30 Substitute Teacher Interview Questions (+ Sample Answers)

The path to securing a substitute teaching role is paved with interviews that are as varied as the classes you’ll teach. A well-prepared candidate stands out, turning this high-stakes moment into an opportunity for connection and growth.

  • For Candidates, this guide is your blueprint to conveying the unique qualifications that make you an exceptional choice for the role of a Substitute Teacher.
  • For Interviewers, it’s about uncovering those passionate individuals who can seamlessly uphold your institution’s educational standards, even on short notice.
  • For Mentors and Coaches, you’ll gain insights to empower your mentees with the narrative and presentation skills necessary to leave a lasting impression.

In this article, we provide a concise toolkit of essential interview questions and sample answers for those aiming to excel in substitute teacher roles, helping each party navigate the interview process with confidence and ease.

Table of Contents

Skill-Level Determiner Questions

1. How do you approach a lesson plan developed by the regular teacher to ensure continuity in students’ learning?

This question assesses a substitute teacher’s capacity to execute pre-established lesson plans effectively while maintaining the instructional momentum set by the regular teacher.

A good answer should include:

  • Emphasize your ability to understand the lesson’s objectives quickly.
  • Mention how you would familiarize yourself with the necessary materials and instructional strategies.
  • Discuss the importance of following the teacher’s guidelines while being ready to improvise to meet the student’s needs.
Sample Answer:

"I begin by thoroughly reviewing the lesson plan in advance to grasp the learning goals and the approaches used by the regular teacher. I make sure to understand all the materials I’ll need and prepare potential questions students might have. 

I’ll follow the structure as closely as possible for continuity, but I'm also prepared to adapt if I see that students are struggling with a concept or a task."

2. How do you balance discipline with positive reinforcement in your classroom management style?

This question seeks to understand how the substitute teacher manages behavior and maintains a positive learning environment.

A good answer should include:

  • Highlight the importance of setting clear expectations from the beginning.
  • Detail how you use positive reinforcement techniques to encourage good behavior.
  • Describe how you would fairly and consistently apply consequences for disruptions.
Sample Answer:

"In my classroom, I prioritize clear communication of rules and expectations from the outset. I use positive reinforcement by recognizing and rewarding good behavior to encourage students to continue it. For instance, verbal praise or a points system can be very effective. 

When discipline is necessary, I make sure consequences are fair and consistent, and I always explain to the student why their behavior was not acceptable, to turn the situation into a learning opportunity."

3. Describe a challenging concept in your subject area and how you would explain it to students to ensure understanding.

This question aims to evaluate the substitute teacher’s subject matter expertise and their ability to convey complex ideas in an accessible way.

A good answer should include:

  • Identify a concept that is universally acknowledged as challenging within your subject.
  • Break down your explanation process into clear, digestible steps.
  • Include how you would use analogies, visual aids, or hands-on activities to facilitate understanding.
Sample Answer:

"In teaching mathematics, the concept of quadratic equations can be daunting for students. To ensure understanding, I start by explaining the significance of quadratics in real-world contexts. 

Then I break down the equation into parts and demonstrate each step using a visual graph. I'll relate the concept to something familiar, like the trajectory of a basketball shot, to make it more relatable. 

Additionally, I use practice problems to let students apply the concept with my guidance."

4. How would you modify your teaching approach when working with students who have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP)?

This question gauges the substitute teacher’s ability to adapt instruction to meet the needs of students with IEPs, reflecting an understanding of differentiated instruction and special education accommodations.

A good answer should include:

  • State the importance of reviewing the IEP beforehand to tailor your approach.
  • Discuss collaboration with special education staff or aides for best practices.
  • Mention how you’d use accommodations such as extended time, different materials, or varied instruction methods.
Sample Answer:

"Before the class, I make it a priority to review each student's IEP to understand the specific accommodations they require. I’d reach out to the special education teacher or aides for insights and strategies that work best with these students. 

In the classroom, I’d ensure that I'm applying the accommodations mentioned in their IEPs, like providing oral rather than written instructions, using assistive technology, or allowing for movement breaks when needed."

5. How do you evaluate student learning and understanding during a lesson?

This question determines the substitute teacher’s capability to assess student engagement and comprehension in real time, which is crucial for adapting instruction and providing feedback.

A good answer should include:

  • Describe how you use formative assessments to gauge student understanding.
  • Explain the importance of observation and active listening to identify cues of confusion or comprehension.
  • Mention how you’d facilitate class discussions and ask open-ended questions to encourage critical thinking and gauge understanding.
Sample Answer:

"Throughout the lesson, I employ formative assessments such as quick polls, thumbs up/down, or exit tickets to check for understanding. By actively listening to students' questions and observing their behavior, I can quickly identify if there's a need to reteach a concept. 

Engaging students in discussion and prompting them with open-ended questions also helps me assess their comprehension levels and encourages them to articulate their thinking."

6. How do you determine the pacing of a lesson, and what adjustments might you make if students are struggling to keep up?

This question looks at the substitute teacher’s ability to adjust lesson delivery based on student responses, which measures adaptability and awareness of diverse learning needs.

A good answer should include:

  • Discuss the importance of being attuned to students’ nonverbal signals and participation levels.
  • Explain how you might slow down to revisit a concept or provide additional practice if needed.
  • Outline your strategies for providing supplemental resources or varying instruction to aid those who may be struggling.
Sample Answer:

"I determine the pacing of a lesson by observing students’ engagement, understanding, and ability to complete activities. If I notice that students are struggling, I'm not afraid to slow down and re-explain the material, using different examples or teaching methods. 

In some cases, I might break the class into small groups so those who understand can move on, while others receive more targeted support."

Other Skill-Level Determiner Questions:

  • How do you assess the effectiveness of a lesson plan, and what criteria do you use to decide if adaptations are necessary?
  • How do you adjust your teaching style to accommodate different learning abilities and styles in a single classroom?
  • Can you explain the importance of formative and summative assessments and how you incorporate them as a substitute teacher?

Behavioral-Based Questions

1. Recall an instance where you had to fill in for a teacher unexpectedly. How did you prepare yourself on short notice, and what steps did you take to ensure a smooth transition?

This question assesses the candidate’s adaptability, command of the subject matter, and strategic planning skills in times of unexpected changes.

A good answer should include:

  • Highlight your ability to adapt quickly to new situations.
  • Describe your organizational and planning skills.
  • Illustrate how you maintained or restored the normal routine for the students.
Sample Answer (STAR Method):

"I distinctly remember a situation where I was abruptly informed in the morning about a sudden sick leave application from a biology teacher, and I was expected to seamlessly cover their classes for the day. 

Rising to the challenge, I indulged myself in an intensive review of the teacher's lesson plans and resources to help the students. Knowing that a test was scheduled for the following week, I adapted my teaching style to facilitate rapid grasping of concepts. 

The results were quite remarkable; not only did the students express their gratitude for the effective teaching session, but their performance in the test that followed also reflected their improved understanding of the lessons."

2. Share a situation where your creativity or out-of-the-box thinking greatly aided your teaching process.

This question aims to understand your capacity for creative problem-solving and innovation in teaching, which can greatly enhance student engagement and learning.

A good answer should include:

  • Discuss a unique teaching technique or strategy you applied.
  • Explain how this creative solution positively impacted the student’s learning experience.
  • Provide evidence to prove its effectiveness, such as improved grades or student feedback.
Sample Answer (STAR Method):

"On another occasion, I noticed a concerning lack of enthusiasm among the students concerning an upcoming history lesson. 

Determined to arouse their interest, I transformed the traditionally taught lesson into a more stimulating role-play activity. I assigned each student a character from history and had them explore their parts. 

The approach was successful beyond expectations; it boosted student engagement, improved the overall classroom atmosphere, as confirmed by their enthusiastic participation. Subsequently, the elevated interest of the students reflected in their improved test scores."

3. Can you share a time when you had to manage a large class single-handedly?

This question seeks to gauge your classroom management abilities and how effectively you can maintain discipline while ensuring that every student’s educational needs are met.

A good answer should include:

  • Showcase your skills in maintaining control and focus in a large group.
  • Discuss effective techniques you’ve used to engage all students.
  • Share feedback or outcomes that prove your success in managing large classes.
Sample Answer (STAR Method):

"An experience that comes to mind is my time covering for a teacher at a large public high school. Recognizing the potential challenges due to the large class size, I strategized my teaching methods, focusing on clear communication, positive reinforcement, and promoting an active learning environment. 

I instigated quick and inclusive activities to ensure the students stayed engaged, resulting in highly productive sessions that benefited students immensely, evident from their progress. This approach met the school's educational standards, which was a gratifying achievement for me."

4. Tell us about a time when you received an unexpected question from a student. How did you handle it?

This question assesses your ability to think quickly and handle unexpected situations while maintaining your composure.

A good answer should include:

  • Show how you valued the student’s question and provide an honest answer.
  • Explain your thought process in handling the unexpected query.
  • Discuss how you might have used this situation as a teaching opportunity for your students.
Sample Answer (STAR Method):

"During an instance, a student posed a question that was off topic but still relevant to the overall subject. I was momentarily stumped, but I saw an opportunity to cultivate a learning experience. 

Acknowledging my uncertainty, I turned this into a chance for all of us to explore and learn together. This decision to collaborate and research the answer as a group resulted in an enhanced understanding of the subject. Looking back, it was indeed one of my class's rewarding moments."

5. How have you managed to keep your students engaged during a lengthy period of substitute teaching?

This question aims to understand your teaching strategies, particularly how you keep students engaged and interested over a sustained period.

A good answer should include:

  • Mention several techniques you used to keep lessons engaging.
  • Highlight instances where these methods led to positive results.
  • Show how you balance maintaining order and fostering a fun, educational environment.
Sample Answer (STAR Method):

"With extended periods of substitute teaching, I've found it necessary to frequently alter my teaching methods for the better. To keep students engrossed, I've used various learning games, interactive exercises, and multimedia resources. 

Among my most successful tactics was hosting mini-debates that pushed students to interactively engage with the subject matter. I observed that this transferred into positive changes in their academic performance, with noticeable improvement in their test scores and comprehension of more complex topics."

Other Behavioral-Based Questions:

  • Share an experience in which you had to deal with a conflict between students during class. What strategies did you employ to resolve the situation?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to handle a disruptive student. How did you manage the situation?
  • Tell us about a time when you motivated a disinterested student to participate in learning.

Situational-Based Questions

1. How would you approach a lesson if you feel the students aren’t grasping the content as expected?

This question assesses a substitute teacher’s ability to adapt teaching methodologies based on student understanding and feedback.

A good answer should include:

  • Describe your methods of monitoring student understanding.
  • Share your strategies for making adjustments in real-time.
  • Discuss your experience with different teaching styles or methods.
Sample Answer: 

"One strategy I use frequently is formative assessment during the lessons. This could be through quick quizzes or a simple discussion. 

If I find that students are not grasping the content, I would switch to a more engaging method, perhaps transforming the lesson into an interactive group assignment, or using multimedia resources if available. It's crucial to make the learning process dynamic and adjust according to the students' feedback."

2. What will be your action plan if you are provided with a text-heavy syllabus and the students struggle to engage with the content?

This question tests the substitute teacher’s creativity and ability to capture students’ attention despite the challenge of a text-heavy syllabus.

A good answer should include:

  • Describe how you would break down the text into manageable sections.
  • Illustrate ways you would make the text more engaging, such as through discussion questions or interactive activities.
  • Share how you would ensure a comprehensive understanding.
Sample Answer: 

"Firstly, I would divide the text into digestible sections based on key themes or concepts. Then, I could create interactive activities around these sections - such as small group discussions or role-play activities to examine different viewpoints. 

For each section, I would also incorporate a brief quiz or recap session to ensure understanding and recall."

3. If students challenge your authority because you are a substitute teacher, how would you respond?

This question examines how a substitute teacher handles disciplinary issues and maintains respect in the classroom.

A good answer should include:

  • Discuss maintaining a balance between authority and approachability.
  • Describe any proven strategies to earn respect.
  • Showcase your ability to set clear expectations and boundaries.
Sample Answer: 

"Clear communication is key to handle such a scenario. I would, from the outset, establish clear boundaries and expectations with the students, while also making sure to communicate that I value their insights and participation. 

If a student then challenges my authority, I would address it directly and respectfully, reminding them of our shared agreement."

4. If you are to substitute for an art class and you don’t have a background in art, how would you teach the class?

This question tests the candidate’s flexibility, willingness to learn new subjects, and ability to engage students even when outside their comfort zone.

A good answer should include:

  • Discuss your willingness to learn and prepare in advance.
  • Explain how you would leverage available resources.
  • Detail a plan for engaging students despite the subject being outside your comfort zone.
Sample Answer: 

"First, I would invest time to study the specific art topic to ensure I'm competent enough to guide the students. Also, I would utilize available teaching resources, such as textbooks, online tutorials, and additional aids to enhance my lessons. 

To maintain student engagement, I would encourage them to express their creativity and provide constructive feedback."

5. What actions would you take if a teacher left incomplete instructions for an assignment or lesson?

This question assesses the candidate’s ability to be resourceful, think on their feet, and function independently within the constraints of the curriculum.

A good answer should include:

  • Detail the steps you would take to clarify the situation.
  • Explain how you would devise a plan to ensure the lesson or assignment proceeds favorably.
  • Indicate how you would address this with the regular teacher or relevant faculty.
Sample Answer: 

"I would first review what instructions were provided and then brainstorm a progressive plan based on that information. If possible, I would contact the regular teacher, or confer with fellow teachers or the school administration to gather more information. 

In the scenario where no further information can be procured, I would use my judgement to fill the gaps, ensuring the students are still learning and moving forward with the curriculum."

Other Situational Questions:

  • If a student with special needs is having difficulty understanding the lesson, how would you modify your teaching approach to accommodate them?
  • What measures would you take to build trust with students who might be hesitant about having a new, temporary teacher?
  • If a student exhibited signs of bullying or aggressive behavior towards peers, how would you act in that situation?

Organizational Fit Questions

1. If hired, how will you interact and work with the parent community to support both their children’s learning and the larger school initiatives?

This question is significant because it evaluates a candidate’s interpersonal skills, their understanding of the importance of parental involvement in education, and their aptitude for community outreach.

A good answer should include:

  • Illustrate an understanding of the importance of parental involvement in enhancing student achievement.
  • Outline strategies for maintaining clear, open communication with parent.
  • Reflect ability to collaborate with parents and involve them in school initiatives.
Sample Answer: 

"I believe strongly in the importance of parental involvement in supporting student success and wider school initiatives. I would ensure regular communication with parents by sending out updates and using parent-teacher meetings to discuss their child's progress. 

I would also encourage their participation in school events and initiatives, as this fosters a stronger school community."

2. Our school prides itself on a holistic approach to education. How does this align with your teaching philosophy and practices?

This question allows the interviewer to gauge how well your teaching philosophy aligns with the school’s educational ethos and approach.

A good answer should include:

  • Clearly recount your teaching philosophy.
  • Highlight parallels between your philosophy and the school’s approach.
  • Exhibit examples of how you have or could implement a holistic education approach in your teaching techniques.
Sample Answer: 

"I wholeheartedly believe in educating the whole child, not just academically but socially and emotionally as well. Like your school, I foster an environment of respect and empathy in my classes, teaching students to appreciate diversity, work cooperatively, and become responsible global citizens. 

I achieve this by integrating class discussions on important social issues, incorporating teamwork in lessons, and promoting individual growth."

3. Our school emphasizes the importance of (certain value or quality, e.g., community service, digital literacy, inclusion). Can you provide examples of how you have promoted this in your past teaching experience?

This question assesses your commitment to the school’s core values or initiatives, your previous experience and ability to incorporate these into your lessons, and your potential fit within the school community.

A good answer should include:

  • Indicate an understanding of the value or quality mentioned and its relevance in education.
  • Describe specific examples from your past experience where you promoted this quality or value.
  • Demonstrate how you plan to bring these values into the classroom or school community in this role.
Sample Answer: 

"In my previous role as a substitute teacher, I promoted digital literacy by integrating technology into the classroom. For example, I encouraged students to use online resources for research, incorporated multimedia presentations into lessons, and used educational apps to support learning. 

Furthermore, I emphasized digital citizenship to ensure students understand the benefits and potential pitfalls of online interactions. Similarly, if hired, I plan to embed digital literacy into my curriculum to align with your school's emphasis on this critical skill."

Other Organizational Fit Questions:

  • What factors make you a good fit for our school’s culture?
  • How would you adjust your teaching style to be consistent with our school’s curriculum and instructional methods?

Job Interview Tips

  • Research the school district, the demographics, mission, values, academic achievements, and projects. This can assist in understanding their needs, standards, and how to align your responses and expectations.
  • The role of a substitute teacher varies greatly, from grading assignments to leading full class periods. Understand the job description provided by the school and be ready to articulate how you can fulfill those duties.
  • As a substitute teacher, your ability to adapt to different grades, subjects, students, and situations is key. Demonstrate your willingness and competence in handling change.
  • Since substitute teachers often have less contact with staff, present yourself as a reliable and dedicated professional. Show enthusiasm for teaching and working with students.

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Brenda Calisaan is a psychology graduate who strongly desires to impact society positively. She aspires to spread awareness and knowledge about mental health, its importance, and its impact on individuals and society.

She also has a passion for working with children and hopes to dedicate her career to positively impacting their lives.

Outside of work, Brenda is an avid traveler and enjoys exploring new experiences. She is also a music enthusiast and loves to listen to a variety of genres. When she's not on the road or working, Brenda can often be found watching interesting YouTube videos, such as Ted-Ed content.