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Substitute Teacher Job Descriptions

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Substitute teachers instruct students in the absence of their regularly appointed teachers. They typically follow the lesson plans of the regular teachers and strive to maintain normal classroom procedures and discipline procedures. Substitute teachers are hired by independent private schools, public school districts or Catholic dioceses that manage Catholic private schools. In the last two settings, hired substitutes are typically sent to any school within the system that needs a replacement teacher.

Mastering Essential Qualities

To thrive on the job, substitute teachers must be able to easily adopt the instructional strategies of the regular teachers and follow their lesson plans accurately. They also need strong communication skills to instruct students in a clear and understandable manner. Some students, especially those in elementary school, may take longer to build close relationships with new educators, so substitute teachers need a good sense of humor to keep students happy and engaged. A positive attitude is also essential, as these teachers must cope with the prospect of teaching a new group of students every few days. Kindergarten substitutes must be patient, since some preschoolers may struggle with learning materials. Middle and high school substitutes need strong classroom management skills to effectively manage some students that might be disrespectful or rude.

Handling Classroom Duties

A substitute teacher assumes all the duties of the educator she is substituting. At the beginning of a school day, she reports to the school and collects class schedules, student attendance sheets and other relevant documents from the school secretary. In the classroom, the substitute teacher instructs the students according to the lesson plans outlined by the absent teacher, answers students’ questions, and issues and marks assignments. If the students usually have mid-lesson breaks, she has a responsibility to give students those breaks. In a special education class, she helps students use assistive learning tools such as reading focus cards.

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Writing Reports and Other Duties

Substitute teachers compile classroom reports on a day-to-day basis and submit them to the school office or to the regular teacher. These reports could include detailed notes about the academic progress of each student, as well as a list of indisciplined students.

Other duties include monitoring classroom supplies such as paints and paper boards, staying in the classroom while a student teacher or intern teaches students and taking sick students to the nurse’s office.

Becoming a Substitute Teacher

The minimum education requirements for substitute teacher vary by employer. While some employers require least a high school diploma, others only hire individuals with a specific number of college credit hours or a bachelor’s degree in an education field (1,9). Aspirants also need to obtain a substitute permit, license or certificate. States issue different types of permits, from 30-day emergency permits for short-term substitute teachers to five-year permits for long-term substitutes. Short-term substitutes can only teach for up to 30 days per assignment, while long-term subs can do a full semester or more. Licensees must generally provide educational transcripts, pass a criminal and drug background check and successfully complete a qualifying exam.

To enhance their chances of finding regular jobs, prospective substitutes should apply to several school districts or private school systems, or enlist with substitute teacher staffing firms. Ambitious substitutes can use substitute teaching as a springboard to landing permanent teaching jobs.

About the Author

Based in New York City, Alison Green has been writing professionally on career topics for more than a decade. Her work has appeared in “U.S. News Weekly” magazine, “The Career” magazine and “Human Resources Journal.” Green holds a master's degree in finance from New York University.

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