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Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014


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The ABCs of Substitute Teaching

You’ve recently graduated but haven’t snagged that dream job.  Everyone had promised that employment awaited those who dutifully finished school. But, it turns out that sometimes it’s not that easy, especially in today’s economy. What can a person do until a terrific job surfaces?

Many people who are “between jobs” choose substitute teaching until they embark on the career track.  Don’t close the book on the idea of being a substitute teacher.  Sure, it wasn’t too many years ago when you were inventing pranks to trick that clueless “sub” in seventh grade health class but it doesn’t have to be that way.  Act like the master of the classroom; if you’re not feeling confident, fake it, and you’ll truly be king or queen of the castle.  There’s usually a lesson plan to follow and worksheets, quiz, or a video to show. So even if you find yourself filling-in for physics or German, your day might be wonderfully uneventful.

Being a sub is a perfect way to generate income while making valuable connections both inside and outside of the faculty lounge.  Free time during the school day allows for phone calling and computer work necessary for your job quest. (Didn’t you even wonder what your second grade teacher did while you were at art class?) School generally ends by 3:00 or earlier in many elementary schools, leaving ample time to search for a real job.  Because you choose what days and times you work, you’ll always be available for that ready-to-hire-you interview.

There ALWAYS seems to be a shortage of substitute teachers. In one Illinois school district which regularly employs approximately 800 teachers in its two high schools, three middle schools, and twelve elementary schools, roughly 80 substitute teachers are needed on a given day.  It may sound like a bad flu epidemic is occurring, but teachers are absent for numerous reasons besides illness.  Often, they’re away for professional training.  Sometimes they’re in school but performing another task, like filling in for an absent principal.  Special education teachers need substitutes more often than regular education teachers because of meetings and writing days, since special education mandates extra paperwork.  The number of subs needed in most school is greater on Mondays and Fridays (Who doesn’t like a longer weekend once in a while?), days around holidays, and near the end of the semester when people are using accumulated personal leave days.

BECOMING a substitute teacher varies by state but is generally simple, quick, and inexpensive.  Private schools have different requirements than public schools within the same state. In Illinois, one needs a Bachelor’s Degree, college transcripts, and a certificate costing approximately $50, renewable every four years. Before spending money on a substitute teacher certificate, try subbing in a private school to see if you like it.  Many school districts also require background checks to confirm that you’re safe working around children.  Bloodborne pathogens training, specific information about body fluids and HIV/AIDS, is often mandatory as is a TB test to assure that you’re disease-free.   Some states require additional training in addition to a BA, while others only require a high school diploma.

CHOOSING when and where to work is a perk of subbing.  You can select grade, subject, school, days and times, giving the not-yet-employed new graduate an opportunity to job search while generating income and networking.  Pay varies for substitute teachers.  In one Illinois school district, a seven-hour teaching day pays $85.  Long-term assignments, such as six week maternity leaves, are often available and usually pay much more, but if you’re expecting to find permanent employment soon, don’t trap yourself into a long-term commitment.

Some assignments will be especially unusual.  One sub “taught” PE, spending the day doing school bus evacuation drills.  Another substitute teacher enjoyed a field trip to the woods accompanying other teachers.  One sub even filled in for the school principal!  Some of the special education and ESL (English as a Second Language) classes are often co-taught and the other teacher will teach the class, or you may have very small classes.

So put down the remote control, get off the sofa, buy comfortable outdoor clothing and a whistle for recess, and get back into the classroom. Think of all the stories you’ll bring home and how versatile you’ll become by the time you start your real job.  You’ll truly make a difference helping students while you’re transitioning into the work world.


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3 Responses to The ABCs of Substitute Teaching

  1. Debra Karplus, author says:

    I’d enjoy receiving feedback on my article. Thanks. Debra Karplus

  2. starr says:

    I was scared of the whole idea of substituting because I just graduated from college not too long ago!!! However, I am glad I stumbled across this article. I feel much confident that I can do this now!!!

  3. Rachael says:

    My fiance had been recommending I do just this, since I graduated from Rutgers last month, so when I found your article it gave me that extra push in that direction to send out my application forms and get certified, the only down side is that the fee in NJ is $125 not, $50….wish me luck! :)

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