4 Tips to Maintain Your Sanity as a Substitute Teacher

Substitute teacher Leslie Knope Cover image

Ms. Sub, can you help me?” The girl asked frantically, as she crouched on the floor under a desk, apparently in search of something very important.

Since class had not “officially” started yet, (the second bell had not rung), I agreed to look with her, hoping it would help her to be less distracted and more prepared to tackle the lessons of the day.

Bending over carefully with my arthritic knees, I asked, “So what are we looking for?

She responded: “I lost my virginity and I can’t remember who I gave it to!

The class roared in laughter.

Totally taken aback, I was “floored” in more ways than one that October morning.

No cameras. No Ashton Kutcher.

But, I had definitely been “punked” in a big way.

This is just one small example of my weekly encounters as a substitute teacher. A position I have held for more than a decade in inner-city schools. Some days I love it. Other days I question whether I am a masochist for subjecting myself to such torture, year after year.

But in the words of Gloria Gaynor’s popular song: “I will survive!

And you can, too. Whether you have chosen to “sub” as a career; have been drafted temporarily as a displaced teacher; or merely see it as a transition gig to earn needed cash until you find something better.

Here’s what you need to know to maintain your sanity, Avoid A.A. and successfully go the distance.

1. Never let ’em see you sweat.

4 Tips to Maintain Your Sanity as a Substitute teacher!_1_Bored Teachers

Teachers “test” students through essays, pop quizzes, and in-class responses to questions posed regarding lessons covered. Kids “test” teachers by seeing how much they can get away with and how often they can provoke us to lose our cool. Stay steady and firm. Classroom management is half the battle, grasshopper.

2. Dress professionally, but comfortably.

4 Tips to Maintain Your Sanity as a Substitute teacher!_2_Bored Teachers

In other professional industries, “dress for success” is the mantra. A suit, tie, dress and heels would be considered the appropriate uniform. As for subbing? Orthopedic shoes, a change of clothes, and a warm sweater would be more in order. No matter what you signed up for, you just never know what you’ll be required to do depending upon lack of coverage and events of the day. For example, I have had to serve as a security guard, a counselor, a basketball coach, and a lunch room attendant when needed. Remain flexible. Bend so they don’t break you.

3. Develop a thick skin. And count to ten.

Conor McGregor looking scary

Sometimes disrespect and disregard seem to be an “occupational hazard” as a sub. Many of the students view us as glorified babysitters or placeholders; speaking down to us, refusing to even complete assigned work.

This is evidenced by a statement from one teen, when I tried to redirect her disruptive behavior in my English class, reminding her that the paper was due by the end of the period. “Why don’t you get a ‘real job’?” She inquired.

Adding insult to injury is the way we’re often ignored in the teachers’ lounge by our full-time peers, as they converse with one another, while barely making eye contact with us. Don’t take it personally. Always mind your manners. Do the best job you can. Then go home and burden your spouse or therapist with the craziness you routinely encounter. Next week you can simply “lather, rinse, repeat.”

4. Find the funny!

Laughing friends

A wise man once said:

If you can laugh through it, you can live through it.

There’s great validity to this approach to problems.

It’s long been recognized that humor is therapeutic. According to Webmd.com, “Laughter appears to change brain chemistry and may boost the immune system.” When you want to cry, try a paradigm shift, instead laugh. It will do you good.

In closing here, when you experience a difficult day, question your career choice, or feel you are at the end of your rope, know that you’re not alone!

It’s all par for the course.

Continue to fight the good fight.

Like those enlisted in the army: you’re one of “the few, the proud, the brave!

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author image blank_Bored TeachersThis article was written by Jenni Banks. Jenny Banks teaches online classes, as well as subs for Grades K-12. When not teaching, she enjoys tea, cooking and a good bargain sale.

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