Students as Substitutes

Eighth grade math teacher Bob Brems was unhappy with inconsistent results and reports from substitutes about student misbehavior. Then he had a brainstorm – turn over the teaching reins to his students in his absence.

In this Education World article, Brems describes his preparation process and results:

I have witnessed a handful of benefits from using students as teachers:

  • Students are more alert and on task when another student is leading the class.
  • Student interest is piqued by the change in approach.
  • Some students benefit from instruction or review led by a classmate. The difference in presentation of the concept helps them better understand the material.
  • The student-as-teacher usually displays a level of understanding of the concepts that is greater than the understanding displayed during a regular class. “I don’t want to look like an idiot in front of everyone!” one student explained.
  • Students often are better behaved when the class returns to the regular format. When questioned about that, students-as-teachers often expressed empathy with a teacher in front of a class. They related how frustrating it was to repeat the same thing several times, asking: “Why don’t they listen?”

So, is this something you might try in your own classroom? Are your students ready? Do you think the subs would go along? Will your administration allow it?


4 Replies to “Students as Substitutes”

  1. Thought provoking blog posting.

    So, I am inferring that there is an “official” adult (substitute) in the classroom while these eighth graders are in charge of the lesson and other various duties that need to be accomplished; yes, many of us have done that unofficially by nominating a different student to “help” the substitute.

    I wonder how that technically works in the classroom and what the substitutes think about it? I would be very interested to learn about the procedure used to introduce and accomplish this peer teacher system in the classroom.

  2. The first time I used this approach the substitute thought it was a joke. Afterwards, the substitute wrote a three page letter explaining how impressed he was with the attitude of the students and the seriousness of the instruction. He related how the students were talking about concepts covered in class that he was not prepared to discuss with the students. This was taking place in a class where 95% of the students are students with special needs, at-risk students, or students currently on parole/probation.

    If you would like to know more, please contact me at

  3. Wow, Bob! Thanks for the comment! Isn’t the Internet cool?

    I would be happy to give you space on our blog to talk about what you are doing. Let me know!

  4. Sylvia – I’m coming to this post rather late in the game, but I just wanted to mention that I used this technique when I was student teaching and had to leave notes for a sub (another student teacher who was new to our classroom). I was teaching all computer lessons at the time and the students were very familiar with the program. I assigned 3 students to be the assistants and told the sub in the notes to have students A, B, and C assist with any tech issues, and student D could explain the lesson. It was very effective. Oh, and this was an 8th grade classroom!

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