7 Qualities to Look for When Hiring a Substitute Teacher

Caitlin DeloherySchools1 Comment

While stellar subs and gifted classroom teachers may share many of the same qualities, the two roles are also quite different. To excel at substitute teaching, educators need a unique skill set that distinguishes the best from the rest.

Here are the qualities to look for in your substitute teachers.

1. Passion

Most substitute teachers are looking for more than just a paycheck. They’re excited about education, knowledgeable about best practice, and committed to student growth.

Not only will your staff appreciate an engaged colleague, but students respond to passion. They recognize educators who sincerely care about their experience and success.

When evaluating a sub, pay attention to the ones that make you say yes to these questions:

  • Is the substitute excited to be working at your school?
  • Do they seem genuinely interested in engaging with students?
  • Do they have any previous experience in students’ growth? (Tutoring, coaching, teaching, instructing, volunteering, leadership, etc.)

2. Sense of humor

While there’s no need for subs to be the next Seinfeld, the ones who know not to take themselves too seriously often thrive in a classroom. A growing number of studies in social-emotional learning (SEL) show that humor can diffuse tension and stress, promote creative understanding, and improve retention of information.

Here are some ways great subs bring humor into the classroom:

  • Laughing at themselves when they make a mistake
  • Allowing students to let their creative and silly sides to come through
  • Making connections between educational content and everyday life
  • Opening up time for student laughter and giggles
  • Pivoting away from inconsequential remarks and behavior

3. Interpersonal skills

Being part a school team requires interaction with a variety of people: administrators, colleagues, staff, parents, and especially students. This type of engagement takes interpersonal skills to the next level, as it requires substitute teachers to make the appropriate adjustments depending on their audience.

As you observe, communicate, and connect with your substitute teachers, note whether they demonstrate proficiency in the following:

  • Verbal communication: students are more responsive to someone who is speaking in a friendly and confident tone.
  • Nonverbal communication: students take note of facial expression, hand gestures, and body language. If someone avoids eye contact, frowns, or crosses their arms, they may appear closed off to students.
  • Attentive and empathetic listening: some students learn best by asking questions, while others may prefer talking through other perspectives. Does the substitute value all student voices?
  • Leadership: students need to feel safe, especially with a change in their normal routines. Substitute teachers should be able to problem solve, make decisions, and resolve conflict in a timely and confident manner.

4. Adaptability

Considering that the job often requires subs to work in a new school, with a new set of people, sometimes in a new town, it’s no surprise that substitute teachers need to be able to adjust to change quickly.

Remember, it’s possible that the sub who was teaching 3rd grade math in a suburban school on Tuesday will be in a city high-school journalism classroom on Wednesday. The amount of flexibility it takes to pull off this type of work successfully is quite remarkable!

Someone with this type of adaptability will be able to respond to the most chaotic situations that can pop up during a school day.

5. Stamina

Students have energy, usually much more than the adults around them. Keep in mind that a certain amount of physical and mental endurance is necessary for them to remain effective classroom leaders until that dismissal bell sounds.

*If you are working with new substitutes: the type of stamina needed for an active school day takes time to develop, so give your new subs the benefit of the doubt if they are still adjusting. If they finish their first day exhausted, let them know that it will get a little easier each time!

6. Accountability   

With a job that requires so much, some subs may let the policies, procedures, and lesson plans overtake what is at the heart of the work: being entrusted with other people’s children.

Having a sense of humor and adventure can help subs on the job; however, it’s crucial that subs can navigate between what is inconsequential and what must be taken seriously. A substitute teacher who doesn’t grasp this responsibility won’t be as effective or responsive in the unlikely event of a threat to student safety.

7. Confidence

It takes a certain amount of self-assuredness to lead and manage a new classroom. Students intuitively need to know that the person in charge is competent and trustworthy in order to give their best.

An effective substitute teacher can walk into the classroom with confidence and maintain it while making decisions, managing conflict, and addressing problems. And the best subs know that even when that assuredness waivers, it doesn’t hurt to “fake it til you make it!”

You’ll find more qualities that a great substitute has in our article on what the best substitute teachers do a bit differently.

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One Comment on “7 Qualities to Look for When Hiring a Substitute Teacher”

  1. I am interested in your program to become a substitute teacher. However, I don’t think I have the credentials to be hired. At one point in my life, I was attending college at night trying to earn a teaching degree. Due to difficult circumstances, I had to put earning my degree on hold. I have experience as a Teacher’s Assistant and I have worked in the New York Public School system for many years as a school secretary as well. I love being in a school atmosphere, teaching, getting through to children when other teachers, with all their college degrees, could not. I am 56 years old now and still have the passion to teach.

    I am currently employed in the New Jersey public school system as a secretary in the Human Resources Dept. I have contact with many teachers and I want to be one of them. I have about 6 college credits which I don’t think will get me very far. Please let me know if becoming a substitute teacher and working toward full-time teaching is a possibility. Thank you so much.

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