Sub Better: Giving Grace Through New Starts

Alex T. ValencicBlog, Manage Better, Reflect Better, Self Care Better


  • As we start a new school year, it’s time to give grace.
  • Give your students grace. Give the teachers grace. And give yourself grace!

Getting Back Into It

It has been three months since you last accepted a guest teaching assignment. You have enjoyed the long break but you’re ready to get back into the swing of things and you cannot believe how many assignments are already available in the first few weeks of school! Some of the assignments seem like they might be low-stress. Others create flashbacks of unruly students from the last year. How do you decide where to start?

A Fresh Start

There was a hit song back in the late 1990s by the band Semisonic called Closing Time that included this brilliant line: “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” As you approach the beginning of the new school year with new assignments and new opportunities to impact student learning as a guest teacher, remember that the only way to have a new beginning is to allow old beginnings to end.

You may have vivid memories of the most challenging students you worked with last year and are hesitant to return to their school. Maybe you recall the teacher whose sub plans at the end of the year amounted to little more than a sticky note that said “Good luck!” and a piece of chocolate. You may dread getting lost in the twisting hallways of the high school.

All of these are reasons that you may have for not wanting to go back to previous buildings or classrooms in the coming year. Push these doubts aside, let bygones be bygones, and allow this year to be a new beginning for you, for the students, and for the teachers.

Remember that the only way to have a new beginning is to allow old beginnings to end. Click To Tweet

What does this look like?

That second-grade girl who had a tantrum at the end of the last year because she didn’t get to use the purple scissors is now a third grader who has grown and developed better self-regulation skills. That out-of-control class of seventh graders is now filled with model students in eighth grade, eager to strut their stuff as the top dogs on campus.

Or maybe they aren’t.

Maybe they are still struggling with the same challenges they had three months ago.

The reality is that you won’t really know who the students are until you arrive. But you can give them grace. You can allow each encounter to be a fresh new start with opportunities to learn, grow, and be better than before.

Give Teachers Grace

This is true for the teachers you are subbing for, as well. Writing sub plans can be incredibly difficult and even the most experienced teacher is going to make mistakes. Give grace to the teachers who forgot to give you a printed copy of that digital assignment that can only be accessed through an online account that guest teachers don’t have. Understand that the teacher is still learning all of their students’ quirks and so may not have known to make a note about the student who needs some extra attention. Be patient when the school principal forgot to tell you that she moved the art room over the summer. As we are reminded by the song from Disney’s High School Musical, “We’re all in this together!”

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Give Yourself Grace

Perhaps most importantly, give yourself grace. It is a new year. There have been many changes in the school or schools where you are going to be working. New staff, new routines, new students. Teachers have changed roles and changed rooms. Some of them may have gotten married over the summer and changed their names, too. You’ve probably changed, too!

It is okay to not be 100% certain about everything! Give yourself space to reacquaint yourself with the environment you are entering. Walk the campus, and check in with the secretary, the principal, and the teachers in your hall. Ask questions and do what it takes to get yourself ready for what lies ahead.

You can allow each encounter to be a fresh new start with opportunities to learn, grow, and be better than before. Click To Tweet

Advice for Teachers

It is very likely that your first absence of the year is going to be an unplanned one. If you are fortunate enough to plan ahead for an absence, remember to rehearse with your class what is expected of them when you are gone. I have suggested in the past that you even consider subbing for yourself one day!

Ask a colleague to look over your sub plans and see what notes you might be missing. Remember to give grace to your students during these early absences, but also give them the opportunity to surprise you.

Advice for Administrators

You may be lucky enough to have a pool of substitute teachers who regularly visit your building. Be sure to check in with them just as you would with a new substitute teacher. Make sure they know where they are going and that they know where important places in the building are. Share with them some of your expectations for the year so that they know how to fit in with the flow of your building.

About Alex T. Valencic

Alex Valencic is an educator, former small business owner, Boy Scout, volunteer drug prevention specialist, unrepentant bibliophile, and a geek of all things. He worked as a substitute teacher for three years before achieving his lifelong dream of teaching fourth grade, which he did for seven years in Urbana, Illinois, before accepting his current position as the Curriculum Coordinator for 21st Century Teaching and Learning in Freeport, Illinois, where he not only supports innovative educational practices in the classroom but also oversees social studies, science, and nearly all of the elective courses in the district.