Surviving Your First Day


August 22, 2023

Starting a new job is never easy. But if you’re embarking on a career as a substitute teacher, it might feel like you’re starting a new job every day.

Preparation will be key to getting off to a good start, whether it’s your first day as a sub, or you’re a seasoned pro with an assignment in a new school. Being prepared can make the difference between having a great day, and having one that never quite gets off the ground.

Your first day as a guest teacher will set the tone for how your students and the building staff view you. If you greet students at the classroom door with an air of assurance, no one will even know about the butterflies in your stomach. You’re the adult in the room – students aren’t likely to guess you’re suffering from first-day jitters.

Here are some tips to help you walk in with confidence on your first day:

  • Arrive early, at least 15 minutes before school starts. Use that time to get familiar with the classroom, the building and any lesson plans the classroom teacher might have left for you.
  • Ask questions. Before you head to the classroom, ask the building secretary about any school policies or rules you need to know about. The secretary is likely to know everything there is to know about how the school operates, so talk to them about the school and any tips they might have. Asking for help shows that you’re really interested in the job.
  • Have a plan for the students’ arrival. The first ten minutes are some of the most important of the day, so think about how you’re going to introduce yourself and differentiate yourself from the classroom teacher. Greet students at the door and set the tone for an enjoyable day.
  • Have a warmup activity planned for the beginning of the school day. Depending on the age of the students, the activity could be a puzzle, a game, a song, or writing a letter.
  • Strike a balance between being approachable and friendly, and being someone who can maintain order. Students are likely to misbehave if they think they can get away with it. Hold your ground and be firm, but friendly.  
  • Remain calm in all situations. Students of all ages may test your patience. But losing control and raising your voice will only work against you. Remain level-headed and deflect the misbehavior with appropriate humor and learning opportunities.
  • Be flexible and shift gears into a new activity when necessary. There are bound to be unexpected changes in your schedule. Students may become disengaged, or the classroom might finish an assignment much more quickly than you thought they would. Bring a list of activities that you can pull out if you find yourself with unfilled time before the bell rings.

Going to work in a new place every morning might not always be easy, but there are upsides to it. You meet a lot of new people, get a lot of variety in your days, and get a chance to check out many schools and districts where you might like to work permanently.