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Substitute Series: How Substitutes & Teacher Assistants Can Make Teaching a Permanent Career

For professionals with hopes to teach full-time, substitute and teacher assistant opportunities are a great way to bridge the gap between finishing certifications and finding full-time work. 

Male teacher in front of classroom

For Chaancé Barnes-Gould, a participant of the Diverse Teachers for Diverse Schools (DTDS) initiative and a substitute teacher who eventually earned a full-time job at the same school, the opportunity to substitute teach made transitioning to full-time teaching simple. “My transition was everything that I thought it could be,” said Ms. Barnes-Gould, a music teacher at the Cicely L. Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts in East Orange. “I felt more control and empowered, which greatly helped my transition.”

Amber Parkin, a kindergarten teacher at John Kenney Childcare Center, landed a full-time teaching position after her time as a teacher assistant, which she believed made the transition much easier since the experience gave her the tools she needed to build up her own classroom, as well as a mentorship opportunity. 

"My biggest piece of advice would be to learn as much as possible and do as much as possible while you’re still an assistant,” advises Ms. Parkin. “Take opportunities to lesson plan and to get involved. Show the people around you that you want to learn and do your best. Show initiative and do things before you’re told to do them.” 

Read on for more ways that taking on a substitute or teacher assistant job can help make the transition to a full-time teaching job easier! 

  1. Connect with other educators for advice and networking.

Substitute teachers and teacher assistants have access to dozens of professional educators with years of experience and knowledge. School staff members are often available to offer a wealth of support, especially early in a substitute or teacher assistant role.  

"It required a lot of hard work, studying, and sacrifice, but I got to where I am because of the people that surrounded me on a daily basis lending me support,” said William Hamby, a fifth-grade teacher at Thomas Jefferson Elementary. “I was also very lucky to interview at a school that understood Alternate Route candidates, and saw the teacher in me—not the person that changed careers—and knew I was just chasing my dream, and trying to show my passion for teaching.” 

To start building relationships, ask colleagues to lunch or coffee as a chance to sit down and begin building these bonds.  

  1. Practice developing critical classroom management skills.

AnnMarie Morris, a fourth-grade math and science teacher at Passaic Arts and Science Charter School, spent 11 years alternating between substitute and full-time teaching jobs before taking on a steady full-time role within the past year. Ms. Morris encourages future teachers to look into substituting because of the experience it offers.  

"As a teacher, you always have to have a bag of tricks...and then also a backup bag of tricks. As a sub, these are the things you learn,” Ms. Morris said. “It definitely helped me as far as knowing the fast-paced environment, classroom management – which was key – as well as various methods of communication with parents and children and lesson planning.” 

  1. Build your confidence as a teacher.

In a substitute or teacher assistant role, future full-time candidates can get paid for unique, hands-on field work they’d never get otherwise. This puts them at an advantage when it comes to looking for full-time work, as the experience is a great resume, and confidence, builder.

According to Ms. Morris, “I think being a substitute teacher helps to give you a foundation to make sure [teaching is] right for you. You have to have a lot of patience to be a teacher, not everyone can do the job.” 

Ms. Parkin agrees and admits that “Constantly doubting my abilities as a teacher and believing that I was capable was the hardest part,” she said. 

To build your confidence, Ms. Barnes-Gould suggests to “keep your end goal in mind each day you step into the classroom. Conduct yourself as if you are already in the position you want and do your best to instruct classes when given the opportunity.” 

  1. Use after-school opportunities to be recognized as a go-getter.  

To get noticed, Mr. Hamby recommends taking up every opportunity available as a substitute, including coaching and working with after-school clubs. By participating in extracurriculars, it shows full-time staff that you are committed not just to the job, but to the school and children. 

"You won't get paid much for your extra time, but trust me, people are noticing, and they will keep that in mind when you're interviewing for a full-time position,” Mr. Hamby said. “Also, have fun. School is supposed to be fun.” 

Staying after class also offers an opportunity to get teachers one-on-one and ask them any questions related to the job. 

If you’re interested in pursuing a full-time teaching job, visit the Rutgers Alternate Route website to learn more about the program to jumpstart your teaching career. To keep up with more news and stories from the education field, be sure to follow Rutgers Alternate Route on Twitter for more information.

Read more stories and advice on the journey from temporary to full-time teaching jobs in our Substitute Series:


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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.