Why Be a Substitute Teacher?

Over the past decade, substitute placement software has transformed the landscape of substitute teaching. Rarely is a substitute teacher roused from bed with early morning calls. It’s now common for subs to be notified of open jobs, which they can accept, reject, or cancel via smartphone app or computer. Substitute teaching is in high demand and jobs are plentiful. Subs who work in multiple districts have access to enough jobs to choose from a wide variety of subjects and grade levels.

Although substitute teaching has traditionally been a way for teachers-in-training to gain experience, some credentialed teachers may opt to remain a substitute. So what makes substitute teaching attractive? 

You can leave your job at school, without being bogged down with next-day preparations. At the end of the day, there’s no lesson planning, not much paper correcting, and they don’t have to stay after school for meetings. There’s no club advising, coaching sports, or participating in extracurricular activities.

Variety is the spice of life. If day-to-day subbing isn’t your thing, there’s also the option of choosing long-term assignments that can last many months. The role is a bit more like being a regular teacher, earning a higher rate of pay than day-to-day subs. This often comes with the responsibility of lesson planning, paper correcting, and meetings. Many districts allow teachers to request specific subs they like or are familiar with, which a substitute teacher usually is under no obligation to accept these requests.

You don’t have to face the same students daily. Although most assigned teachers enjoy daily teacher-student relationships, there are always those “difficult” students who challenge a teacher’s patience and sanity. A substitute teacher only has to survive until the end of the day. It’s up to them if they return or not.

Many people think subs aren’t able to enjoy teacher-student relationships. This isn’t true. Subs who work in the same schools throughout the year get to know the students whether they see them every day or not. And, they get to enjoy observing student growth and progress from a bird’s-eye view.

You may be able to relate to students in ways an assigned teacher can’t. The assigned teacher is tasked with making scheduled progress, keeping the class under control, and dealing with the range of personality dynamics in the daily classroom.  A sub is usually there for just the day. It’s often safer for a sub to take advantage of “teachable moments” by telling personal anecdotes and stories. A sub usually has time to discuss a wide range of topics, often spurred by student questions, and doesn’t have to worry about veering too far from the lesson plan.

While there are many advantages that make substitute teaching appealing, there will inevitably be downsides to subbing as well.

The pay for being a substitute teacher is usually less than a full-time teacher. A substitute teacher may not be eligible for health benefits or even a retirement plan, a common feature for almost all part-time employment.

When arriving in a new classroom, there is a lot of unknown variables that a substitute teacher needs to deal with. For instance, being unfamiliar with the established routine that works the best with the class or which students have behavior problems can make it much more difficult for a substitute teacher to carry out the lesson plan. Unless the sub is alerted to these within the lesson plan, they’re on their own. Sometimes helpful students are there to give a better idea of how the assigned teacher usually conducts their classes, but this isn’t always the case. Thankfully, most assigned teachers realize subbing can be a difficult job and do their best to make their lesson plan as simple as possible. They understand if substitute teachers make mistakes. All a sub can be expected to do is follow the lesson plan to their best ability.

Substitute teaching can be just as rewarding as having your own classroom. Subs avoid the pressure of contracted teaching, yet provide valuable instruction and mentorship to students. They’re valued by schools and even by the students they teach. Schools couldn’t operate without them. And even though they may not express it, students appreciate subs who provide a safe environment for them to learn.

Lisa Weinstein is a credentialed English teacher who has been substitute teaching for the past 15 years. She spends her days subbing and evenings reading and writing. You can read some of her writing here.

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