Many school systems recommend substituting in their system to learn if it is a good fit for both you and them. This way you get to know other teachers, paraprofessionals, the principal, and other administrators. You also get to know the students and the policies (discipline, homework, absences, and others). And you learn about the support systems in place for teachers.
On the other hand, substituting is much harder work than having your own classroom. It takes extra patience and flexibility as well as a large dose of firmness tempered with kindness. Students will “test” a substitute and disobey the substitute. They may ignore them or disregard the rules. Teachers may be absent suddenly for several days without warning and with incomplete or missing lesson plans, so your ability to plan and execute “on the fly” will be tested.
You will have the opportunity to substitute at any level you want. However, if you are qualified as an elementary teacher, you may want to stick with elementary grades. There is usually plenty of work in K−6. If you are brave and feel you really know one subject well, you can venture into a single subject area in middle school or high school. If you have a secondary background, sign up for the subject areas in which you are qualified. Then, to get more work, consider signing up for other areas such as Social Studies if you are qualified in English or Science. Science and Math majors should sign up to sub in both of those areas. If you are specifically qualified in only one science area, sign up to do all science areas because you probably have more knowledge than the students and the activities and assignments are similar throughout science in middle and high school.
Substitute teaching can be part-time on a day-to-day basis. A school that needs a substitute may call in the morning and you are expected to be there within an hour (and get a set fee for each day) or it can be a full-time job where you draw a salary and know you are going somewhere every day. Substitutes can take on a teacher’s role while she is out for a few hours for professional development or they can be assigned for several weeks or a semester when a teacher is out for surgery or maternity leave.
In most states anyone with the equivalent of two years of college can substitute. However, most substitutes have a four-year degree or even more training or college.
Being an Effective Substitute
Avoid being shocked when you enter the classroom. Do some preparation. Learn what to expect and how to handle it.
Key teaching skills you need include:
- Arouse student interest and enthusiasm;
- Demonstrate knowledge of subject matter (when assigned to your areas of expertise);
- Demonstrate the capability to handle unfamiliar content;
- Keep students focused on the lessons;
- Anticipate the time necessary for carrying out activities (this takes practice);
- Allow students the opportunity for appropriate independent and small-group participation;
- Provide appropriate reinforcements for positive student behavior;
- Offer alternate choices for those choosing not to behave;
- Recognize varied student abilities and attempt to provide for those differences within the limits of the classroom situation; and
- Set expectations for students’ participation and learning.
Effective substitute teachers demonstrate a professional attitude both in and out of the classroom. They know what it takes to gain the respect of administrators, regular teachers, and most importantly, students. Administrators frequently request and often hire these substitutes for permanent teaching positions. Professional substitutes:
- Respect the personal worth of each student;
- Encourage lifelong learning;
- Honor confidences;
- Adhere to established school policies and procedures;
- Promote positive self-esteem and self-concept in all students;
- Promote fair treatment and positive behavior;
- Help students recognize their academic successes and special problem areas; and
- Respond favorably to supervision and suggestions for improvement.
The fine line between professional attributes and personal characteristics may show why some individuals are more successful than others at substitute teaching. Who you are influences how you operate in the classroom, how you carry out your responsibilities, and how you react to difficult situations. Substitutes should:
- Act consistently in handling students;
- Have an enthusiastic and understanding disposition;
- Enjoy the challenge of varied teaching assignments;
- Manage routine efficiently;
- Maintain a friendly and positive public-relations posture;
- Respond in a sensitive manner to student needs;
- Be dependable, punctual, poised, self-controlled, patient, and tactful;
- Display a sense of humor; and
- Dress professionally.
Here are some articles about classroom management techniques and teaching strategies.
A New Day, A New Class: 7 Steps to Become the Substitute Teacher of Choice
By Adrienne Lormé
Substitute teaching is a great way to get your career going. It develops you as an educator, makes you feel more comfortable in the classroom, gives you a repertoire of teaching strategies, and adds teaching experience to your résumé.
5 Strategies to Enhance Your Substitute Teaching
By Jeanie Gresham, John Donihoo, and Tanisha Cox
Each strategy actually has several examples of ways you can make classroom time engaging and students successful. Strategies can be adapted to any level or subject area.
Help Your Sub Be a Star
By Teena Gorrow, Susan Muller, and Karen Parsons
Although this is written for the classroom teacher preparing for a substitute, you as the substitute will benefit from the practical suggestions and can even ask teachers to do these things when you get to know them or have an opportunity to talk with them before you teach for them.