Dear Barbara ...
I've created the Dear Barbara column as a way for subs to get answers to questions about any subbing topic or suggestions that may help you solve a specific problem in substitute teaching.

If you'd like to submit a question, please click here and be sure to include your name and home town. Answers to the best questions will be published here.

Will I Be Able to Sub in High School?

Dear Barbara,

I'm a new sub and have been working mostly at the elementary and middle school level. I really enjoy grades 4- 6 the most. I would like to work every day, and I know that if I sign up to work at the high school, I'll have more subbing days. Other subs have told me that it's not that hard.

I am worried about subbing in an advanced class. What if I really don't know the material? If students ask me a question about Geometry or Chemistry, I'm afraid I'll make a fool of myself if I don't know the answer. Yet I feel that I might be good at working in the high school. Plus… I need the money? Any advice? I really appreciate you help.

Medford, MA

Dear Ashley,

Subbing in a class where the academic material is an unknown can be intimidating. You must realize that high school students are aware that when their teacher is out, the sub is not expected to be as knowledgeable. They have had “the sub” experience many times before.

Be yourself. Don't try to fake your abilities. Tell the students that it's a pleasure to be in an advanced level class. You know that they must be top students and that you look forward to seeing what they can do. You remember taking Geometry yourself, although it was many years ago. Say that you'll try to be helpful in any way you can.

Give the assignment clearly and with confidence. Write directions on the board. Announce that you will walk around the room to monitor the work.
If you see that many are stuck on a particular problem, ask for a “resource” person. Choose a capable student who would be happy to help. Have the resource student go to the board to demonstrate the answer. Other students love to take instruction from their peers.

Compliment the class on their abilities in a very complex subject. Tell them that you plan to write a detailed note to the teacher about their work today. And the added bonus: You might have learned something yourself!


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