Back to Supply Teaching: Being a Meaningful Substitute Teacher

Robert DunlopBlog, Connect Better, Engage Better, Manage Better


  • A substitute/supply teacher subs wherever they are needed.
  • Substitute teachers do not have to struggle in the classroom.
  • Find ways to make your presence positive, supportive, and engaging.
  • Having a different mindset will improve your day and your students.

Back to Supply Teaching: Being a Meaningful Substitute Teacher

Rob Dunlop joined Rae on the Daily Drop In to talk about happy feed and teacher tips on mindset.

Click here to watch!

At almost 20 years into my education career, I thought I was done with supply teaching.  I thought wrong. This pandemic has had an incredible impact on everyone, especially educators.  So much so that we are facing shortages in education like never before.  

Several months back, I was informed of this rising issue and that my role as a consultant would be placed on hold.  I would begin my new role as an emergency supply teacher. What does this look like? We wait each morning with our phones in our hands to fill the supply jobs that no one else selected. We rush to the school, usually late, and search frantically for plans, seating charts, and class lists. Then, we try to teach to the best of our ability the plans that were left for us to students we probably have never met before. are not optimal circumstances, but I figured with all my years of experience, I should be able to crush it. That was so not the case. My first week of supply teaching was a disaster, and I was horrible at it. This was a major blow to my ego and left me feeling down and frustrated.  

Shower Epiphany

Often, I get my best ideas and the most clarity in the shower. So, after a long week of failing repeatedly, I decided to take a long shower to try to shake off the negative feelings and do some soul searching. The question ricocheting in my mind was why am I not good at this? Eventually, the answer came to me…because I was not trying to be good.  

At that point, I realized I needed a shift in mindset. I realized those students deserved the best substitute teacher that day. I realized that I have the skills and ability to be that teacher. From that point on, I was going to try and be the best emergency supply teacher possible for these students. 

I landed on making an interactive and fun slideshow to start each day that would set expectations and at the same time give students something to look forward to throughout the day. Click To Tweet

With a shift in mindset came a change in action. I immediately started brainstorming ways that would help me engage and build relationships with a new group of students. I landed on making an interactive and fun slideshow to start each day that would set expectations and at the same time give students something to look forward to throughout the day.  

Next, I realized that I needed backup lessons for the times that the plans were not there. So, I created a media literacy lesson that was right in my wheelhouse. Just knowing that I could pull out a lesson that I would love to teach settled my nerves and built my confidence. Now when I walk into a school with my backpack full of dice, puzzles, and lessons, I am excited to teach, and it is a different experience for both the students and myself. 

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Create Your Reality

This situation has reinforced for me how we do not control our circumstances, but we do control how we react. Our mindset plays a crucial role in whether we are successful or not. I feel guilty for those classes that I did not bring the best version of myself into. Those students—more than ever—needed someone that day with energy, passion, and who appreciated the opportunity to be with them. And I let them down.

Each day that I have supply taught since my shower epiphany has been fun, meaningful, and pushed me to be a better educator. The students have been kind, engaged, and very appreciative. I no longer come home tired and angry, instead, I am happy and feel good about the work that I have done that day. For me, this was an amazing reminder that we create our own realities. What we get out of teaching comes from what we put into it.

About Robert Dunlop

Robert Dunlop is a teacher, speaker and author who has a passion for helping other educators love their careers. His work with thousands of teachers, principals and support staff has given him insight into the importance of happiness in education.

He believes that all students deserve to be surrounded by educators who are passionate and love coming to school each day. To help make this a reality, he has made it his mission to help educators make happiness and well-being a priority.

Recently, he published STRIVE for Happiness in Education and created a free staff wellness program on his website He continues to share his message through talks and workshops.