Substitute Teacher Interview Questions & Answers

In my opinion, substitute teacher is a much more difficult job than regular teacher. You do not know the class and the students, you have to quickly adapt to new conditions, and you have to follow lesson plans of somebody else–regardless of whether you like them on not. What’s more, most substitute teachers work for a school district instead of a particular school, so the job entails lot of traveling. You go to places and see new faces almost daily. It is exciting, but also much harder to really know your students and win their trust and respect, and make any progress with them.

In any case, substitute teachers deserve a better salary than they get, but that’s a topic for someone else to discuss. Let’s focus on the interviews. The hiring committee will ask you questions about your motivation, experience, goals, and especially about the way you would address various situations you may encounter in the classroom while teaching the children you do not know well. Let’s have a look at the questions now.


Why do you want to work as a substitute teacher?

We can also rephrase the questions to “Why substitute teaching and not regular teaching?”, because that’s the real question for many interviewers. In any case, you should not sound bitter or negative while explaining your motives. Maybe you weren’t lucky enough to earn your degree in teaching, or it is still work in progress, or your future plan. But you love to teach, you believe to be good at it, and want to start teaching right now. With your qualifications, substitute teacher is your best choice, and a job you can realistically get.

What’s more, you feel to have the right personality for the job. You are flexible, can adapt quickly to new environment, and you do not find it difficult reading the lesson plans of someone else, and teaching according to them. To sum it up, considering everything you know and want to do, substitute teacher is an ideal choice for you, at least at this stage of your professional career.


How do you imagine your typical day at work?

The key is to show realistic expectations. You may travel from one school to another during the day (within a district), and you may even teach four different subjects, in four different grades, in a single day. Of course this is an extreme example, but not something unheard of in substitute teaching.

Emphasize that you imagine teaching in various classrooms and places, and perhaps even various subjects, but always want to do your best, always want to deliver quality teaching, and follow the instructions of the regular teacher. Your typical day may require a lot of adaptation, and also preparing for the lessons in advance, for example, the evening before. But you are ready to sacrifice something for your work, because you want to teach well, and not merely give the children some instructions at the start of the lesson, and than quietly sit at your desk, hoping they won’t start shouting and jumping on their desks.

What do you consider the main role of a substitute teacher? What will you try to achieve while teaching?

Most children love when their original teacher is absent. Because, and sadly, in many cases it means they won’t have to do anything during the lesson. Just play, or watch some movie with the substitute teacher, or work on some unimportant assignment, without straining their mental capacities.

And though your lessons may sometimes end in this way–for example when you do not get any instructions, or are assigned to teach a subject you do not understand at all–it can happen when no better replacement is available, in no way should you suggest so in the interviews…

Tell them that in your opinion, the main role of a substitute teacher is to replace the role of a regular teacher as well as possible. What does it means? It simply means going on with the lessons, the exercises, and everything, as if their regular teacher was not absent. Of course, it is close to impossible to do in certain situations (and relatively easy in others), but you will always at least try. That’s the attitude they want to hear from an excellent candidate for the job.


How do you go about teaching something that is not your strength?

Once again, your attitude matters the most for the interviewers. Say that you will try your best to prepare for each lesson–withing the time constraints and other limitations you will experience while working as a substitute teacher. Maybe you do not like to teach Math, and do not excel in it. As long as you prepare for the lesson, however–and this may include calling the regular teacher and asking them for advice–if their health allows it, of course, you will do a decent job in the classroom.

You can also suggest some innovative ideas and teaching methods, such as a flipped classroom. Maybe you aren’t good in the subject. But you will learn who the best students in the class are, and you can let them “teach”, or at least help you with evaluating the work of other students.

Again, what exactly you will do once you should teach something that’s not your strengths depends on many circumstances–age of your students, the time you have to prepare for the lesson, subject you teach, expectations of the regular teacher, whether the class is ahead or behind with the lesson plans, and so on. But you will always try your best, because in your view, substitute teacher isn’t in a class only to take attendance and to maintain classroom cleanliness. They should achieve some progress with the students.


Are you okay with traveling between schools in the district, replacing teachers at various places?

Ensure them that you’ve read the job description, and understand what the job of a substitute teacher entails. Traveling is a part of this work. It may be stressful sometimes, especially when you have just ten or fifteen minutes to move from one school to another, and at the beginning, when you do not know the places, parking options, traffic connection, etc.

But you are flexible and a quick learner, and no doubt you will manage this aspect of the job. Of course, it may happen at the beginning that you will come to some lesson five minutes late, because of traffic, or because of struggling to find the parking place. But after a month in the job you will find traveling your daily routine, and won’t struggle to manage your time at work.


How do you handle disruptive students, or students who do not respect you as a substitute teacher?

Dealing with disruptive students is hard when you know them and teach them regularly, let alone when you see them for the first time. Because students misbehave from a variety of reasons, and unless you know the reasons, it is hard to address the problem correctly. Anyway, you will meet some students who struggle with discipline in your work, and you should have an idea on how to handle such a behavior.

I suggest you to start with excellent preparation for the lesson. This entails many things. One of them is talking with the regular teacher and inquiring about the students. Once you know what to expect, who is disruptive and what works best to address their bad behavior, you will find it much easier to deal with it. Secondly, you will also try to make your lessons engaging and interesting for the students. Once they enjoy your teaching, they tend to behave better, and pay attention.

Of course, with some students nothing works, and you may sometimes have to resort to remedies such as sending them outside, to the corridor, or even to the principal’s office. Having some assistants and paraprofessionals in the classroom will help as well (since they can work one on one with the problematic students), but you cannot count on such a help in all places and classrooms.


Other questions you may face in your interview for a job of a substitute teacher


Final thoughts

Interview for a job of a substitute teacher is not an easy one, especially if you lack previous teaching experience. The interviewers may inquire about some tricky situations that can happen in the classroom, just as I described in this article. Try to think about each question for a moment, and how you can address it from a position of a substitute teacher.

At the end of the day, your attitude matters more than your knowledge and experience. As long as you show strong determination to do well in each lesson, to progress with the students, and to flexibly adapt to the demands of this job, they will typically give you a chance to prove your words at work. I hope you will succeed, and wish you best of luck!

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Glen Hughins
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