Preparing for your interview by studying the MOST common substitute teacher interview questions and answers is KEY to your success!

Substitute teachers play a vital and often underappreciated role in the education of students from kindergarten up to the senior year of high school. Often called in at a moment’s notice, substitute teachers usually receive a limited amount of time to review an absent teacher’s lesson plans (if available) and lead a class forward in learning/retaining information from one or multiple subjects. Whether the substitute teacher role lasts a day, a month, or six (6) or more months, the substitute can and often does energize students, motivating them to strive for and attain academic success. Before substituting for a teacher’s position, an interview with the hiring committee is inevitable (a MUST). With that said,

Whenever applying for a substitute teacher position, we recommend reviewing the job description and ONLY then submitting your resume and cover letter. Why? The job description will OFTEN include keywords that highlight EXACTLY what a school is looking for in a substitute teacher. The keywords posted in the description WILL HELP guide your preparation for an interview. For example, look for the following –

What subject(s) will the substitute be required to teach? What soft skills does the job identify as necessary (are you well organized, a good time manager, and someone who excels at collaborating with fellow teachers and administrators)? Has the substitute completed any recent training above and beyond their Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees? Is a state certification required? By asking yourself these questions, you CAN identify the points you need to make in your job interview. For example, when asked about your background and/or qualifications, you CAN say something like:

“I am a New York certified teacher with concentrations in History and Social Studies who recently completed an advanced graduate certificate (or degree) in American History. Well organized and with expertise in leading collaborative efforts with fellow teachers, I recently started an evening tutoring program for high school students to aid in increasing the Springville school district’s student retention and graduation rates.”

That said, here are potential questions you may face, along with guidance on responding to these questions.

1) What Procedures/Methods Do You Think Are MOST Important in Increasing Student Academic Success and Retention?

Student success and retention are major concerns for parents, school boards, and all educational professionals, from teachers to principals. The problem? High school and college graduation rates are dropping, with educators at all levels of education seeking remedies to these disturbing trends. Substitute teachers can play a vital role in increasing student success and graduation so expect at least one question to cover the retention issue. For a response to this question, insight into your curriculum/teaching preparation routine and your communication with the classroom’s teacher will be key to success.

In preparation for such a substitute teacher interview question, research what efforts the school and OVERALL school district enacted to aid student success and retention, particularly tutoring supports available to students. Likewise, investigate academic and counseling supports that exist to aid students living with disabilities.

“A student’s academic and personal success is one of my primary concerns at all times. Communicating with the class teacher to review the class curriculum and gain insight into the teacher’s plans and concerns moving forward is VITAL. Maintaining communication with the teacher and the respective department chairperson will be critical to ensure adherence to the teacher’s and department’s goals.

 As for students, one major concern would be to review student IEPs (Individualized Education Program) and related disabilities or other accessibility issues that MAY hinder the students learning. Again, I would seek input from the classroom’s teacher for insights into determining what support the student needs or is provided through their IEP. Meeting with school administrators who manage accessibility resources would be needed to familiarize myself with the school’s resources and procedures.

 I know the school offers in-school/after-school tutors and peer mentorship to help aid students in their understanding of course material and manage any personal stress they are facing daily. I would encourage students on utilizing these resources, focusing on students whom have been struggling in classes while maintaining absolute confidentiality. As I always do, I would continue to offer afterschool tutoring and conference opportunities for students and parents seeking additional support and guidance.”

2) Describe Your Teaching Experience?

While the saying “the more experience you have, the better” seems appropriate when considering this question, the quality and extent of experience is also vital. Therefore, the interviewer will OFTEN ask this question to identify any accolades the substitute teacher has achieved, CEUs/certifications they have earned in recent years, and any school-related programming they have developed.

Stats are ESSENTIAL to add when discussing your teaching experience, particularly student success and retention. So, whatever activities you participate in that directly improve students’ academic success and retention rates should be noted when answering this question. Additionally, don’t forget to mention volunteer or other activities outside of work you do where you employ your teaching talents, especially activities that offer mentoring or academic guidance to students outside of the school day.

In answering this question, consider identifying whom among your letters of reference would be able to substantiate your achievements and success. Include a quote from one of your references, if possible, where they applauded your efforts and accomplishments, particularly in reference to improving student academic success and retention rates.

“For years I served as a tutor and academic success coach for students in middle schools in New York City. After completing my student teaching assignment at the Global Middle School, I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Childhood Education with honors. From there, I was employed as a substitute teacher for the East Seneca school district, working in the district’s middle schools.

Last year, I was assigned as a long-term substitute for a teacher who left due to an emergency. In this position, I was teaching algebra and geometry classes for most of the school year. Not to mention, I also assisted the Math Department chairperson in expanding the school’s math tutoring resources, providing the tutors with ongoing training in both math competency and peer mentoring skills.

I’m happy to mention that the students who utilized the tutoring services, maintained math class averages over ten percent higher than students who did not attend tutoring. Additionally, by the end of the year, my students used the math tutoring services at a rate 23% higher than other math teachers’ students. That year, I was awarded the ‘Substitute of the Year’ award. The principal noted my efforts in increasing tutor usage as a KEY factor as she believed that tutoring was critical to improved math scores school-wide by the end of the academic year.

I volunteer at a public library outside of school, where I run math tutoring services on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. In collaboration with the library’s senior staff, I created the math tutoring lab to aid students from K thru 12th grade in mastering math, from arithmetic to calculus.”

PLEASE NOTE: The above is just an example. We recommend replacing the subjects and education with your experience and completed education.

3) What Subjects Do You Prefer to Teach?

This substitute teacher interview question and answer provides an IDEAL opportunity to highlight the extent of a substitute teacher’s skills while noting their true passion and teaching focus. Since you MAY be required to substitute as a teacher for different grade levels and would need to cover a range of subjects throughout a given workday, we recommend answering this question demonstrating your passion for teaching a wide range of SUBJECTS if possible. Please note that we only recommend this approach if you are being interviewed for a POSITION as a substitute teacher for grade levels where multiple subjects are taught throughout the day. With that said,

It is also IMPORTANT to speak about your SUBJECT specialty if you are being interviewed for SPECIFIC subjects. For example, if you are a MATH substitute teacher and have experience in this area, then mention this as your preference while describing your passion for this area too. Typically, for mathematics, a subject traditionally difficult to learn AND teach, take time to display your passion for your primary subjects, identifying unique classroom techniques you have employed to help students learn and retain class material. In some respects, treat this question in part as “WHY” you prefer a particular subject? What training have you completed during and after college? Do you belong to any associations related to your preferred subject(s)? Did you present at a local, regional or national conference on teaching techniques related to your preferred subject(s)?

Another great approach is to mention awards you have received that align with your preferred subject teaching. It is also worth mentioning any college minors or other concentrations you completed related to your preferred subject(s). Don’t give a one-word answer here. Instead, show your passions and skill.

“Having served as a substitute for teachers in both elementary and middle schools, I have taught a range of subjects, particularly math, natural science, and English, all subjects I have enjoyed teaching. However, if I have to pick one, MATH is truly my teaching passion! I have extensive experience in this area ever since I completed a minor in math in college. I have also worked as a math tutor for the college’s academic resource center, where I tutored undergraduates and graduate students in everything from algebra to calculus. I loved helping students gain an appreciation for math while also helping them overcome any fear or disinterest they held for math. After completing my Master’s degree in Education, I started substituting for grades 7th through 12th, most of my time teaching algebra, geometry, and trigonometry.

 I recently have served as a long-term substitute for the Springville middle school, replacing a teacher who is on leave until the end of this month. I have now been there for three months. The Math Department provided me with an opportunity to start an end-of-day math lab where I provide tutoring to ensure students have all their questions answered before leaving. My goal is to ENSURE students will NOT get frustrated while completing homework and have the knowledge they NEED to excel in this subject. I am proud to say tutoring has paid off for those students who have attended my after-school program because it has improved their average in their respective math classes by an average of 17%.”

4) What Do You Think Makes a Substitute Teacher Effective?

Reflecting on the position’s job description can provide great direction for answering this question. It is crucial that a teacher needs to keep up on the latest developments in education (effective teaching strategies, methods for managing troublesome students, unique study programs/supports to aid in student success & retention, etc.). However, the school/district you are applying to may have specific concerns they are looking to address due to technological, budget, and/or curriculum developments. For example, throughout the COVID Pandemic, teachers needed to learn a considerable amount about virtual technologies to reach out to students. So, ask yourself – What are current concerns schools face in general (throughout the region and the country)?  Next,

Equally important is to PAY attention again to what skills are listed in the job description. For example, suppose the substitute teacher position indicates the school is seeking candidates with extensive knowledge of online learning platforms and punctual/good managers of time. In that case, your response to this question should cover all of these aspects AND include a reference to your specific success and training in those areas. Give specifics whenever possible. As a substitute teacher, it is often required to update the principal and teacher they are filling in for, so communication is KEY and something worth mentioning, particularly when serving as a substitute for an extended time.

“Considering the tremendous pressures due to the pandemic, I believe EFFECTIVE substitutes are well-versed in technology, mainly the range of tools used for remote teaching and learning, which includes” Blackboard Collaborate Ultra and Zoom. To be effective, I also believe that a substitute teacher needs to be punctual and a master at time management, particularly establishing a time to coordinate efforts with the teacher they are substituting for and the department chairperson (HEAD).

 In addition, SUBSTITUTE teachers need to communicate effectively because they need to teach the subject/subjects to students. Effective communication SKILLS are the ONLY way these students WILL understand and comprehend what is being taught. Substitutes also need to communicate their concerns and seek input from the classroom teacher/other teachers who are teaching the same subject. I believe that ongoing communication is vital if a substitute is to be effective and will positively impact students, colleagues, and the school itself.

 I recently served as a classroom substitute for a month while a teacher was on maternity leave. During this experience, I established weekly times to connect with the teacher to coordinate curriculum agendas and implement a tutoring component the school was enacting when I was hired. The weekly communications (by phone and Zoom) helped ensure all students remained on course to complete EACH learning objective for the semester. These communications were essential in helping a struggling student with IEPs (Individualized Education Program). The student was already behind and struggling when I arrived. By the end of the second week of my substituting, he excelled in class and scored in the top 50% of the class on weekly quizzes.”

5) Where Do You See Yourself In Five (5) Year’s Time?

Interviewers will ask this COMMON substitute teacher interview question because they want to know whether you are someone they CAN rely on long-term. For example, many full-time teachers start as substitutes and slowly move their way through the educational system into a full-time position. School districts like to hire those with a true passion for teaching to bring on their team. Think about it this way, how strong of a candidate would you be if you mentioned that you will leave the teaching profession in one (1) year to pursue another profession? Obviously, you would NOT be a strong candidate with this type of answer because you plan to leave this profession soon. If you want to do well in answering this question, clearly think about your future teaching goals, then construct an answer. With that said,

Think about the following: Do you want to specialize in other areas?  Are you hoping to become a full-time teacher? Do you want to do your Ph.D. and work towards becoming a professor? Are you going to specialize in other subjects and areas?

 The following questions will help you think outside of the box, helping you establish a career path which you can incorporate into your answer. However, DO NOT mention your decision to leave teaching entirely because school districts invest a lot of resources in their staff, so they want teachers they can depend on in the long term.

“This is a great question and one that I think about all the time. Teaching is my passion, and I want to continue this journey long-term helping my students achieve their career goals. As a substitute teacher, I have GAINED tremendous experience. I want to use this experience as a full-time teacher while specializing in other areas, which will open up other teaching opportunities for me. I do think about becoming a University professor one day; however, my five (5) year plan is to keep educating myself and building my experience to join your school district as a full-time teacher.”

PLEASE NOTE: If this is your first substitute teaching experience, you CAN leave out – As a substitute teacher, I have GAINED tremendous experience.

6) What Would You Say is Your Greatest Strength?

In the job description, you WILL find information on the position and what SKILLS/STRENGTHS the position is looking for in a candidate. We recommend reading over the job description a few times before your interview to take some notes on the position. This will help you formulate your answer when the time comes. For example, if the position is for a MATH substitute teacher, then mention STRENGTHS like problem-solving, numbers, your ability to communicate complex formulate effectively, etc. In addition, we recommend thinking about some of the struggles students face in MATH, like how they struggle to get interested in math and some find it boring or overwhelming. Use these struggles in your answer, and how one of your GREATEST strengths is finding creative ways to teach MATH, so students enjoy the learning experience. With that said,

There are other ways you CAN approach this question, gearing it towards the general concerns of the school district. For example, research the school district’s graduation/retention rates, and if they are LOW, you CAN highlight one of your strengths being your ability to augment (create) teaching resources to improve student success and retention rates. Mention statistics in your answer to help back up your strength, for example, how you created tutoring programming that improved students’ math GPAs by 15% on average.

“Math has always been my passion, and I have worked hard at finding effective teaching strategies to help students better understand complex MATH problems, whether in algebra, geometry, trigonometry, or calculus. Over the years working as a substitute, I have implemented teaching strategies that have helped increase students’ GPAs in math by an average of 10%. I was able to do this by providing additional tutoring hours after school to my students. If I am going to choose my GREATEST strength, I believe it is my ability to chop down complex MATH problems, making them easier to understand. By doing this, my students are able to solve these problems on their own, ultimately leading to their OVERALL improvement and enjoyment in the subject.

7) What Would You Say is Your Greatest Weakness?

Everyone has a weakness; even the person interviewing you has one! When answering this question, the KEY is to mention a WEAKNESS NOT related to the position you have applied for because this WILL hurt your chances of a successful interview. For example, if you have applied for a substitute teaching position for social studies, STATING that you have a hard time managing large classrooms or organizing teaching plans as a weakness would NOT be a SMART answer because this would be related to your teaching duties. As mentioned, we recommend talking about a WEAKNESS not DIRECTLY related to teaching while STATING what steps you are taking to address your weakness. For example, some of your efforts to work on your weakness CAN include continuing education units you have recently completed or other training that’s helping you make IMPROVEMENTS.

“One of the things I struggle with is my tendency to want perfection and plan every lesson meticulously. The benefit of having this weakness is that my students know when to expect homework, quizzes, and tests to be well prepared. However, I find it difficult to deal with unplanned events, such as school fire drills and other unexpected events that interrupt teaching time. Because my day is interrupted by these unexpected events, I feel I have somehow let my class down because I was NOT able to teach them something for that day or answer their questions. To improve this weakness, I am reading more self-help books to relax and calm down any anxiety associated with a missed day. I have even spoken to fellow teachers who have taught me effective strategies to pivot from my fixed position and accept changes.”

8) How Do You Prepare Your Teaching Plan? How Do You Approach a Typical Teaching Day?

As a teacher, you WILL be teaching and then grading assignments throughout the day, which CAN get overwhelming if you are NOT prepared. The interviewer will ask this question to determine how WELL you manage your time. In addition, they want to know if you WILL get burned out quickly. Research has shown some highly effective teachers retire or leave the field earlier than expected, DUE to burnout. With that said,

Before hiring you as a substitute teacher, school boards want to ENSURE students receive the best education possible. However, school boards also want teachers to have time to relax and recuperate before starting each day. So, how does a teacher accomplish this? By planning each day effectively and approaching it with a strategy to MEET the demands of the job AND their personal life. For example, substitute teachers need to be mindful of their class times and established office hours. Likewise, they need to plan their evening time for grading and curriculum development. We believe this is ESSENTIAL to the teacher’s success, health, and effectiveness. When answering this question, incorporate NEW technology available to you, like SMART apps that help plan your day. When answering, you CAN mention a SMART approach to teaching, like tackling complicated teaching plans at the beginning of the day when the class is more ALERT and you have the energy. In addition, you CAN mention daily exercise and meditation to revitalize your mind at the end of each day.

“I ENSURE my teaching days are well structured with some gaps in my schedule to allow surprises/emergencies that MAY pop up. I review my teaching plans for the next day at night, and ENSURE I have all my resources organized for my class. Throughout the day, I interact with students to determine if any of them have concerns about the teaching material that MAY hinder their ability to understand and/or retain class material. I like to GAIN feedback from my students because this will help me shift my teaching plan in the future to better suit the needs of my students. For example, I will set aside time in class for students to ask questions and review upcoming homework assignments/quizzes/tests. This is also a great time to review my material and make changes to my plan if required. During lunch, I take time to relax and get refreshed!

 I end the day with office hours to tutor students or hold parent conferences (on specific days). I WILL connect with my fellow teachers for updates that may require me to make changes in the next coming days, i.e., events, conferences, school board policy changes, and more. As for the evening, after dinner, I will spend 1-2 hours grading homework and preparing the next day’s lesson plans.”

9) Teaching Practices CAN Change…What Steps Do You Take To ENSURE You Are Up to Date With These Changes?

This substitute teacher interview question CAN be complicated to answer. The interviewer is interested in trying to determine two things. First, what measures do you take to stay CURRENT on teaching BEST? Secondly, how do you effectively IMPLEMENT those measures to stay CURRENT on the BEST practices for ‘substitute’ teachers? Substitute teachers are in a tricky SPOT because they are ONLY called in as replacements when the full-time teacher is NOT available. Hence, they are NOT always in the loop on upcoming changes within the school district. With that said,

When answering this type of interview question, focus on your ability to stay active and CURRENT in the teaching circle through continuing education opportunities (CEUs) or attending conferences/ workshops whenever they are available. The teaching association in your district regulates continuing education (CE), so it MUST be up to date with changes in the educational system. Not to mention, many of these CEUs will cover NEW ‘best practices” in their curriculum. Finally, you CAN add to your answer by mentioning frequent conversations with fellow teaching colleagues on changes in the school district.

Teachers (including substitutes) play an essential role in leading conversations about the ‘BEST practices” in the field too. When answering this part of the question, talk about how you actively IMPLEMENT these changes into your teaching plans once you have gathered information on changes in the BEST practices. We recommend talking about the IMPORTANCE to GAIN feedback from students and other colleagues to communicate with the school district on what changes are effective and how they add to the OVERALL productivity of teaching.

“This is a GREAT question, and I set aside time every year to complete training through conferences and continuing education (CE) to ENSURE I remain up to date. For example, in the past year, I attended the NSTA (National Science Teaching Association) Conference. In this conference, I participated in topics like the impact of language and culture on the instruction of science in classrooms, building inclusive classroom environments, new strategies for facilitating learning for students battling ADHD, and updated virtual programming available to help teachers effectively present curricula remotely. Not only that, I also attended three (3) separate district trainings for substitutes offered through the towns of Springfield, Harding, and Oxford. In these training sessions, we covered new tutoring methods, new parental pick-up regulations, and NEW student absentee policy being incorporated next year.”

10) How Do You ENSURE You Are Up to Date/Current On Your Subject Specialization?

This teacher interview question is similar to the one above. The only difference is that interviewers want to know how you, as a substitute teacher, STAY current on DEVELOPMENTS in your specialization. For example, with science, social studies, and even history, discoveries are made all the time, so teachers need to remain CURRENT. Substitute teachers who FAIL to REMAIN current will be teaching outdated material, leaving students not sufficiently prepared for future classes/grade levels and success after graduation. With that said,

When answering this question, be PREPARED to cite specific training you complete every year to remain up-to-date in your specialization. For example, continuing education (CE), new reading material, or even speaking with colleagues who teach in your subject area. In addition, if you have recently ATTENDED any conferences, it is WISE to mention them in your answer too.

Here is a sample answer for substitute teachers specializing in History –

“I set aside time throughout the academic year and the summer to attend conferences, continuing education classes, and visit museums to learn about NEW historical developments. For example, this year, I attended the National Council for History Education’s (NCHE) conference. Not only that, during the summer, I enrolled in two continuing education (CE) classes, subscribed to educational blogs, podcasts, and attended webinars related to my subject area. A colleague of mine recommended three (3) social media pages to follow that are well-known to be up-to-date with changing trends in History. I have taken her advice and now follow these pages. I believe staying up-to-date in your subject area requires you to be active and makes you want to learn new things every single day. Being a teacher is my passion, and I strive to be the BEST by ENSURING my students have the BEST learning experience in my classes.”   

11) Describe a Challenging Time You Faced In a Classroom As a Substitute Teacher? How Did You Overcome This Challenge?

This interview question gives you the opportunity to showcase your problem-solving skills. Interviewers ask this type of question to understand more about your character and if you are up for a challenge. Not only that, but if you are faced with a challenge, do you DEAL with it head-on and come up with a viable solution. In addition, principals/teachers want a substitute they are confident CAN be put into any situation and be trusted to handle it effectively while following CORRECT teaching protocol. With that said,

As mentioned, this substitute teacher interview question is an OPPORTUNITY to highlight your ability to maintain class order while also ENSURING students receive academic and personal support. When answering, we recommend two approaches – First, describe a scenario from previous experience where you managed a problematic classroom and what you did. For example, did you change the lesson plan to allow for more engagement from the entire class? Did you incorporate games into your teaching plan so the class would be more attentive? Or, did you strategically move the disruptive students to another area in the classroom? The KEY here is to describe the strategies you implemented to handle such a situation. Next,

If this is your FIRST substitute teaching interview and you have NO previous experience with challenging classrooms, use strategies from a relevant job where you dealt with DIFFICULT customers/individuals. We recommend keeping your answers a BIT broader but still relevant. For example, your ability to remain calm during disruptive situations or communicate effectively to find a solution mutually beneficial to both of you. In addition, it is WISE to mention training you have received specifically designed for these types of situations. For example, any continuing education (CE) classes designed for de-escalating disruptive classroom behavior, etc.

“Once, I was substituting in for 3rd grade! It was the second week back to school, so my students were still getting used to being back in classes after the summer break. As you CAN imagine, my students were fidgety/shy because they were still in summer break mode and now had to MEET another new teacher. When I started my math teaching plan, many of the students did NOT follow instructions to open their textbooks and take out paper to solve problems. As a matter of fact, some students did NOT even have textbooks and paper to write on! I realized that my students were completely unprepared and needed guidance on what to do next. First, I went over to the STOCK room to find paper for those who did not have them. Then, I located extra textbooks in the classroom drawers to provide to students and advised the remaining students to work in pairs to share books. However, I still had some trouble gaining the attention of some students, so I utilized a strategy I learned in one of my continuing education (CE) classes. I separated the disruptive students into singles and gave them their own textbook, so they were NO longer partnered and able to talk to students during the lesson. The students I noticed who were NOT disruptive, I paired them together, and they continued to remain attentive and NON-disruptive throughout the lesson. With that said,

I believe this was an effective strategy because I isolated the disruptive students for a brief period so everyone would pay attention to my lesson where I was discussing how to solve multiplication and division problem-solving. Then, once the lesson was completed, I allowed students to interact with each other helping each other solve the classroom work.”

12) How Do You Include Parents And Guardians In Their Child’s Education?

This is another COMMON substitute teacher interview question. When preparing your answer, it is IMPORTANT to consider the grade level you WILL be substituting as a teacher because some school districts stop having parent-teacher meetings after the student reaches a certain age. In addition, it is ESSENTIAL to recognize that parents take a proactive role in their child’s education, so your answer should address this understanding first and foremost. Therefore, when answering this question, we recommend that you FIRST STATE the steps you take to prepare for parent-teacher interviews. For example, weekly progress reports and communication with the student throughout the weeks. Next, have a plan ready to provide to PARENTS regarding how the student CAN progress in the areas they are having trouble with. Parents want to hear how their child is doing and know how they CAN improve. With that said,

It is equally to mention the process in planning meetings, i.e., email, phone call, zoom meetings, and face-to-face.

“Working as a substitute teacher, I find the role of parents being pivotal for the success of the child and the child to progress. Therefore, I think it is IMPORTANT to prepare for parent-teacher meetings beforehand by creating weekly reports with my student. In these reports, I include areas where the student is doing well and those I feel they need to work harder. I also include face-to-face conversations with the student throughout the weeks, specifically, the times and dates, so the parents know what was discussed. Regarding scheduling meetings, I like to approach this aspect in two ways: First, if the school district has set times for meetings, i.e., end of the semester, I will abide by this schedule for face-to-face meetings. However, I feel that I should have the freedom to schedule meetings with the student’s parents in URGENT situations, for example, if the student is NOT attending class or needs intervention right away. Waiting until the end of the semester to communicate with the parents may be too late, so I like to be proactive in my approach. Next,

Technology has come a long way, so if I can utilize zoom meetings to have face-to-face meetings with parents, that is always a good idea because it is more personal than a phone call. However, face-to-face meetings are my priority. To be clear, I always set time aside for parents to ask questions and present them with a course of action to help their child improve their progress too.”

13) As a Substitute Teacher, How Do You Manage a Teacher’s Curriculum?

A substitute teacher is routinely thrust into a complicated situation with little to no warning when they take over a teacher’s classroom for a day, a week, or even longer. It is IMPORTANT to have a plan in place to reduce the amount of stress, frustration, and chaos that happens when taking over a class with short notice. In most cases, the teacher will leave a curriculum and lesson plan for you to take over. However, there will be times when you are called in to substitute for a teacher forced to leave during the middle of the lesson and where NO lesson plan was left for you. In this case, speak about your previous experience and what you DID when you encountered this type of scenario before. If you have NEVER encountered this type of situation, mention how you keep a lesson plan prepared at all times. The good news is that substitute teachers are typically brought in to teach classes they specialize in or a subject area they are well educated in. STATING that you are well-prepared with a backup plan shows the interviewer your passion for teaching and showcases your other skills like organizing, time management, and more. With that said,

Since this question asks about managing a “teacher’s curriculum,” focus on time management and your ability to follow instructions in your answer. For example, how you SET time aside to review the teacher’s curriculum and lesson plans the day before. If you are called in LAST minute as a substitute, mention your ability to organize lessons PLANS effectively or how you find creative ways to keep the class engaged so you CAN review the plan. Include examples such as group discussion, classroom activities, or subject-related games as strategies to keep the classroom engaged. Next,

If you want to stand out in your answer, talk about your previous experience with lesson plans and how they typically include numbers or emails for contacting the teacher in case of emergencies. Also, mention how you can reach out to the teacher through a phone call if there is any clarification you need with the lesson plan.

“Adherence to the teacher’s curriculum/lesson plans is instrumental in assuring that the class runs smoothly and the learning goals are achieved. Fortunately, many teachers have a lesson plan ready for substitute teachers if they have to call in sick or leave due to an emergency. As a substitute teacher brought in to take over a class, the first thing I would do is review the teacher’s lesson plan. However, if no lesson plan is available for me, I have two options: First, speak with students to find out what was covered in previous classes. My experience in this subject matter will allow me to transition into the following sections without any concern. However, I also keep my lesson plan available for these situations. My lesson plans include classroom activities, pop-quizzes, subject games, and more. With that said,

Depending on the situation and my experience, I CAN speak to another teacher teaching the same subject in the school to get their feedback. Finally, I always like to encourage students to ask questions about the homework they have completed the night before. By doing this, I also get a better idea of what they are currently learning in class.”

14) What Strategies And Methods Do You Use To Keep Students Engaged/Focused As a Substitute?

MOST students often see a substitute teacher as an indication of a “NO WORK” or a more leisurely school day. As a result, there is a tendency for students to TEST substitutes, pushing behavioral boundaries they would never dare to try with their primary class teacher. When answering this question, STATE how you recognize that substitute teachers typically have a more challenging time managing students because they are NOT the primary teachers, but mention the IMPORTANCE of NOT ignoring these situations. By STATING both points, you are being mindful of your responsibility as a teaching professional and taking responsibility for students’ actions.

In your answer, play on some of your STRENGTHS, like organizing group activities, classroom games, or even finding creative ways to follow the lesson plan. However, DO NOT forget to mention your responsibility to follow classroom guidelines left by their primary teacher because for school districts maintaining control of the class and effectively facilitating lesson plans are among their chief concerns. Next, in your answer, include strategies to manage students who are causing distractions in class because they make it difficult for others to stay focused/engaged. For example, separating them during lectures, pairing them with someone they are less likely to CHAT with, or even isolating them until you have a chance to speak with them privately. With that said,

Here are some strategies you can use to keep students engaged/focused: brainstorming, mind mapping, case studies, role-playing, simulations, problem-based learning, incorporating literature collective problem solving, and student creative construction.

“I find that student engagement and success depends on a well-structured classroom and learning environment. Therefore, I believe in establishing classroom rules that facilitate students’ participation and focus during class activities. For example, I like to remind students how their attention and cooperation can significantly help others learn the class material. In addition, I reward students who engage in my class without disruption with extra marks, which CAN improve their overall grade by the end of the year. This strategy works well because it gives students a chance to improve their grades by following simple instructions, which many are glad to do. Obviously, this is something I discuss with the primary teacher beforehand.

 I have also found that teaching interesting material CAN help significantly too. Whether the fact is unique, funny, or even scary, such information gets students interested and focused. For example, while teaching a grade 7 class about sharks, I asked the students questions based on a documentary I watched the night before. We had an interesting discussion about how long a shark lives, and I even gave them 10-15 minutes to find the answer independently. To make it more interesting, I offered to give the student who CAN find the answer in the shortest period an extra 15 minutes of FREE time towards the end of the day. A student came up with the answer that Greenland sharks could live between 250 and 500 years old. It was cool!

 After class, students were mesmerized by the lifespans of sharks and other shark factoids we discussed. What’s more, students who were quite shy during the day were raising their hands to ask good, shark-related questions towards the end of the day.”

15) What Do You Like To Do Outside Of Work?

This substitute teacher interview question is asked to find out more about the candidate and how well they FIT into the school’s culture. For example, will other teachers have difficulty socializing with you outside of school? Not to mention, interviewers also want a glimpse into your personality, which CAN often be seen by understanding what activities the candidate enjoys. Interviewers also know that teaching CAN be stressful so having a way to unwind is of the utmost IMPORTANCE to the school districts. The last thing a school wants to hear is that their substitute teacher had a nervous breakdown and won’t be available for the rest of the year. With that said,

This question is your chance to shine outside of teaching and talk about other passions you have. Some GREAT examples are reading, exercise, volunteer work, cooking classes, movies, social gatherings, spending time with family, and more. Here is your chance to talk freely about your other passions, but refrain from mentioning anything that will reflect poorly on your ethics/morals. For example, staying away from answers involving heavy alcohol and drug use is a MUST.

“Two things I love doing outside of teaching are going for long walks through trails because I enjoy nature and exercising. I recently joined an aerobics class that I attend four (4) times a week, where I have a chance to clear my mind and even socialize with other members of the group. Some of our group even gets together to watch movies over the week. Lately, I have also been tuning into true crime podcasts, which I have found extremely interesting.”

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Final Thoughts

As you read through our substitute teacher interview questions and answers, you WILL notice CERTAIN themes repeated regarding retention, graduation rates, and staff/student communication. Therefore, your answers should reflect how you aim to improve these areas through your teaching. In addition, mention what makes you unique compared to other candidates: your communication, organization, problem-solving, and time management skills. With that said,

Get some help preparing for your interview by speaking with other teaching professionals and asking them to help construct MOCK interview settings with you. Finally, always ENSURE to adhere to general interview protocols, including dressing the part, being on time, being considerate to your interviewers and their staff. Good luck!

Additional Resources

7 Best Color Printers For Teachers (2021) – Durable, Affordable, Reliable
19 Best Teacher Bags – Tote, Rolling, Messenger, and More
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23 MOST Comfortable Shoes For Teachers



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