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A day in the life of a substitute teacher

Updated on September 11, 2013

Substitute teaching

I'd like to share my past experience as a substitute teacher (preschool, elementary and middle school) with anyone interested in getting into the field. This article is to help you see what to expect in an average day of work and to bring light to some of the misconceptions.

1. Getting the job: When you apply to work as a substitute teacher, you should hold a Bachelors degree and a Masters degree will be preferred. Many subject majors are considered but whatever you majored in, you want to highlight your experiences in education: if you have taught in other capacities before, if you have tutored, if you have public speaking skills for large audiences, etc.

Show how transferable your skills are and make your resume and cover letter specific to this opportunity in education that you are pursuing.

Many substitute teachers do not have to go through the certification process of year round teachers (especially at private schools) but they must show their competency of course.

It is also very important to enjoy working with children and besides for teaching, if you have taken on other responsibilities such as babysitting, be sure that it is made known.

Flexible schedule and reliability needed

2. If and when you are offered the job in substitute teaching, show your enthusiasm for the opportunity and be thankful and gracious in your acceptance. Treat the position as a "real job" because it is. It would be best if you are not juggling it with one or more other jobs especially not a full time position of any kind. You are going to need to show your flexibility and reliability in this position.

Wake up call!

3. When you take this postion, guess what. You may find yourself "on call" similar to a physician. You might receive a call at 6am waking you and letting you know that the school's messages were just checked and a permanent teacher called out sick the night before. You must then scramble out of bed, shower, dress and groom, making yourself presentable for classroom teaching and show up at the school by 7:30am. If you decline to take the call, the school's secretary would call the next substitute teacher available on the substitute list but if you want the work and you need the income it is in your best interest to take the call!

Teachers sharing information

4. When you arrive at the school be prepared and be pleasant. Be ready to show your authority as a teacher. You may be warned of the children's tendency to not take the substitute teacher seriously because they are "just the sub". It is a cliche that has been parodied in sitcoms for decades but it rings true in a lot of ways. You might be advised by your colleagues to assert your authority or "these kids will walk all over you". Take the advice!

5. Nevertheless, you can still be a kind and likeable teacher. You don't need to yell at your students. Sometimes just giving the right look (as if to say I have my eye on you) can get unruly kids back in line. Believe me, it works. Especially look out for the a ringleader or perhaps a "class clown" that might try to get the other kids to follow suit with distracting behavior.

6. Focus on the lessons at hand because the day goes fast and there is a lot to accomplish in a day of teaching. If you do not cover everything you are supposed to the class is considered to be falling behind schedule.

7. Respect the wishes of the children's permanent teacher. A diligent teacher will leave you detailed lesson plans and any special instructions about their kids such as information about meal time and snack time allergies, other medical conditions or behavioral disorders in the individual children.

Most teachers are very passionate about their work. They adore the children they teach and are with on an every day basis. Even in their expected or unexpected absences the teachers are in tune with what should be going on in the classroom at any given time and they want things to run smoothly for everyone. Therefore, they will generously share information about their daily schedule with the substitute teacher.

Various forms of lesson plans, general information and even a flashdrive of PowerPoint slides to present to the class might all be ready and waiting for you on the teacher's desk that you will use when you arrive. As a substitute teacher, you should not have to prepare your own lesson plans unless there is a prolonged absence of the permanent teacher and you are hired for weeks instead of days.

Job Perks?

8. From time to time, you might find yourself stepping out of the average routine. For example, when you arrive at school, you might be told that "The school has assembly today at 1pm. You'll have to line up the kids in your class and escort them down the hall to attend the school play performed by the 8th graders." You might find yourself enjoying the play as well, impressed by the theatrical talents of these young performers! Gee, being responsible for your class while you sit in the audience of the play is so much fun it doesn't feel like work at all! A good attitude to have might be "Many people would pay money to be able to watch a play like this so maybe I'll consider it a job perk.:-)"

Teaching in general is fun and substitute teaching is a great window into the profession to see what it is really like if you are just looking for a temporary job or if you are considering pursuing certification to become a permanent teacher.

9. You will find that your work day will end around 3pm. It is likely that you will be paid at an hourly rate. As a substitute teacher looking for a lot of opportunity in just one school and not being on a substitute teaching list at multiple schools, remember to highlight your ability to be flexible. Let the administrators know that you are willing to teach multiple grade levels. You might teach the third grade class one day and teach the fifth grade class another day depending on where you are needed.

10. Enjoy this rewarding work as a substitute teacher!


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    • Journey * profile image

      Nyesha Pagnou MPH 4 years ago from USA

      Thanks so much for your comment Candie V. It sounds like your friend does her job well and is earning the acknowledgement for meeting expectations. Best wishes to her AND you. Thanks again for your great comment!

    • Candie V profile image

      Candie V 6 years ago from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure!

      Journey - this is spot on! A good substitute teacher will get the respect of the schools and be the first one teachers call on - even plan ahead. I have a friend who is one and teachers book her months ahead just to make sure she's available. Her 'NO!' means "NO' and she earns the kids' respect this way. She is knowledgeable and fair and has earned her way into the hearts of the staff and the kids!

      It's a tough job - like being a substitute school bus driver, but it's a critical one! Thank you for outlining this!

    • Journey * profile image

      Nyesha Pagnou MPH 6 years ago from USA

      Hi alekhouse,

      I never felt disrespected as a sub (thank goodness) but I have heard varying stories. Thanks so much for sharing your comments.


      Journey *

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 6 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      I was never a substitute teacher and never wanted to be. I was certified to teach in the public schools in Chicago, which I did for 30 years. I loved teaching, even in the inner city. But I would have never substituted. I watched how badly subs were treated by both the kids and the administration. It might be different in other cities, but in Chicago, subbing is not the way to go.