7 Important Substitute Teacher Skills (And How To Improve)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 5 June 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Substitute teachers are essential in elementary and secondary schools, providing instruction when regular teachers are unavailable because of personal or professional obligations. Substituting can provide you with valuable experience and help you prepare for a full-time teaching position. Learning more about the essential skills for substitutes can help you plan your career development and decide what to emphasise on a resume and cover letter or during an interview. In this article, we examine what a substitute teacher's skills include and how to apply them in a classroom setting.

What are substitute teacher skills?

Substitute teacher skills are competencies that allow professionals in the domain of education to work in a variety of settings. Substitutes rely on a range of soft skills to connect with students, communicate with colleagues and adapt to different types of situations. In the absence of a full-time teacher, substitute teachers use teaching skills like behaviour management and instructional techniques to facilitate learning.

Related: How To Become A Teacher: Steps And Additional Tips

7 examples of substitute teacher skills

Below are some of the key skills substitutes can use to make their time in the classroom more rewarding and productive:

1. Interpersonal skills

Substitute teachers use interpersonal skills to interact with students and build trust as they get to know them. Active listening, empathy and verbal and written communication are important skills substitutes can develop to deliver classroom lessons and interact with students. Substitute teaching can be easier and more effective for professionals who feel at ease in new situations and are inclined to assist others. Long-term substitutes may also form connections with other teachers and parents. Acting friendly with teachers, administrators and support staff can also help a substitute secure chances of repeat engagement with an educational institution.

Related: Interpersonal Skills: Definitions And Examples

2. Leadership skills

When a regular instructor is absent, a substitute teacher assumes command of a classroom. Substitute teachers guide students and manage their learning environment. Substitutes who demonstrate confidence may gain the trust of other staff members and illustrate that they can rely on the new teacher during their time in the classroom. Another important leadership trait for substitute teachers is the ability to take charge. By adapting to new instructional plans and responding to student queries during instruction, substitute teachers can demonstrate this trait effectively.

3. Presentation skills

To instruct and explain topics to students, substitute teachers may use presentation skills. A strong presenter uses a clear voice for speaking, modulates volume and maintains eye contact. These skills are also necessary for retaining the attention of an entire classroom throughout a session.

4. Classroom management

Another important trait for an educator is the ability to manage a classroom to create a safe and productive environment. Substitute teachers who develop this skill may be better prepared to deal with the challenges of working in new settings periodically. Learning how to set positive behaviour expectations and understanding what to do when a student misbehaves are critical for maintaining a healthy and productive learning environment.

5. Problem-solving skills

Substitutes may face a variety of challenges while addressing their responsibilities pertaining to classroom education. They may discover that materials for a session are incomplete or that a teacher's lesson plans are unclear. In an emergency, substitute teachers may also join a class in the middle of the school day. These professionals benefit greatly from developing the ability to solve problems that arise from working in dynamic and unfamiliar environments.

6. Time management skills

Substitutes typically work a varied schedule, often in rotation between schools and grade levels with varying start and end times for classes. Some schools may assign substitute jobs ahead of time and others may require substitutes to respond in short notice. Substitutes can expect to receive calls shortly before the school day starts and may benefit from being prepared to leave for work immediately on any given day.

Related: Time Management Skills: Definition And Examples

7. Organisation skills

While substituting, managing materials that belong to another professional necessitates strong organisational skills as it comes with a liability of returning materials, tools and resources as you may have received them. Substitutes with organisation skills may also be better prepared for addressing unexpected classroom situations. Substitutes who arrive at work with a plan, including backup activities in case lesson plans fail or students finish early, are more likely to manage a classroom effectively.

How to improve substitute teacher skills

Consider following these steps to improve your abilities and performance as a substitute teacher:

1. Prepare for the day

Arrive early to the school's location so that you can read lesson plans, organise materials and meet with other members of the staff. Learn your way around the campus, including the classroom and common areas. Make a substitute teacher kit to take with you to any teaching assignment. This kit can include the following items:

  • pencils and pens

  • paper

  • books for classroom reading

  • plans for educational games

  • sticky notes

  • small rewards like stickers or erasers

2. Learn about school policies

Understanding major school policies that apply to topics such as discipline, parent-teacher communication and evaluations can help you manage students in the classroom or elsewhere on campus. Showing students that you are familiar with the school's rules can help build mutual trust and respect. While working as a substitute, asking questions about the school's policies allows you to build rapport with other staff members and demonstrates that you take initiative to keep the classroom in compliance with school policies.

3. Utilise teaching resources

Substitute teachers perform many of the same responsibilities as full-time teachers. Utilising educators' resources can help you improve your teaching abilities while also giving you more confidence in the classroom. Find books, podcasts and blogs that share industry knowledge from educators who have worked in similar fields. Pay attention to suggestions relating core teaching strategies, such as classroom management and student engagement.

4. Practice public speaking

Teachers speak in front of groups of students to instruct and present information. Improving your public speaking skills can help you feel more confident in a substitute teaching role. Joining an organisation where you can meet other professionals and practise your presentation techniques may be beneficial.

Applying teaching skills in the classroom

Here are some ways in which you can apply teaching skills while working in a classroom setting:

  • Instruct students in the classroom. While teaching, substitute teachers deliver content that full-time educators prepare, assisting students with routine tasks and sharing their knowledge. Although substitute teachers may not ‌cover as much material as full-time teachers, all educators, including substitutes, benefit from applying their ability to ‌teach.

  • Encourage conflict resolution between students. Substitutes can mitigate and stop conflict before escalation by identifying signs in early stages, which helps to create a positive classroom environment. Substitutes can also use this skill to reach agreements with all parties involved in a conflict.

  • Adapt to change while in the classroom. Substitute teachers interpret lesson plans while managing students in ever-changing classroom environments. Substitute teaching is a dynamic role that requires adaptability and professionals respond to their new surroundings and cater to evolving student needs.

  • Network with school administrators, teachers and support staff. Developing professional relationships with other staff members makes it easier to get answers about school and classroom procedures, receive help from faculty and establish a routine as a valuable substitute. You are more likely to get repeat work at a school if you establish yourself as a personable and effective substitute.

Highlighting substitute teacher skills

Below are some tips to help you connect the skills you develop through substitute teaching to potential jobs as you meet with prospective employers:

List relevant skills on your resume

List top abilities that apply to various jobs in the skills section of your resume, including organisation, time management and leadership. Read the job description carefully before applying for a position and select skills that match the keywords in the job posting. Connect the skills you listed with a description of your role as a substitute in a different section of your resume.

Explain your skills in your cover letter

Look over your resume for specific skills that you can describe in greater detail as you write your cover letter. Connect these skills to your desired job by describing how your experience as a substitute teacher prepared you for the position. For example, you could describe how your experience as a substitute teacher prepared you to take on a leadership role.

Discuss these skills during an interview

When you are interviewing for a job, bring up the skills that are most closely related to the job. Share how these skills make you a strong candidate for the position and prepare you for the job as the interviewer asks questions. As a starting point, refer to your cover letter and explain how you developed these skills in the classroom.

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