What Age Group is Right for You?


April 25, 2023


Do you have a natural affinity for young children, slipping easily into their world of silliness and make-believe? Or do you do better with older kids, with whom you can have more serious, intellectual discussions? Which of those age groups were you envisioning when you decided to become a substitute teacher?

Being a sub is one of the only careers that lets you choose where you go to work each day. Each level will bring its own joys and challenges.

At an elementary school, you will be working with young children who might be unsure about you and this unexpected change in their schedule.

In middle school, you will face a classroom full of students looking around at each other trying to figure out what’s going on.

In high school, you will have students who need less hands-on help, but who might have a few tricks up their sleeves.

If you’re not sure what age group is right for you, here are some tips to help you decide.
  • Consider how you handle conflict. No one likes conflict, especially in the classroom. Each grade or learning level will bring some conflicts, but the general school of thought is, the older the classroom, the more likely it is that you will face general conflict throughout your day. 
  • Conflict takes many forms, such as class clowns or a stubborn student who refuses to accept a change to their routine.
  • Regardless of what the conflict is, you must decide how comfortable you are with it. Would you feel more confident resolving a conflict with a first grader than you would with a ninth grader? If so, consider an elementary placement. But if you are confident and a bit strong willed, and willing to use gentle authority, then a secondary classroom might be for you.
  • What is your teaching style? It can be hard knowing your specific teaching style, especially if you have yet to be in the classroom. But do you tend to be more hands-on and expressive, choosing to show rather than to tell? Or do you prefer books and resource materials to support your lessons?
  • There is no right or wrong answer. Generally, if you’re more expressive and prefer being engaging, consider elementary school. Young children learn best if they can connect the dots, and if you can get them to a place where they’re enjoying the lessons. If this is you, you will find an easier day is heading your way.
  • If textbooks, lab resources and videos are your go-to learning methods, secondary would be a great fit for you. While high school students still enjoy getting their hands dirty, their lessons are more advanced and require more direction and structure.
  • Do you prefer to comfort or mentor? This might feel like a silly question, but it’s an important one. Younger grade students are still looking for comfort and are likely to seek comfort from you. Highschool students relate more to a coach/mentor figure, rather than a comforter.
  • If the idea of being swarmed by 21 children at once makes you cringe, consider middle and high school.

Regardless of whether you’re comforting a scared kindergartner or elbow-bumping a high school student as they leave the class, being a guest teacher is one of the most important things you can do for your school district.