A Substitute Teacher Resume and Cover Letter Guide
by Mike Willard
Substitute teaching is an excellent way for people interested in a career in education to gain classroom experience. It can also be the perfect part-time option for those who enjoy working with kids but need flexibility. Many school districts struggle to find high-quality substitutes to provide coverage, which gives an advantage to those seeking substitute teacher jobs.
Being a substitute is tough work. As a substitute teacher, the regular classroom teacher expects you to carry out the day’s lesson plan. Additionally, you need to deliver engaging lessons without having established prior relationships with the students.
We’ll show you how to create a substitute teacher application package that demonstrates your knowledge of classroom management, enthusiasm for education, and your flexibility. Here’s how to apply to be a substitute teacher and start your new career in the classroom soon.
Understand your state’s substitute teacher requirements
Before you compile your substitute teacher application, make sure you meet the basic requirements, which vary by state:
- Some states require a college degree, while others only require a high school diploma or GED.
- Some states require you to obtain a substitute teaching certification before entering the classroom.
- You may be required to pass an exam or show equivalent academic ability.
The National Education Association (NEA) provides the requirements to be a substitute teacher by state. Once you’ve confirmed that you meet your state’s requirements, you can begin to put your substitute teacher application together.
Note: Before you enter the classroom, you’ll also have to pass a background check. You may need to pay for your background check (and possibly fingerprinting) out of pocket. The school district you’re applying to can give you more information about this part of the process.
Create your substitute teacher resume
Your resume should highlight your skills and convey your professionalism and most noteworthy career achievements. You should also make sure you’re customizing your resume for each role. Carefully read the job description and include specific words and phrases that mirror the skills, requirements and experience listed. Not only will that allow the reader to easily connect you with the position, it will also help you get through automated, software-based reviews (often called ATS) that focus on keywords.
Teaching, as a profession, rewards creativity, but your resume should steer clear of unusual layouts. Stick with a classic layout and font choice, and include enough white space so that your hiring managers (and ATS programs) can read your resume easily. Take a look at our Resume Templates, or use our Resume Builder when you’re ready to create your own.
Here’s what to include in each section of your resume:
The header should include your name, phone number, email address and your LinkedIn URL, or a link to your teaching portfolio if you have one. You may decide to withhold your address to protect yourself against identity theft.
Your summary should reveal your passion for education, as well as one-to-three sentences about why you want to be in the classroom. This section is also a great place to mention your educational philosophy.
The education section should hold a prominent position on your resume, as your academic pedigree matters in this field. List your highest degree first, and work backward from there. If you have a college degree, you can leave off your high school degree and experiences. If you don’t hold a college degree, list your high school education, and include any college credits you have earned. You should also note any academic honors or membership in academic fraternities or sororities.
List the traits and skills that would serve you well in the specific teaching position, again customizing based on the job description and your knowledge of the school environment. Skills like being bilingual or tech-savvy can make you a competitive candidate, so include them if they are applicable to you.
Your experience section covers your work history, focusing on how those jobs relate to education. Even if you haven’t worked in education before, highlight the skills you needed in your other positions that transfer to the substitute teaching job. Teachers must be organized managers of people (in this case, children), so describe work experiences that show you can handle a classroom.
If you haven’t worked as a teacher, include experiences where you’ve worked with children, such as:
- Working as a camp counselor
Secondary schools offer a wide variety of extracurricular activities, so indicate if you have any experience coaching athletics or leading drama or dance.
Write your substitute teacher cover letter
Your cover letter needs to grab the hiring manager’s attention in a single page. You should convey your educational philosophy, enthusiasm for teaching, and explain why you would make an excellent substitute. Research the school districts where you are applying and tailor your letter to reflect your ability to work in that school system. Understand the demographics of the schools and be aware of any unique challenges they may present.
When writing your cover letter, pick a straightforward design so the hiring manager can focus on the letter’s contents, not your font or color choices. A cover letter consists of five basic parts: header, introductory paragraph, body paragraph(s), closing paragraph and sign off.
We’re going to focus on the main sections of the cover letter (the introductory, body and closing paragraphs). For more information on how to write each part of a cover letter, check out our How to Write a Cover Letter page.
- Introductory paragraph
Your introduction should be 3-4 well constructed sentences, highlighting your passion for education. If you hook the reader with your enthusiasm to become a substitute teacher in their school, they will keep reading.
- Body paragraph(s)
In one or two short paragraphs, convey that you have the skills for the job. Don’t rehash your resume, but rather, note any work experience that shows you are organized, reliable and able to execute directives. Use a short anecdote to show the hiring manager that you have the personality traits to manage a classroom, follow the lesson plan and adapt to unexpected situations.
- Closing paragraph
The conclusion is the place to reiterate your interest in the job, without repeating yourself, and leave the hiring manager with an excellent lasting impression. Because being a substitute teaching requires flexibility, explain that you’ll be ready to teach when you get the call.
If you’re still feeling unsure about how to write a cover letter and think you’ll need a helping hand, check out our Cover Letter Templates.
How to impress at a substitute teaching interview
The hiring process varies across school districts. In some cases, you may be called in for a short interview when you submit your application package. Other districts may forego the interview process for substitute teachers, which makes your application even more critical to get right.
If they call you in for an interview, the administrators will want to see that you have experience managing a classroom and executing a lesson plan. Expect questions on how you will manage an unruly child or how you handle disengaged students.
The interviewers may also want to see if you can adapt to unexpected situations. For example, they may ask what you would do in a situation where the teacher left no lesson plan. There are no canned answers to these questions, but it’s essential to demonstrate that you are a calm, decisive problem solver.
To make your substitute teacher application stand out, use our Resume Builder and Cover Letter Templates today. We can help you refine your application in no time at all to improve your chances of getting a job in the classroom.