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Substitute Teaching Tips

10/19/2011 10:49 am

One day, you’ll have a classroom of your own. But today, as you work hard toward that career in teaching, substitute teaching is an important way to hone your teaching skills and meet the people you need to know to get hired at the school where you want to work.

But substitute teaching can also be difficult and often intimidating work. How can you be sure you’re getting the most out of out of substitute teaching?

Marcella Ryan, Alumni & Career Services mentor for graduates of WGU’s online Teachers College, has some great tips for aspiring teachers. She recently shared her advice in a webinar called “Making the Most of Substitute Teaching,” one of WGU’s career resources for students and graduates.

First and foremost, she says: Plan! When you’re a full-time teacher, you’ll spend much of your time creating lesson plans, planning for the semester, planning for the year. As a substitute teacher, it’s important to plan as well – plan for each teaching assignment, and also plan for what you want to get out of your career as a substitute.

“Subbing is great in the interim while you’re waiting for a full-time teaching position,” Marcella says. “But at the same time you need to make sure that you are planning every single day that you do sub and what it is you are going to do there to help you get that teaching position at the end of the time that you sub.”

Tips for planning as a substitute teacher:

  1. Select three schools/districts you are interested in and complete the necessary steps for substitute hiring. Spread your time among multiple schools to maximize networking and future job prospects.
  2. Investigate substitute seminars/classes in your district and complete them if available.
  3. Visit the locations you’re hired for and collect pertinent information – pick up the school map, school handbook, hall passes, bell schedule, fire drill procedure, who’s who list, etc. Put it all in a binder, then into a tote bag. Create a tote bag for each school at which you sub.
  4. Create or order business cards.
  5. Activate your teaching license.


Once your plan is in place and you’re ready to start taking substitute jobs, there are many more important things to keep in mind. “Remember: Every day is your job interview,” Marcella says.

So how do you nail those daily “interviews”?

  1. Maintain a professional demeanor and make a positive impression.
  2. Dress appropriately and smile.
  3. Arrive early and stay late.
  4. Be positive and flexible.
  5. Follow the school rules and completely execute the teacher’s lesson plans and instructions.


Be visible, helpful, and friendly. Network every day with the administration and staff. Be confident even if you’re terrified. Leave a detailed report in the teacher’s mailbox. Go out of your way to make an impression as an outstanding faculty member.

If you need help, ask for it – before things get out of hand. Administrators will be much more understanding of your need for help than of a classroom out of control or a problem gone unsolved.

Leave a detailed report for the teacher: Everything from an attendance list to a summary of how the lesson plan went to names of students who used a restroom pass. Be sure to wrap up the report with a sincere thank-you.

These are just a handful of Marcella’s tips; you can hear many more, and learn from her personal experience, by viewing her free webinar, “Making the Most of Substitute Teaching.” Do you have experience with substitute teaching? Share the lessons you learned in the comments section below!

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