Transitioning from Subbing to Teaching


One of the easiest ways to get a job, even in the toughest of job markets, is to have relevant job experience in the field that you want to work in, and substitute teaching offers an abundance of valuable experience.

Substitute teachers often move among many different schools, and teach a variety of different subjects in a number of classrooms, making it one of the best ways to gain the skills needed for moving into a teaching career.

Simply stated, those with subbing experience have a clear advantage over those without teaching experience when applying for jobs. It gives those considering a teaching career the opportunity to try on different grade levels, subjects, and areas in which to specialize.

There are few careers today that offer an opportunity to actually try out a job before entering the field and get paid for it. But that’s exactly the opportunity that working as a substitute teacher provides.

While subbing, those interested in pursuing a path to a permanent teaching position should focus on the following:

  • Understanding the curriculum
  • Gaining an understanding on how to implement the curriculum in an interesting, engaging, and stimulating manner
  • Learn a variety of instructional methodologies
  • Learn and provide instructional methods that reflect multiple perspectives and multicultural education
  • Implement school and district policies and procedures
  • Learn how to effectively use technology to achieve curricular objectives
  • Develop excellent communication skills in order to work with students, administrators and colleagues
  • Develop effective discipline and classroom management practices
  • Learn how to work effectively with parents (for long-term subbing assignments)
  • Learn how to develop lesson plans and assignments (for long-term subbing assignments)

Basically substitute teachers must do everything that teachers do on a daily basis. Depending on the assignment, this might also include lesson plans and working with parents. In effect, it’s a way of learning and practicing the skills needed for permanent teaching positions, and it helps prepare individuals for the certification tests that future educators are required to take before becoming permanent, fulltime, teachers.

Need for certification

Subbing gives future educators the hands-on experience required to enter the teaching field, but in order to become a teacher, states require certification.

Certification proves that a teacher has met a set of standards that shows they understand the best teaching methods and practices. It also shows that teaching candidates have a solid grasp of the subjects they will be teaching.

Those wanting to teach early childhood education, for example, will take certification assessments on how developmental changes affect learning, and how to integrate the curriculum and instructional methods to meet those changes.

For those who have subbed in early childhood classrooms, they witness these cognitive and behavioral changes daily, but for certification, they must understand why and how these changes take place.

Elementary school teachers, on the other hand, focus more on how to teach the fundamentals of literacy and English language arts, science, mathematics, and social studies. Certification will require knowing the appropriate learning theories that support effectively teaching these subjects.

Substitutes at the elementary grade level might spend time going over the multiplication tables with students, for instance, but those applying for certification must understand the importance of this process. They must see how this type of learning builds knowledge that students require in higher-level academics.

For those wanting to teach middle school and high school students, secondary education focuses almost exclusively on subject areas. Most subbing jobs at this level will require individuals to step in and teach all subjects, giving individuals an excellent opportunity to find the subjects they enjoy teaching.

For certification, secondary level teachers must be able to answer questions in content areas that are at a level above what they will actually teach. For instance, most content tests will measure knowledge of a subject at least at the college-freshman level. A thorough and in-depth understanding of a content area is required to pass these certification tests.

Certification for higher-level grades also requires prospective educators to teach students how to prepare for college and future jobs, which requires knowing the pedagogy behind teaching real-world, practical applications of knowledge.

Each state has different certification requirements, but most require at least a bachelor’s degree in addition to the passing of one or more assessments. Those interested in moving from subbing to teaching should check their state’s certification requirements here.

Ways to prepare for certification and full-time teaching

For those who choose to work as a substitute, there are many ways to take advantage of and learn from teachers working in the same building or in the next classroom. For instance, it’s easy while substituting to simply attend to the lesson plans that the absent teacher has prepared, or try to keep students busy and engaged. It’s easy, in other words, to isolate oneself in a classroom.

But substitutes need to think of the school they’re subbing in as a wider classroom for themselves. There are well-experienced teachers, resource staff employees, and principles who can mentor those interested in becoming teachers. These are rich resources to network with, gathering information about teaching methods, advice about taking the certification tests, and the best ways to prepare for becoming an effective educator.

In addition, school district personnel are the key people that will write letters of reference when substitutes are looking for permanent jobs. They are also future employers – if and when permanent jobs come available.

Substitutes also need to network with school administrators, keeping in mind that all communications should stay professional and centered on teaching and education. Even written communications to these individuals can make a positive impression.

For example, substitutes can send an introductory e-mail to an administrator. Something as simple as introducing yourself, and explaining how much you enjoyed working in the district as a substitute makes a difference when applying for a fulltime position.

Competencies substitute teachers should have:
  • Age-appropriate teaching
  • How to maintain discipline
  • Understand the learning process
  • Techniques for starting a class
  • Learning a school’s culture
  • Health and safety issues
  • Practical ideas and where to look for resources
  • How to handle student challenges, both academically and behaviorally

Becoming a substitute teacher

States have different requirements for becoming a substitute teacher. Most states require at least a bachelor’s degree. Some states have a special certification process for substitutes while others simply want to review transcripts from a college or university.

Still others require that substitutes are already certified teachers. For more information on how to become a substitute teacher in your area, see link.

Substitutes Learn How to Manage Trouble

One area that substitute teachers become experts is managing tough discipline issues.

Truth be told, when teachers are absent from class, students will test the substitute. Some children swear in front of the teacher, others will call the substitute names.

In the article, "A Substitute Talks About Abusive Language, K-12 Substitute Teacher Shares Insights & Tools," Doug Provencio discusses how he handles these situations.

Provencio is a full-time substitute teacher in Oakland, California, a large urban school district. His interview with the National Educational Association (NEA) appearing in this article addressed swearing and name calling.

Swearing is everywhere in today’s society, and children are expected not to repeat what they hear in movies, conversations, songs, and on the Internet. For that reason, Provencio states that teachers need to keep what’s being said in perspective.

If the swear word is said casually, Provencio tells the students politely to stop using the language. On the other hand, if students are speaking with hostility, or if the cursing is persistent, then he approaches the problem in three steps:

  • Talks with the student
  • Sends the student out of the classroom
  • Calls the student’s parents

Name calling should also be handled according to the situation. Sometimes kids call him names that are tame, and he tries diffusing the situation with humor. For example, in the NEA article, he states, if the child calls him "cousin," he’ll say, "Don’t call me cousin, call me Mr. Cousin."

However, if it’s a name that has a violent meaning, such as "blood," he’ll say, "That sounds violent. This is what I prefer you to call me." He often uses such moments as "teaching moments," explaining the history behind certain words and why they are derogatory.

Provencio said he learned how to handle verbally abusive situations by asking for advice from more experienced teachers.