Substitute Teaching

Substitute Teaching

Many school systems will recommend that you substitute in their system while you are searching for a job to get to know if it is a good fit for both you and them. This is a great idea because you get to know other teachers and paraprofessionals as well as the principal and other administrators. You also get to know the students and the policies (discipline, homework, absences, and others). And you will learn about the support systems that are 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 play tricks on her. They will disobey or ignore her, talk while she is talking, and disregard the rules that are in place. Teachers will be gone suddenly for a day or 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−5 or 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, definitely 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 where the school that needs a substitute calls in the morning and you are supposed 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, the majority of substitutes have a four-year degree or even more training or college.

How Do You Learn to Be an Effective Substitute?
Most people simply walk into the classroom and are in for a shock. You don’t need to be one of those people. Do some preparation. Learn what to expect and how to handle it.

Key teaching skills you will want to make sure you are able to do 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 to 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 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; and
  • Respond favorably to supervision and suggestions for improvement.

The fine line between professional attributes and personal characteristics might point to 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.

Kappa Delta Pi has articles you can read. Click on the titles below to get a PDF of the article. Also go to the Resources Catalog and log in to read everything you can about classroom management techniques and teaching strategies.

A New Day, A New Class: 7 Steps to Become the Substitute Teacher of Choice

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
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.

“Good Job!” Helpful or Not?

Carole S. Campbell
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
Tracey Garrettt
Learn 7 ways to establish order and 7 ways to show you care.

Being an Effective Team Member
Greg Conderman and Myounwhon Jung
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
M. Lee Mountain
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!

Substitute Teaching: Planning for Success For more complete information about substitute teaching, purchase Substitute Teaching: Planning for Success, edited by Elizabeth Mariera. 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. To see the Table of Contents or Purchase this book, login to and go to Publications, then KDP Books and scroll down until you find Substitute Teaching: Planning for Success.

Applications for substitute teachers are available from school district websites, where you will also find job descriptions and other information.