Alternate Route Teacher Matthew's Journey From Subbing to Full Time Teaching

The Rutgers Alternate Route Program makes full-time teaching careers accessible to career changers, many of whom are substitute teachers. Countless numbers of substitute teachers choose our program for its reputation, convenience and affordability. In an effort to better understand the unique challenges and advantages that substitute teachers encounter when transitioning into full time teaching positions, we decided to interview a handful of candidates about their experiences thus far.

First up in our series of interviews is Matthew DeFeo, an early-stage alternate route candidate with three years of substitute teaching experience. Matthew recently completed our 50 hour online pre-service course.

What motivated you to switch from substitute to full time teaching?

Matthew DeFeo Alternate route NJ teacher candidate“This is my third year of substitute teaching so I’ve gotten to do every single job there is to do in a school. I’ve seen the inside of the classroom from every perspective—from being the Music teacher to the Art teacher to the English teacher.

Getting to support students from every angle helped me see how appreciative they are of teachers. Subbing also helped me realize how much good I could do as a full time teacher—probably 100 times more than I do as a sub. With more control over the classroom, I could set my own rules, create my own lesson plans, find my own resources, and the list goes on. ”


For Matthew, substitute teaching has helped him to stand out as a reliable, and trustworthy candidate when applying for full time teaching jobs in his preferred school district. Over time, he’s been able to build quality relationships with teachers and administrators who play a key role in the district’s hiring decisions.

How has substituting supported your aspirations of full-time teaching?

“Subbing has also helped me see the inside of the classroom. I’ve basically done a three year internship in the classroom as a substitute teacher.

The networking opportunities have also been huge. I substitute in the same school district I grew up in. Subbing has given me so many opportunities to network with other teachers as well as the school’s administrators. School administrators write your name down when they see that you’re a reliable sub.

They want to make sure they can have you because they see you’re reliable. One time, an administrator was visiting my school, and I was the only substitute in the building, while about ten substitute teachers were absent. The building's administrators were so grateful that they couldn't stop thanking me at the end of the day.”


Matthew aspires to be an English and Language Arts (ELA) teacher. As a regular substitute teacher, Matthew has bonded with multiple members of his preferred school’s ELA department.

Has subbing had a direct impact on full-time teaching job search?

“I was able to secure an interview at the school I currently work at as a day sub. I’ve been subbing there everyday and gaining exposure with the head of the English department. Being able to become a familiar face with him was enough to secure an interview.

Teachers also made an effort to get to know me during my time as a sub. They sometimes ask me questions about what worked and didn’t work during my classes. We were able to have many deep discussions on our content area over time. I didn’t know that subbing would be that personal. I thought it’d be disconnected but it’s very much so been the opposite.”


Matthew recently completed the 50 hour online pre-service course provided by Rutgers Alternate Route Program. During our interview, Matthew was able to share some early feedback on his experiences as an alternate route candidate.

Why did you choose to pursue your New Jersey teaching certification with the Rutgers Alternate Route Program?

“As someone who works a lot, the program that I chose had to first and foremost be convenient for me. I love that the program is online.

Even though I can complete my coursework at my own convenience I’ve never felt disconnected. There are so many discussion posts that I feel like I know many of the other candidates. Many of the materials we’ve used and studies that we’ve reviewed have also been very sophisticated. It’s really made an impression on me.”

Are there any lessons or resources you’ve encountered that have been immediately useful for you?

“I always remembered a particular study that we read. It was about teaching with context. As a middle school teacher, the classes I teach may have the same name and cover the same subject, but when it comes down it, I have to treat each class completely differently. Managing the classroom has become so much easier for me to deal with after coming to understand this.”

Have you had any memorable teaching moments as a substitute teacher?

“One of my most memorable teaching moments actually happened because of an assignment from the pre-service course. I taught a guest lesson in the classroom of an ELA teacher that I had when I was in school.

I had to prepare a lesson on poetic meter and iambic pentameter. I wanted to make it fun for the students. I know from subbing that they prefer lessons that are either entertaining or incorporate feedback. Every student in our district has a laptop, so I knew I had to incorporate a bit of technology into my guest lesson.

I found a tool called For Better For Verse from the University of Virginia that allows students to mark poems with scansion and get immediate feedback on their progress. When leading the lesson, I didn’t see any students’ focus waning or feeling discouraged if I didn’t get to them.

They were able to get feedback that kept them engaged and focused the entire time. In fact, there were kids who were actually cheering! I had to check that they weren’t playing a game! I’d never before seen 7th graders so excited about poetry!"


What questions do you have for our candidates currently transitioning from substitute teaching to full time teaching roles? Share your questions in the comments!

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Heather Ngoma

Heather Ngoma has over 20 years experience collaborating with educators across New Jersey to drive education innovation. She currently serves as the Director of Rutgers University's Alternate Route Teacher Training Program at the Center for Effective School Practices, a program which helps career changers, recent college graduates and other aspiring education professionals become licensed teachers in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter @heatherngoma.