What to Do When Students Misbehave for a Substitute


As teachers, we’ve all held our breath when reading notes left behind by substitute teachers. We hope that our students behaved well in our absence, but have a feeling that the day didn’t go very smoothly. One reason why it's difficult to receive negative feedback from subs is that we need to follow up with our students. However, it can be hard to know exactly what to do when students misbehave for a substitute. If you can relate, keep reading for some tips and resources to help in this situation!

What to do when students misbehave for a substitute

What to Do When Students Misbehave for a Substitute

1. Address Individual Student Behavior

The first thing to do when you receive a negative report from your substitute is to check for individual names. Depending on the behavior exhibited by the student, you might need to communicate with parents about the misbehavior. You might decide to send home a grow note or call parents to discuss what happened when you were gone.

A completed glow note and grow note

Consistency is an important part of behavior management, especially when targeting specific behavior for individual children. If a student has trouble maintaining appropriate behavior for a substitute, following up with them afterward is important.

2. Remind Yourself That You Weren’t There

The next thing to do when reading a negative report from a substitute teacher is to remind yourself that you weren’t there. The sub might not have used the same classroom management strategies that you would have in the same situation. The class might have escalated to a point they wouldn’t have reached had you been there to redirect them in the usual ways. 

This reminder can help you determine the next steps when you’re deciding how to follow up with your students.

A smiling teacher standing in front of a blackboard with "Ms. Substitute" written on it

3. Use Natural Consequences as Needed

Besides the note from the substitute, are there any other signs that your students were rowdy while you were gone? Did they leave a huge mess? Did they get into classroom supplies that they know are off-limits when you’re gone? You can hold your students accountable for their behavior by having them clean up when you get back.

A yellow sticky note that says "They were out of control and refused to listen all day."

4. Let It Go

If the note from the substitute doesn’t contain individual student names and there aren’t specific or significant behaviors to address with your class, it’s probably best to just let it go and start fresh. We know how important it is to maintain a positive learning environment, so starting the day with punishment will likely have the opposite effect on behavior. It sets the wrong tone for the day.

If you were gone on a Friday, rehashing those behaviors on a Monday likely won’t yield the results you’re looking for.  A weekend can feel like an entire lifetime to young students! Most of the time, they won’t even remember what happened when the sub was there. Being punished for something they can’t remember will only cause anger and frustration. 

5. Review Classroom Procedures

However, letting it go doesn’t mean that you don’t address the issues. You can take the substitute’s feedback into consideration as you look at your classroom procedures. Does your classroom routine set up your students for success when you’re gone? Are there procedures and expectations that you need to review with the class?

A picture schedule in a blue pocket chart on a bulletin board

For example, a visual classroom schedule can go a long way in creating consistency for your students when you’re gone. Your students won’t get chatty as they try to coach the sub through the daily routine, since they are used to referencing the picture schedule.

Carpet time can be another issue for kindergarten students when there is a substitute in the classroom. This is often when students get extra chatty and have trouble sitting still. Well-established carpet time procedures can help to minimize those behaviors when there is a substitute. If you use carpet time visuals to show the different choices that students have for sitting on the carpet, your sub can reference those to maintain consistent expectations.

6. Be Proactive for Future Subs

The final thing that you can do in this situation is make adjustments that will help future subs. In addition to using more visual supports in your classroom, you could also come up with a classroom incentive that your sub can use. It can be more effective to have a fresh reward system for a substitute rather than trying to have them implement your regular classroom management system. The novelty of a new reward system can keep students engaged and motivated for the sub!

My favorite whole class reward system to leave for subs is a classroom behavior puzzle. They are simple for the sub to use since the expectations and rewards are so straightforward. The sub can give the class a piece of the puzzle whenever he or she feels like the class is demonstrating appropriate behavior. Once the puzzle is complete, the class earns a reward that the sub provides. The instant gratification is a huge incentive for young students! 

Printable Classroom Management Tool for Substitutes

If you would like to try these classroom behavior puzzles when you have a substitute, I have created a year-long bundle that you can use in your classroom! These easy-to-prep behavior incentives have many seasonal options that you can use all year long. 

Turtle behavior incentive puzzle with instruction card for substitute teacher.

The large variety of puzzles means you’ll always have a fresh puzzle to leave with your substitutes. The novelty of each new puzzle will be motivating for your students, making it even more effective.

Would you like to take a closer look at all of the behavior puzzles included in this bundle? Just head over to the Teaching Exceptional Kinders shop or my TPT store. You’ll be able to check out all of the themed puzzles included in this money-saving bundle.

Behavior Puzzles - Classroom Management Bundle

More Tips for When Students Misbehave for the Sub

Check out this video for even more tips to help you when your class receives a negative report from the substitute teacher.

Save These Tips for Addressing Classroom Behavior

Be sure to save these tips for later! Just add the pin below to your favorite teaching board on Pinterest. You’ll be able to quickly find these resources and ideas when you’re looking for a way to improve classroom behavior for substitutes.

What to do when students misbehave for a substitute


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