6 Questions to Ask Yourself if You’re Considering Being a Substitute Teacher




This is my third (!) year as a substitute teacher now. Obviously, I love it. It’s turned out to be a truly wonderful fit for me and for my family. The reasons for that go beyond the very obvious “it works with my schedule” (though that’s obviously a big perk.)


Still, substitute teaching is NOT for everyone. I have people– typically moms whose youngest child has started school full-time– ask me about the job all the time. “Is it hard?” “How do you get started?” “Is it tough to find jobs?” “Do you get called at the last minute all the time?”




Those are good questions. And I’m always happy to answer them. But, before seriously considering putting in an application to be a substitute teacher, here are six questions I think you should ask yourself:



What’s my educational background?


Now, don’t panic! The fact that you’re not a certified teacher is probably not a problem. State and district guidelines vary, but you can expect there to be different qualifications for food service substitutes, paraprofessional substitutes, short-term substitute teachers, and long-term substitute teachers. Make sure you know which jobs you’re qualified for so you can make sure it sounds interesting to you.


Even if you’re technically qualified to do all of those jobs, think about what you might enjoy most. Do you like to lead a group? Would you rather support children one-on-one? Do you prefer clerical work? Do you like the idea of working in a kitchen, prepping meals? These are all viable options!



Am I able to think on my feet and adapt quickly?


These are important traits for a substitute teacher. Often, you don’t know much of anything about the class you’ll be teaching until you get there. Being comfortable reading a plan and implementing it, while also rolling with the punches and accepting changes, is vital. The most successful subs are those who can execute a plan, without getting overwhelmed or upset if that plan changes.



Do I LIKE children? What age is my “jam”?


Sure, this question sounds silly. But, the reality is, it’s important. Being a substitute teacher in kindergarten is NOT the same job as subbing in a high school. Most subs figure out the range that makes them happiest. There’s no right or wrong answer here, but it’s important to know yourself. Are you okay being with the same 20 tiny people all day long, dealing with crying, sticky fingers, and endless shoe tying? Would you rather show a video or proctor a study packet? Which is more delightful to you– warm hugs and reading stories or deep thinking and witty sarcasm?



Can I control a room?


Here’s the thing– regular classroom teachers sometimes struggle to control a classroom and they’re with these kids all the time. They have “street cred” and it can still be a challenge. Subs walk in without that established credibility and need to gain control and maintain control quickly. If this sounds a little intimidating to you, that’s okay– everyone gets better with practice. But if it sounds terrifying or like torture, you might not enjoy substitute teaching all that much. You might prefer a different type of sub work… or a different gig entirely.



Do I like to learn new things?


Smart boards. Hover cams. FM systems. COMMON CORE MATH.


There’s so much I had to learn. It can be super daunting to realize you don’t know how to do second grade math the “right” way. I mean… really?!?!? But, the fact is, you simply must learn to do it the way they’re being taught. That’s your job. Doesn’t matter if you think decomposing numbers is stupid– you need to know how to do it. Doesn’t matter if you prefer chalk boards to smart boards– you need to work with current technology and not fight against it.


Don’t let that scare you– you don’t have to learn everything immediately. It’s a process. But, if you already know that you’re going to break out in hives when asked to learn these new ways, keep that in mind before pressing SEND on your application.



Still think it sounds like a great option? Fabulous! I’m right there with you!



I’ll be back next week with five big PROs of substitute teaching. Feel free to toss questions my way, here or on Facebook, and I’ll do my best to address those, too.

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