Substitute Teaching

Many school systems recommend substitute teaching 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) as well as 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 him or her. They may ignore her or disregard the rules. Teachers may be absent suddenly or for several days without warning, possibly with incomplete or missing lesson plans, so your ability to plan and execute “on the fly” will be tested.

Deciding on a Grade Level or Class
  • If you are qualified as an elementary teacher, you may want to stick with elementary grades. Plenty of work is usually available in Grades K−5 or 6.
  • If you are 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 these 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 expect you to arrive within an hour (and earn a set wage 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 he 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, for example.

In most states, anyone with the equivalent of 2 years of college can substitute. However, most substitutes have a 4-year degree or even more training. Applications for substitute teachers are available from school district websites, where you will also find job descriptions and other information.

Being an Effective Substitute
To avoid being shocked when you enter the classroom, do some preparation and learn what to expect and how to handle it. Administrators seek out and often hire the most effective substitutes for permanent teaching positions.

You will need key teaching skills to:
  • 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
  • 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
  • Set expectations for students’ participation and learning

The most effective substitute teachers:
  • Display professional attitudes both in and out of the classroom
  • Know what it takes to gain the respect of administrators, regular teachers, and, most importantly, students
  • Respect the personal worth of each student
  • Encourage life-long 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
  • 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
  • Dress professionally

Articles About Classroom Management Techniques and Teaching Strategies
A New Day, A New Class: 7 Steps to Become the Substitute Teacher of Choice
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
Each strategy has several examples of ways to make classroom time engaging and students successful. Strategies can be adapted to any level or subject area.

Help Your Sub Be a Star
Although this is written for the classroom teacher preparing for a substitute, you as the substitute will benefit from the practical suggestions.

“Good Job!” Helpful or Not?

Saying “Good Job” to a student is meant to convey positive reinforcement, but what do you really mean, and what does the student gain from such general praises? Students may benefit from hearing more specific, meaningful evaluation statements about their efforts in order to understand their progress and to move forward.

Balancing Caring and Order

Learn seven ways to establish order and seven ways to show you care.

Being an Effective Team Member
Teachers must spend considerable amounts of time working in teams, as a co-teacher, paraprofessional, student teacher, or mentee. Educators must develop skills to be an effective team member so that the team itself can be effective.

The Speed Dating Route to Study Buddying
What does speed dating have to do with reviewing for tests? Connect the two, and you just might spark some new study buddying “relationships” in the classroom!

For more complete information about substitute teaching, purchase Substitute Teaching: Planning for Success. This 162-page book provides vital insight and resources for substitutes, including legal information, student worksheets (all levels and subjects), and lesson plans (all levels and subjects). It even tells you how to grade items that need grading—even if they are not in your area of expertise.