A substitute teacher stands in to teach students when their regular teacher is absent due to sickness, teacher training or other personal commitments. Substitute teachers are trained to teach a certain age group or subject and may work in primary schools, secondary schools or colleges.
Substitute teachers get to teach a large number of students, as they are called in to cover classes as and when necessary. They take these lessons using the lesson plan of the class's usual teacher.
This article will explore the tasks a substitute teacher is expected to complete, the skills and abilities needed to work as a substitute teacher, and the pre-employment tests that can be used to make sure the best candidate is hired for the role.
What should a substitute teacher be able to do?
A substitute teacher needs to be able to slot seamlessly into the role of the teacher they are a replacement for, so there is minimal disruption to lesson plans and student learning.
It is important that they can rapidly build a rapport with the students they are teaching, so that the students feel comfortable actively participating in lessons by answering questions and approaching the teacher if they have any concerns or problems.
Substitute teachers need to be able to follow and implement existing lesson plans. Depending on the level at which they are teaching, a substitute teacher may teach only one subject (for example, A-Level English) or teach across disciplines (for example, primary school key stage two mathematics, science and English).
As well as being responsible for students' education, substitute teachers also need to provide social and emotional support to students when necessary. They are responsible for ensuring the classroom environment reflects the ethos of the school, and for imparting communication, etiquette and conflict resolution skills to students.
Daily tasks a substitute teacher undertakes include delivering learning, managing classroom behavior, answering students' questions on the topic being taught, setting in-class exercises and supporting students to complete them, tutoring students individually or in small groups, setting, collecting and grading homework assignments, administering scheduled tests, issuing materials (such as textbooks and stationery), restocking supplies, and maintaining student attendance records.
Substitute teachers may also supervise students during their break and lunch times, or on off-site school trips.
A substitute teacher is also required to attend development training in the form of meetings, conferences and workshops, to ensure their teaching skills are kept up to date.
Skills to look for in a substitute teacher
To perform their duties effectively, substitute teachers need to possess certain key skills. When hiring, it is prudent to ensure that candidates have the following necessary talents:
Oral communication: substitute teachers need strong communication skills to deliver lesson content in a clear and engaging manner. It is important that students feel comfortable talking to their substitute teacher, so an approachable and personable demeanor is essential to put students at ease. Substitute teachers may also be required to talk to parents about any concerns around a student's academic or social development. To carry out these responsibilities well, the ability to communicate effectively and appropriately is essential.
Written communication: although substitute teachers are rarely required to create and write lesson plans, the role still requires many written elements. They may be responsible for writing reports for the returning teacher, marking students' homework and grading tests.
Software skills: substitute teachers will need to deliver lessons using the resources the usual teacher had planned. These may have been created in a variety of programs, such as Microsoft Word, Excel or PowerPoint. The substitute teacher will need to feel comfortable using technology as an aid within lessons (e.g. to screen videos or use resources from websites).
Attention to detail: to fulfill tasks such as marking homework, assignments and tests, substitute teachers need a good attention to detail. The workload will depend upon the number of lessons they are covering and the duration of the placement, but they may find they are responsible for reviewing large amounts of student work. This needs to be marked with care and accuracy.
Useful abilities for a substitute teacher
To be successful in their role, a substitute teacher needs to possess certain abilities. Listed below are the top abilities that will assist a substitute teacher in carrying out their daily tasks and responsibilities:
Problem-solving: substitute teachers need to effectively manage student behavior in the classroom - which involves solving problems and mediating conflict resolution where necessary. The ability to think rapidly and logically around situations and issues that present themselves is valuable.
Problem sensitivity: substitute teachers bear responsibility for their students' social and emotional well-being as well as their academic progress. The ability to recognize developing issues, so that action can be taken to prevent the problem from escalating - rather than dealing with arising issues after the fact - is useful. Substitute teachers need the ability to stay attuned to the needs of their students and understand their points of view. Dealing with problems with empathy and compassion is important.
Social perceptiveness: similar to problem sensitivity, social perceptiveness is about anticipating and understanding the reactions of others. This is vital as, without this ability, it is difficult to provide students with the appropriate support both in and beyond the classroom.
Flexibility and adaptation: the nature of substitute work means that teachers work across a large number of schools, classrooms, students and sometimes subjects (depending upon the curriculum level). Substitute teachers need to be able to rapidly adapt to their new classroom surroundings, interpret lesson plans and build a rapport with students they haven't taught before. Flexibility in their teaching style and ways of working can help substitute teachers to adjust quickly to the environment of each school and the demands of each classroom.
Which soft skills tests could I use to hire a substitute teacher?
When recruiting a substitute teacher, you want to know that you're selecting the best candidate for the role. Pre-employment testing can be used to provide insight into the soft skills your prospective employees possess. This data helps effective and efficient hiring decisions to be made.
Consider setting substitute teachers the following soft skills tests within your hiring process:
Interpersonal skills: this type of skills test assesses communication, interaction and team working. It explores social abilities and whether the candidate can apply these in the workplace. The test consists of a series of hypothetical scenarios. For each, the candidate is required to select either the most or least effective way to respond to the situation. This also gives insight into levels of empathy and emotional awareness, alongside conflict resolution skills.
Adaptability: an adaptability test explores how well a candidate is likely to adjust to changing situations, come up with solutions and work under pressure. The test features scenarios and the test taker is required to select the course of action that most closely resembles their own in the given situation. Flexibility and versatility are important qualities for a substitute teacher, so this test can ensure candidates progressing in the hiring process have these skills.
Communication: a communication skills test goes beyond assessing oral or written communication, taking into account non-verbal communication such as body language and tone. Substitute teachers need to be excellent communicators across audiences, so this test is an excellent way of assessing communication abilities including clarity, empathy and etiquette.
Time management: a substitute teacher needs to be able to stick to lesson plans, teaching schedules and logistical school timings. They will also need to juggle responsibilities, which means the ability to prioritize tasks and complete them effectively is key. A time management test helps to show whether a candidate has the time awareness and organizational skills required for a substitute teacher role.
Which technical or aptitude tests could I use to hire a substitute teacher?
To provide the best insight into potential, pre-employment testing should cover technical skills and aptitude as well as soft skills. For hiring into a substitute teacher position, we recommend setting the following tests:
Logical reasoning: a logical reasoning test assesses the ability to think laterally and logically under time pressure. Candidates are presented with a series of patterns featuring shapes and symbols and asked to select the next figure in the sequence from a list of options. A substitute teacher needs to be able to approach daily tasks with logic, so gauging the practicality of thinking is beneficial.
Error checking: an error checking test involves the comparison of data sets to identify any discrepancies. As substitute teachers are often required to review work and mark homework assignments, a good attention to detail is important.
Verbal reasoning: a verbal reasoning test assesses a candidate's ability to understand, interpret and analyze passages of written text. It involves reading paragraphs of information and indicating whether related statements are 'true', 'false', or if you 'cannot say' given the facts divulged. Substitute teachers require strong written communication skills, so this test provides valuable insight.
Numerical reasoning: a numerical reasoning test explores comfort with handling numbers and performing calculations. Data is often presented in the form of graphs, tables and charts. Candidates are expected to carry out simple mathematical functions involving percentages, ratios, fractions, sequences, currency conversions, arithmetic and algebra.
This test is useful for a substitute teacher at a primary level, as they may be required to teach basic mathematics. For a secondary substitute mathematics teacher, this test would obviously need to be accompanied by a more advanced knowledge test to ensure the teacher could deliver the curriculum effectively.
Our recommended test battery for a substitute teacher
To ensure you hire a candidate that will thrive in their substitute teacher role, we suggest the following tests are incorporated into your recruitment process. At a minimum, ask prospective employees to complete a:
Decision making test: a decision-making test is a good way of determining whether a candidate can handle pressure and make choices quickly. The test presents a series of hypothetical scenarios, for which they need to select the course of action they would take. Explore your candidates' problem-solving process and ways of working so you can ensure they are the right fit.
Verbal reasoning test: teachers need to be excellent communicators - and substitute teachers need to be able to employ these communication skills to adapt rapidly to new educational environments and build a rapport with students, fellow teachers and parents. A verbal reasoning test is a good way of assessing a candidate's ability to absorb, comprehend and process new information that is communicated to them.
Logical reasoning test: substitute teachers need to be rapid problem solvers and logical thinkers, as they deal with a wide range of classroom environments and their accompanying opportunities and challenges. Set your candidates a logical reasoning test to ensure they can think practically and laterally under pressure and create a high-quality teaching environment for their students.
View our guide on substitute teacher testing to find out more about embedding skills and abilities testing within your recruitment process.