time.
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    Thank the teacher on your way out. This isn’t entirely necessary, but if you think the substitute teacher did a good job let them know by saying, “Thank you for a nice class” as you walk by them on your way out.
    • They may appreciate this acknowledgment of a job well done more than you think.
    • If you didn’t enjoy the class or you don’t think they did a good job, don’t have to say anything. Resist the temptation to say something rude. You may be right, but being rude won’t make the situation any better.
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    Be sincere. Try to remember that all teachers, even substitute teachers are also human beings. They can usually tell if you are being insincere when you say something, and they don’t enjoy being treated badly. Therefore, when talking with your teacher, be polite and friendly.[7]
    • If you are not normally polite with your teachers, then consider trying to improve your behavior. Think about why you don’t normally treat them with respect. You don’t have to love every teacher you have, but remember that they are there to help you learn. Being rude will only make this more complicated.

Part 3
Handling a Substitute Teacher You Don’t Like

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    Understand that you don’t have to like everyone. Throughout your life, you will meet many people, and you probably won't like all of them. However, you should try to be courteous even if you don’t really enjoy their company. Doing so will make your life easier because you won’t be having confrontations with everyone you disagree with, and it will make you a more likeable person as well. [8]
    • For example, one day, when you have a career, you will probably have to work with people that you don’t get along well with. If you are unable to find a way to work with this person you could lose your job so it’s important to find ways to communicate and be courteous with those you don’t like.
    • This doesn’t mean you have to pretend to be best friends. It does mean that you have to find a way to work together to accomplish the goal at hand. In this case, the goal is to get through the class without causing problems, while also learning any new information or completing any assignments left behind by your teacher.
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    Be as polite as you can. This can be difficult with someone you don’t like, but as you grow into an adult you will learn that you have to be civil, even with people you don’t like. Dealing with a substitute teacher you don’t like offers good practice. If they are rude to you, don’t respond by being rude back as this is probably what they are counting on.
    • When the substitute addresses you, respond politely. Hide your dislike behind your manners.
    • For example, if the teacher asks you a question, don’t respond by saying something rude. For example, if they ask you something, don’t say, “I don’t know. Why don’t you figure it out?” If you don’t know the answer then say something like, “I’m sorry Mr./Ms. (say the last name of your substitute), but I don’t know the answer.” If possible, offer to try and find the answer.
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    Say as little as possible. If you don’t like the teacher, you may feel tempted to say rude things or give them a hard time simply because you don’t like them. This may give you some satisfaction in the moment, but in the long run it probably won’t be worth it. The substitute may report you to your teacher, which will probably get you in trouble. If you encounter this substitute again, it is unlikely they will have forgotten you and your behavior so they will treat you as a bad student.
    • This doesn’t mean that you should ignore the teacher if they speak directly to you. If they ask you a question or say something to you, then acknowledge this by answering as politely as possible. However, try to keep the conversation short. If you want to avoid confrontation, then don’t encourage an argument or further discussion by asking a follow-up question or by trying to start a debate with them.
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    Deal with inappropriate behavior accordingly. Although unlikely, if your substitute teacher is threatening students with physical violence or is making inappropriate remarks then you should get help immediately if you fear for your safety or the safety of another student.[9]
    • If you are worried that you or someone else is in danger, leave the classroom immediately. Go to the main office where you can find the principal, the vice-principal, or the secretary. If you can’t find someone there, go into the nearest classroom to tell the teacher there. Explain to them what is going on, and ask them to come help with the situation because you are worried something bad may happen.


  • When you have a substitute teacher, you should behave as respectfully as you would towards your normal teacher.
  • Remember that your teacher expects you to be on your best behavior when a substitute teacher is present. If you behave badly it will only cause stress for your normal teacher.
  • Resist peer pressure. Some students think having a substitute means they can do whatever they want and act however they want. It may be tempting to follow in their foot steps, but don’t! You may get yourself in trouble and if you encounter this substitute teacher again, they will remember you as a rude student.
  • If you need to use the bathroom, then ask the substitute for permission. If there is a hall pass that you need to take with you, show them where it is if they don’t already know.


  • If your substitute teacher says or does anything that you believe to be inappropriate report it to the principal of the school. However, if you don’t like them for one reason or another, don’t just make something up just to get them in trouble.
  • Be aware that the substitute will likely report back about the behavior of students. If you are not well-behaved they may point you out by name to your teacher, which could get you in big trouble.
  • Don't comply with anything the sub says that is potentially dangerous or inappropriate. Instead, immediately get another teacher or school administrator, or call 911 if you or someone else is in danger.

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Categories: Dealing with Teachers