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Classroom Tips for Substitute Music Teachers

The daily life of a substitute teacher is ever-changing. Without the rapport of day-to-day interactions with students, you’re bound to be met with a range of experiences, from the well-behaved and delightful to the unruly and challenging.

Here are few substitute teaching tips and tricks you can have up your sleeve so you can better manage classroom behavior, keep students on task, and enjoy making music with them.

1. Email the teacher ahead of time if possible

If you’re called in for an impromptu sub day, this might not be possible. If, however, a teacher arranges a substitute ahead of a time reach out via email or a call to the school and introduce yourself. Ask about the classes, which periods are the most challenging, and the teacher’s routines, classroom management strategies, and protocols. Students are more likely to get to work and assume a more cooperative state of mind if you maintain their teacher’s patterns and strategies.

2. Speak to the office staff or administration about their substitute policies

Knowing how the school handles a substitute’s response to behavior issues is helpful. Many schools have strict policies about how students should behave with a substitute teacher because the administration understands that children are more likely to be unruly around someone they don’t know.

If you're worried the administration or main teacher will think you're being ineffective because you choose to send a student to the office — knowing their policies can help you feel more secure and confident about removing an instigator without fear of seeming inept.

3. Find your classroom management groove

If you have a plan ahead of time, and execute it consistently, you’ll fare better than if you enter the classroom without a behavior management plan, or try to manage things via moment-to-moment reactions.

Study effective classroom management strategies, figure out what ones will work best for you and your students, and be sure to explain your policy to the students at the outset. Two articles worth reading along those lines are:

Back-to-School Tip: Maintaining Order in the Classroom

Disruptive students? 10 Ways Music Teachers Can Take Back the Classroom

4. Have your own music lesson plans prepared

Don’t assume the teacher will have sub plans at the ready. While many music teachers have prepared sub plans on file, others do not. You’re better off having your own age-appropriate music lesson plans at the ready.

To give you a head start, we’ve put together substitute music teacher lesson plans for grades K-3, more plans for grades 4 – 6, and here’s a link to additional music lesson planning sources.

5. Be Yourself

Often times kind and gentle subs may put on a strict “act” from the get-go. And normally quiet and serious personalities may try to adopt an overly cheerful or easy-going attitude to ingratiate themselves to the students. Yet you already know that children have an uncanny radar for “fakeness,” which they will almost always push against. Your best bet is be yourself, and communicate honestly with the students about your expectations.

Let them know you enjoy being a substitute teacher, and that you’d like to sub for them again if the day goes well. Give them a chance to ask questions about you and your life (feel free to decline answers to subjects that are not appropriate or feel too personal), so they can get to know you a bit. Ask them open-ended questions to get them to interact with you, meanwhile enforcing raised hands and quiet listening (”ears open, mouths closed, bodies still…”), while others are speaking.

Spending this time after the initial classroom greeting and routine will help build rapport, so students feel more comfortable, settle in with you and get down to work.

Remember When?

Finally, don’t take things too personally. Try to remember how it was when you were a child and a substitute teacher was in class. Odds are you’re experiencing the exact same things those teachers did, so you’re not alone. Reach out to the teachers in the school during your break and lunch periods — they’re most likely all familiar with your students and can offer some insights, good advice, and tips. And at the end of the day? Pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Not everyone has the confidence, courage, or ability to be a great substitute teacher.