Becoming a Substitute Teacher

For some people, the decision to become a substitute teacher is a stepping stone to becoming a certified full-time teacher. For others, they simply have some time on their hands and could use some additional income. Whatever your reasons, the actual process of becoming certified as a substitute teacher can be far simpler than you think.

The requirements for subbing vary from state to state, but the usual basic pre-requisite is having some college experience. Some states require a bachelor’s degree; still others require you to be a certified full-time teacher first. It’s best to ask your state government for its requirements first, before doing anything else. Next, go to your local Board of Education and express an interest in subbing. There will usually be a packet of information you need to complete. Be sure to read the instructions carefully – if even one document or ID is out of place when applying, red tape can quickly consume your application.

Many states require a physical exam, a Mantoux (tuberculin) test, or both. It helps to have health insurance to cover this expense, because the state won’t pay for it. Other financial considerations are the cost for fingerprinting and for a criminal background check (in New Jersey, it’s $70 and $78, respectively.) Your state may not require all of these; again, it’s best to check with your state government first.

After you send in your application, the Board of Education might call you up to schedule an interview. Treat this like you would your regular job interview: dress nicely and be prepared to ask/answer questions. Once you complete the interview, your name will usually go before the board at their next meeting. If there are no objections, then your name is approved and you receive your bright, shiny new subbing certificate. Congratulations!

Now what?

Depending what county or districts you’ve signed up for (and keep in mind that schools will sometimes hold their own interviews for subs), you can expect a call anytime from the night before up to 6-7 AM the day they want you to come in. Don’t complain if they call early in the morning; teachers can get sick anytime and they’re depending on you to pick up the slack.

When you get called in, arrive early. This both impresses the school and gives you time to assess the situation. Sometimes the teacher will have a lesson plan for you; if this is the case, that’s great. Just follow the plan. If there is no plan, you’ll need grade-appropriate busy work for your class. Either way, it’s a good idea to take notes of what you did – the teacher will appreciate your effort to keep her apprised and may be more likely to remember your name in the future.

When introducing yourself to the class, you might want to take a middle-of-the road approach to them. Being too friendly right away will undercut your authority, while a method that’s too strict may result in a resentful class. It’s okay to empathize with the students, just make sure they know you’re in charge; you don’t want your experience to end up as another “sink the sub” story.

Try to seek out other substitute teachers in your area, or online. A little networking never hurt anyone, and you may have some good ideas to share. There are also several resources on the Internet that provide lesson plans and/or busy work for all grade levels, tips for substitute teachers, or a group of people whose shoulders you can cry on when little Johnny puts a thumbtack on your seat.

The life of a substitute is much different than that of a regular teacher, but with a little planning and foresight it’s no less rewarding. If things don’t always go as planned, take notes and learn from your mistakes as you move on. With a little luck you may never have a “sink the sub” story of your own.

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