What Is a Long-Term Substitute Teacher?

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All students encounter substitute teachers throughout the course of their K-12 experience. These occurrences can be brief and fleeting for some students, but others may be under the care and guidance of a substitute teacher for a significant period of time. Whether during an extended illness or maternity leave of the regular teacher, or due to a classroom vacancy, there is often a need for a substitute to take over for weeks, months, or even an entire school year. For this reason, finding and retaining highly qualified substitute teachers capable of long-term instruction are priorities for any district.

What Is a Long-Term Substitute?

The National Education Association (NEA) says substitute teachers are “bridges” that span the gap when a regular teacher is absent from the classroom. A long-term substitute teacher is a qualified individual who steps into a classroom and takes over a position for a prolonged period of time.

The ideal candidate has the appropriate certification and substantial experience with the required grade level or subject matter. Taking over a classroom for an extended period of time requires a strong commitment and a specific skill set. It involves the willingness to take on added responsibilities, build relationships, and nurture students on an ongoing basis. These are some of the duties which a long-term substitute may be asked to take on:

Lesson planning

In order to provide continuity of instruction, many long-term substitutes must assume the responsibility of formal lesson planning in the format required by school administration.A qualified substitute can get to know the curriculum, education standards, and student objectives through a study of textbooks and online resources, as well as relying on support from grade level or departmental colleagues.

Communication with parents

Whether through phone calls, emails, or greetings outside the classroom door, a long-term substitute is more likely to make meaningful parent contact. Over the course of a prolonged assignment, the substitute will need to communicate with parents to gain their support and cooperation, and to address any questions or concerns parents may have. Depending on the time of year, long-term substitutes may also be responsible for conducting parent-teacher conferences. Professionalism and communication skills are a necessity.

Handling disciplinary issues

Daily substitutes can leave reports for the absent teachers to handle upon their return, but long-term substitutes must handle student behavior issues themselves. Proactive classroom management that includes clear expectations and consistency is essential, as are empathy and compassion.


From formative assessment that observes day-to-day learning to the summative assessments at the end of a unit of study, long-term substitutes must effectively monitor and record student learning, and use the data to inform their instruction. A solid working knowledge of effective assessment strategies is an asset in a long-term position.

Grading and reporting

Substitute teachers in long-term assignments will typically be responsible for grading students and marking report cards. Initially, administrators will provide support to ensure continuity as long-term substitutes get to know students and the curriculum. With confidence and objectivity, they can assume the initiative to take on this important task.

What Long-Term Substitutes Need for Success

Substitute teachers are more successful when they are welcomed into the teaching team. This is especially true for long-term substitutes. With support from their grade level or departmental team, they are better able to handle the demands of the curriculum. The backing of building administrators and counselors helps them gain confidence with classroom management. The assistance of various members of the school staff should help long-term substitutes assimilate and become comfortable in their classroom position.

To increase the chance of success for long-term substitutes, they should receive solid training in both instructional techniques and classroom management strategies. Specific content area knowledge is also helpful and can increase the rate at which they become comfortable in their long-term assignment.

Where Can I Find a Long-Term Substitute?

With the added commitment, credentials, experience, and initiative required, long-term substitute candidates that fit your vacant assignments may be hard to find. One of the best ways to get help in finding the ideal person for the job is to contact an education staffing agency. Certified, experienced, and trained in both instructional best practices and effective classroom management, top-tier education staffing agencies’ substitutes come well prepared for the job. With this kind of superior preparation, substitutes placed by a staffing agency may be just the “bridge” you are seeking to promote continuity in your curriculum and long-term stability in your classrooms.

Contact ESS, the best education-exclusive staffing agency for solutions to your long-term substitute staffing needs. With access to a wide range of candidates and extensive, ongoing training, we can place substitute teachers who capably bridge those extended gaps in your school calendar.