Checklist of Substitute Teacher Qualifications Every Administrator Should Look For

what are substitute teacher qualifications

Every administrator has a list of qualities they hope their substitute teacher candidates will have. Some are legal requirements mandated by districts or states. Without these, your candidates will never make it to the next category of consideration, the non-negotiables. These critical characteristics are necessary for successful completion of the job description. Then there are the special skills, those extras that could prove very useful in a variety of job assignments. And finally, there are the preferences, those qualifications we dare to hope for. This final category includes those rare qualities that elevate your candidate to “must have” status.

The Essential Qualifications for Substitute Teachers

Based upon the job description for substitute teachers, this list summarizes the qualifications your candidates must have to fulfill the classroom management and instructional duties with which they are entrusted.

Substitute Teacher Qualifications: The Legal Requirements

State laws require school districts to employ only properly educated and credentialed substitute teachers. Each state has its own specific requirements that may vary even from district to district. They also change periodically, with substitute supply and demand driving these fluctuations. Districts must remain up-to-date with these changes.

  • Education. The requirement for education varies widely. From a high school diploma or GED, to some college completion, to possession of a bachelor’s degree, each state has a minimum academic requirement for applicants wishing to be hired as substitute teachers.
  • Certification or licensure. While some states will issue substitute teaching licensure to candidates that possess all the needed requirements, others certify substitutes only after they have been hired and the employer has applied for credentials on their behalf. In a few states, candidates must pass a test of basic skills. These credentials may require a fee, which varies by location and the category/duration of the permit. Most are renewable with documentation of successful job experience and/or a favorable evaluation.  
  • Background checks. Each state has required background checks to protect students and ensure their safety. These vary and may include fingerprinting, federal criminal background checks, state criminal background checks, and child abuse and/or sex offender checks. Some states also require medical screening tests, such as TB testing or a drug screen. There will typically be fees to pay for each, though employers may cover the cost as an incentive to new hires.

Substitute Teacher Qualifications: The Non-negotiables

Once an applicant has met the legal requirements for substitute teaching, it is time to consider your non-negotiable requirements. These are the qualities you expect in every employee.

  • Dependable. School administrators have tremendous responsibility for the health and safety of the students in their care, and as such, they look for staff members who can be trusted to share in this responsibility.
  • Punctual. Substitute teachers are expected to be on time in the morning to prepare for students before they arrive. They must be on time to pick students up from the lunchroom in order to support the school’s daily schedule. Failure to be punctual can inconvenience other staff and disrupt the orderly routine.
  • Discreet. In dealing with students and their personal information, substitute teachers must be counted on to respect confidentiality and privacy.
  • Kind and empathetic. In a workplace full of children, staff members must be kind and approachable. They must strive to empathize with students in order to successfully address their needs and concerns.
  • Calm, yet commanding. Keeping a calm demeanor is essential in a classroom full of active, energetic students. At the same time, a substitute teacher must have the leadership ability to command their attention and maintain order.

Substitute Teacher Qualifications: The Special Skills

These are the extras that not every candidate has, but that makes the most qualified substitute teachers stand out from the crowd. They can be very useful for specific absence assignments, and include but are not limited to:

  • World languages. If your school community includes English language learners or bilingual classrooms, having access to substitutes proficient in world languages is a plus. This skill can also be a bonus to share with students when they finish their assignments early or lesson plans are unavailable.
  • Specific content knowledge. Substitute teacher candidates with a degree in a specific content area will bring useful expertise to their job assignments. An engineering degree will be beneficial in a science or math classroom. An art, music, or drama degree can be applied to a variety of classroom assignments.
  • Special needs experience. A candidate with experience working with people with special needs will have skills they can apply to special education assignments. An understanding of students’ communication, mobility, and cognitive challenges can be especially helpful in today’s inclusive classrooms.

Substitute Teacher Qualifications: The Preferences

Finally, there are preferences—their absence may not be a deal-breaker, but they are qualities that we wish all of our substitute teachers would possess. These will vary based on individual schools and administrators but might include traits such as:

  • Going above and beyond. Substitute teachers who anticipate a need and step in without being asked are an asset to any school community. They pitch in when needed, stretching your limited resources.
  • “With-it-ness.” Teacher absences go much more smoothly when substitute teachers are observant and consistent. Being proactive in classroom management reduces the occurrence of disciplinary problems and decreases the need for damage control.
  • A lifelong learner. With the dynamic nature of teaching and learning, the best educators are constantly growing in the profession. From seeking new resources to enhance their lessons to observing what works and what doesn’t, the best substitute teachers learn something every day and apply this new knowledge for the benefit of their students.

Using Available Resources in the Search

If finding not one, but multiple, substitutes with all of the desired qualifications seems like a herculean task, there may be an easier way. Imagine if you could hand your substitute teacher checklist over and have the recruiting, interviewing, and new employee processing completed for you. This is precisely the work of an education-exclusive staffing agency.

Substitute teacher staffing agencies specialize in customized recruiting and training to build a pool of professionals capable of meeting your substitute staffing needs. With bonuses like benefits opportunities, training, and recognition and incentives, they can also help you to retain your valued substitutes in the long term. Consulting the experts can simplify your search without compromising on the qualifications you demand.

Bring us your list, and we will help you with your search. Contact ESS with your specifications, and we will help you build a professional substitute teacher pool that raises fill rates and meets both your needs and your wants.