How To Handle Misbehavior With Your Substitute

How To Handle Misbehavior With Your SubstituteGetting a bad report from your substitute can be especially frustrating.

You weren’t there. You didn’t witness the misbehavior.

It shouldn’t be your responsibility.

But you know you can’t just let it slide. Otherwise, it will be worse the next time and may even carryover to your day.

The problem, however, is that it’s hard to know what to do.

It’s hard to know how to respond to something that happened an entire day before.

Last week we uncovered three hidden signs you’ve lost control of your class. And although a bad day with the sub doesn’t quite rise to that level, it is an indication that things aren’t going as well as they could be.

It’s an indication that your influence doesn’t quite extend beyond your immediate presence, which is the secret to ensuring good behavior while you’re away from your class.

Now, if you’re a regular reader of SCM, then you know that building influential relationships is one of the cornerstones of effective classroom management.

It’s what provides the power and leverage you need to inspire even the most difficult students to want to behave.

And while nothing replaces the importance of improving this one critical area, there are two simple things you can do when you have a sub to help you maintain that influential connection to your students.

Even while you’re home sick in bed.

1. Insist your substitute use your classroom management plan.

A common complaint from substitute teachers is that few classroom teachers leave plans for handling misbehavior, that they’re often left to their own devices.

This is a huge mistake. Your classroom management plan should be at the very top of your sub plans.

It’s also a good idea to speak to your substitute personally—at least for the first time they fill in for you. They should know exactly what to do if your students misbehave, including how to follow through with consequences as well as how to redo routines.

The reason this strategy is effective is because you’re able to confidently tell your students that when you’re away, nothing changes.

The same behavior expectations are in place whether you’re there or not. This is the most important key to ensuring good behavior in your absence.

2. You handle the third consequence.

The second key is for you to handle the third consequence yourself.

For example, when a student breaks a rule for the third time, the sub would place the student in time-out—or back into time-out—but then leave it to you to send a letter home to parents the next day.

This sends the message that you’re still running the show. Students are quick to misbehave with a visiting teacher when they believe there is no connection to you.

When they see a sub day as a break from their everyday responsibilities, things tend to go awry.

Again, this is something you would communicate to your class. They need to know that just because you’re gone for the day doesn’t mean your expectations of them change—not even a little.

Handling the third consequence effectively keeps your looming presence, expectations, and influence active within the hearts and minds of your students.

A Simple Hack

Getting a bad report from a substitute isn’t about the makeup of your class or how many challenging students you have.

It isn’t about the time of year, the weather, or the day of the week. It isn’t even about the sub.

It’s about you.

It’s about the power of influence. It’s about maintaining an eyeball-to-eyeball connection to your class even from afar.

The two keys above are a simple little hack, an ever-present whisper in the ear, a constant thrum-beat reminder to every student that even if you’re a million miles away . . .

Nothing changes.

PS – If you’re a principal who would like to improve recess behavior, click here.

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16 Responses to How To Handle Misbehavior With Your Substitute

  1. Emily May 17, 2015 at 9:16 am #

    My aide is a very type – A person and heretofore has handled the big discipline (though no notes) when there has been a sub who has been overwhelmed. In classes with teacher aides, do you find it a good idea to give them some classroom management power?

    • Michael Linsin May 18, 2015 at 4:10 pm #

      Hi Emily,

      I think any help they can offer is good. However, the substitute teacher should be the primary decision maker.


  2. Dick Andrews December 5, 2015 at 10:35 am #

    As a substitute teacher many times I am not aware of a Classroom Managrment Plan. What would suggest the sub to do in setting out his rules/consequences for the day?

    • Michael Linsin December 5, 2015 at 12:04 pm #

      Hi Dick,

      This is a big question—and an important one—that we hope to answer in a future e-guide for substitute teachers. Please stay tuned.


  3. Erika December 7, 2015 at 1:07 pm #

    I find this very helpful, as a substitute I find it very constructive when the regular teacher comes and revised the behavior and take care the consequences. It really doesn’t matter that she wasn’t there, but is there class. Also students would generate an unconscious actitud that is going to be good towards the next coverage. It is a win win situation. . Thank you so much for writing this,. I look forward to read every single week.

    • Michael Linsin December 7, 2015 at 5:13 pm #

      You’re welcome, Erica.


  4. Greg February 24, 2016 at 11:44 pm #

    I am consistent reader of your blog and proud owner of all your books. My class got a bad report from my sub yesterday and I am livid. I know it was only a few students who misbehaved but I want to blast them all since I have no names of misbehaving students. I’ve done the lectures, warnings, etc before when I had a sub. Any advice for me? ( the only other caveat is another class rotates into my my class and apparently they were goofing off, too, so maybe it is the sub.)

    • Michael Linsin February 25, 2016 at 8:18 am #

      Hi Greg,

      I would call your sub to determine what happened and who is responsible. Just knowing that you took this extra step should avoid it from happening again. I’d also follow up with a consequence for those who misbehaved. Again, if for no other reason than to send the message that expectations never change, even if you’re out for a day.


  5. Lori Pow May 12, 2016 at 9:43 am #

    Very good advice having teachers leave “action to take if..”, there are times it falls short. I have been subbing for 23 years…no, really. All ages, all subjects, different states. The one thing I appreciate you stating is that it isn’t the sub. ( 95% of the time). I can walk into a room and within 5 minutes let you know about that classroom mgmnt. – Here’s where it gets sticky…if there is a class that has a tendency to be chatty, they’ll be twice as chatty for a sub. If there is a class that is known to be unruly, they’ll be twice that for the sub. It’s just the way it is. It does depend on the dynamics of the class because I’ve seen some students in one class act completely different in another based on the dynamics. I’ve also witnessed over the years, end of year behavior ( everyone is restless, even teachers). Spring fever, full moons, we’ve heard it all and have experienced it all. Not all is clean cut. There may be times where a sub may need to tweak the plans to accomplish as much as they can within the given hour.
    There are numerous, fabulous teachers out there. Teachers who’s students love them and are awesome students. Those teachers who have rules set in place and the students are expected to adhere to the law of the land, are easily realized. Unfortunately, the youngins still take the step to cross the line, even if it’s an inch. It’s just what they do.
    As a sub, I can honestly say, when we have the support of the teacher and admin., we would easily give 200%. I agree with the statement about, not being there, how would you know what really happened. Put yourselves in the subs shoes. If there were an issue, the sub said one thing, the kids said another – who’s word would you lean toward? I would hope that the sub who was in that room would get the benefit of the doubt. Remember: there’s a difference in subbing for an accelerated class and a traditional class. But each of them have their peculiarities 🙂 AND yes, I love what I do!!!!

  6. Georgie July 7, 2016 at 11:37 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    I am a substitute teacher and always let students know my own expectations at the start of a day. Usually, the regular teacher’s classroom management plan is not documented or clear enough to take on effectively. I often work blocks of time on a class (for example 2-3 weeks when a regular teacher takes leave) and am wondering how much detail and time I should take with modelling expected routines, class management plan etc when I am with the class for only a short time. Do you have any tips around this? Many thanks, Georgie

    • Michael Linsin July 8, 2016 at 7:27 am #

      Hi Georgie,

      I hope to write an e-guide for substitute teachers, but in the meantime, you definitely should lean on an abbreviated number of routines that are most important to you and your success managing your classes. Even one routine, taught thoroughly, will have an effect on how students respond to everything you ask of them. This is a big topic that, again, I hope to cover in the future.


      • Georgie July 15, 2016 at 7:04 pm #

        Thank you Michael, I will try that.

  7. Lisa October 1, 2016 at 5:42 pm #

    I am looking forward to that e guide for substitute teachers! I can use all the help I can get. Your weekly blog is a tremendous help and I’m usually able to adapt your advise to full time teachers. Please do work on the e guide though!

    • Michael Linsin October 1, 2016 at 6:30 pm #

      Hi Lisa,

      It’s on the list for potential future projects. Thanks for letting me know.


      • Elizabeth October 25, 2016 at 9:21 pm #

        Seconding the request for the substitute teacher guide!