Substitute Teaching Landed in Lindsey’s Lap—and Fell Into His Heart

Substitute Teaching Landed in Lindsey’s Lap—and Fell Into His Heart

When Lindsey decided to take up his first substitute teaching gig in 2006, he didn’t think education would end up becoming his second career. “Teaching landed in my lap and fell into my heart,” he says while recalling his early days as an instructor at an after school program. 

A native of Chicago, Lindsey is a professional artist and designer who has exhibited his work both at home and abroad. After almost two decades of substitute teaching, he is about to embark on a full-time career as an educator. 

“It was the students. That’s what made me want to dedicate my life to this,” he states.

“You know, a lot of kids around here tend to experience hopelessness. They’re very gifted and very talented, but they don’t feel that will be enough to afford them a better life.” He adds: “But I don’t feel that way about myself. I don’t feel powerless. And it’s been wonderful to have the opportunity to instill that hope and those feelings of empowerment into them.” 

Unlikely beginnings

Lindsey does not have formal training as an educator. “I learned by stepping into the classroom and just doing it…It has been difficult at times—but that outsider status and the fact that I have all this life experience and a career in the arts has helped me connect with students on a much deeper level.” He adds: “They see that I’m not just a teacher, I’m also a doer. And that’s particularly significant in arts education because most art teachers are not practicing artists themselves.”

Lindsey’s unique background and his strong personal connection to the Albany Park community he teaches in has given way to a very unique approach to teaching that transcends students’ expectations for their educators. “My biggest thing is following what’s in students’ best interest and what makes them happy. I’m trying to share valuable knowledge with them—both academic and personal—because I want to see them do well.”

Standing out—and stepping up

When discussing lack of representation in the teaching profession, Lindsey recalls how a student once confessed to him: “It’s a shame that you’re the first man of color I’ve encountered in my entire academic career.” 

That student is not alone in her experience. According to data from the National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS), Black male teachers currently make up just 1.3% of all teachers in K-12 grades. 

“The truth is, these kids are rarely taught by educators who look like them or the people close to them. They don’t have many positive role models in their daily lives—someone who’s living a life of meaning. So when I show up they’re like: ‘Oh, you look like us. You talk like us. You’re one of us!’.” 

“There is a confidence and a strength that we have to build within ourselves and with our community, because we’re not taught that in school, especially Black Americans,” he concludes.

Creating connection

Lindsey credits much of his success as a teacher to his emphasis on engagement. “I regularly see substitutes sit behind a desk and not talk to a single student—how do you walk into a room full of people and not talk to anyone?” 

He mentions that students are often surprised to see him on the classroom floor instead of hiding behind a desk. “Beyond engagement, it’s about acknowledgement,” he explains. “And acknowledgement is crucial for young [People of Color] who often grow up feeling invisible and dismissed. I carry that into the classroom because I want these kids to feel seen.” 

He admits that he took the power of these interactions for granted at first. It wasn’t until he mentioned to other instructors that students often came to say hi and strike up conversation when they encountered him outside of school grounds that he realized how rare that was. “They told me: ‘Wow! That never happens to me. You’re really liked!”

Man on a mission

Lindsey cites his deep personal alignment with Kokua’s community-centered mission as the main reason he’s stayed with us for over five years. “My community is hungry for role models. And these students need educators that are deeply invested in their community.” 

Another valuable aspect of working with Kokua that Lindsey highlights is our trust in our staff’s capabilities. “Kokua always trusts us to do the right thing. There’s no hand holding and no micromanaging,” he explains.

When discussing his goals beyond the classroom, Lindsay mentions that his cousin, who works as a principal, has inspired him to consider that route in the future. But, for now, he’s excited about the opportunity to be with his students for the entire semester, instead of just a few days. “I’ll get to come in and set a high bar from day one and become an even bigger part of their lives.” 

*if you’re interested in becoming a Guest Teacher at Kokua, please click here

A Letter from our CEO to Kokua Teachers On Substitute Educators Day

Among the various holidays in the calendar year, today might be our favorite! November 18th is Substitute Educators Day. Each year, Substitute Educators Day falls on the Friday of American Education Week, which celebrates and honors all those who work in education. Today specifically focuses on the crucial role substitutes play in our schools – serving as bridges and role models for our students when full-time staff is absent.

At Kokua, we work with substitute teachers (we call them Guest Teachers) to maximize learning time and close gaps for local K-12 schools. Our CEO wanted to share a special message with all substitute teachers, who show up each and every day to support students across the country.

A Message from Kokua CEO

In celebration of Substitute Educator Day, I wanted to send a special thank you for the important role you’ve played this year for our schools and students. 

This year, our schools are facing a unique challenge. With record high teacher shortages paired with the aftermath of pandemic learning loss, students across the country are in desperate need of emotional and educational support. 

The dedication and effort you set forth each day in the classroom has made a big difference for our schools and we are grateful for the impact you make.

Every day as a Guest Teacher, you have an impact on our students.  Whether it’s the way you explain a lesson, the care and kindness you show, or an opportunity or vision you share, you make a lasting impression.

This year, Kokua teachers together have completed nearly 50,000 days of teaching – which equals about 350,000 learning hours for students. You are making a HUGE difference!  


Gabe Nakashima
Kokua Founder & CEO

Thank you substitute teachers!

To all substitute teachers, we hope you find time today to celebrate your hard work, and know that the students and schools you serve are lucky to have your support. 

From all of us at Kokua, thank you! 

Top 10 Tips for a Successful Virtual Interview

Top 10 Tips for a Successful Virtual Interview

The past few years launched a new lifestyle of virtual meetings, and it seems the Zoom life is here to stay. Whether this technology has become a familiar part of your day, or it feels daunting and overwhelming, interviewing for a new job virtually has shifted the way we approach job hunting. As educators, we’re used to making in-person connections with students, peers, and community members, so interviewing for a substitute teaching job through a screen can feel strange. 

At Kokua, we conduct our substitute teacher interviews virtually, and we want you to feel confident and comfortable when you sit down to speak with us. To put your best foot forward, check out our top 10  tips for a successful virtual interview: 

Mark your calendar

This tip carries over from in-person interviews. At Kokua, we reserve 30-minutes just for you, so make sure you have the time, date, and login information saved on your calendar. Having an event on your computer will save you from having to dig through emails to find the link. Login on time – or a few minutes early if you can!

Use a laptop or computer

While your phone might be great to video chat with friends and family members, you’ll be more successful on a laptop or computer for a professional interview. This will allow you to be hands free, have a steady camera, and avoid any distractions from your phone. During your Kokua interview, we may share our screen to provide visuals and answer questions, which can be difficult to see clearly on a smaller phone screen. 

Pro tip: Make sure your computer is fully charged or plugged in so you’re not interrupted by the dreaded “low battery” notification during your interview.

Get tech ready & test the platform beforehand

Test the meeting link prior to your scheduled interview time to make sure you can access the interview, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the platform. You may discover you need to download an app or plug-in, which you’ll want to complete before your interview. 

A few other ways to be tech ready: 

  • Make sure you have a reliable Internet connection
  • Test your camera and microphone (Zoom prompts you to do this when you click the interview link, so it’s easy!)
  • Test your speakers

Consider your surroundings

Setting up a suitable space to interview is a new challenge with virtual interviews. Set yourself up in a well-lit room, with a clutter-free, professional background. If this isn’t possible, consider using a virtual or blurred background. 

Dress to impress

Most of us are feeling much more casual these days. While we love our loungewear, dressing professionally will not only present yourself well to the interviewer, but it can make you feel more confident and focused. Consider how you’d want to present yourself on your first day at a new job. At Kokua, we recommend business casual.

Some examples of business casual attire: 

  • Slacks or khakis 
  • Dress shirt or blouse
  • Open-collar or polo shirt 
  • Dress
  • Knit shirt or sweater 
  • Blazer or jacket 

Avoid distractions

Interviewing from home can present challenges, but do your best to find a quiet space that will help you maintain your focus. Communicate with members of your household to avoid accidental interruptions, silence your phone and computer notifications, and use the mute button while your interviewer is talking.

We also know you’re human, and the occasional pop-in from a family member, child, or pet is understandable! 

Look into the camera when speaking

When you’re feeling nervous, sometimes direct eye contact is the first to go. Virtual interviews can make it tricky to maintain eye contact with your interviewer. Pro tip: look into the camera when you’re speaking, rather than at the interviewer’s video. Do your best to avoid the ever-tempting urge to look at your own video!

Get to know the company

Do your research! Explore the company’s website, build personal connections to their mission, and check out their online presence on websites like Glassdoor and Indeed. For example, Kokua is highly rated on Glassdoor, and you can explore hundreds of reviews from teachers and staff members to help you understand our culture. 

Prepare questions 

Interviewers typically leave time at the end of the interview for questions, so take note of questions you have while exploring the company. At Kokua, we want you to be excited to join our team, and we appreciate when candidates have thoughtful questions that guide their decision. 

Reflect on your experience

Lastly, be prepared to share more about your work history and why you’re interested in the role. At Kokua, we love when our candidates show their passion for impacting young lives and their excitement to work in a classroom. Gather concrete examples of your growth and projects you’re most proud of, while also considering the biggest lessons you’ve learned along the way. Jotting down a few bullet points can help trigger your memory, so keep those nearby for quick reference.

Fall printable resource for substitute teachers

Fall printable resource for substitute teachers

As a substitute teacher, you may follow the lesson plan to a tee and still have extra time with students. Unorganized time can cause anxiety for substitute teachers, and challenge even the strongest classroom management styles. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!

We’ve created a fall-inspired series of writing and drawing prompts to boost student creativity or spark a fun classroom conversation. This resource features prompts for students across grades – as young as elementary and as advanced as high school. These will help you as a substitute teacher keep students engaged by tapping into skills they’re already learning.



How to use this printable resource: 
  • Select the appropriate writing prompt for your grade level
  • Print and make copies for your class size – don’t forget extras!
  • Use the last 2 blank writing pages for students who need extra room to keep writing (pro tip: these writing pages are also great to have in your substitute teacher folder every day)
  • Use these prompts to maintain a positive learning environment when you have extra time

Early Elementary Writing Prompt 

Let students’ imaginations run wild with this fun prompt about designing their street with colorful leaves. Students can practice their writing skills with age appropriate lined worksheets, and also draw their vision on the page provided.

Pro tip: If students are struggling with writing, skip straight to the drawing to avoid unnecessary frustration, and have them describe their drawing to a partner.

Elementary to Middle School Writing Prompt 

This prompt is a fall-themed play on the game we’ve likely all played – if you were stranded on a desert island, and could only bring a few things, what would you bring? Students always get creative with what they’d need to survive for 7 days!

Middle to High School Writing Prompt 

You’ll have two prompts to choose from for this age group. Each prompt practices a different skill. One helps students flex their imagination and history knowledge to choose a time period they’d like to travel back to. The second tests their compare/contrast and debate skills. Choose one, or let students pick the one they’re most excited about!

All Grade Levels Writing Prompt 

Who doesn’t love pie this time of year? This prompt helps students practice their sequencing skills as they write down an apple pie recipe. If you have access to technology, allow students to search for their favorite apple pie recipe, and recreate it on the page (with their own twist)!


8 tips for incorporating these writing worksheets throughout your day as a substitute teacher

When the day gets crazy and hectic, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But not you, because you’ve read this substitute teacher resource and you’re equipped with 9 writing prompts for elementary, middle school and high school.

Use these creative ideas to make your sub job more fun
  • Quick ice breaker to get your students settled at the start of class.
  • End of the day ‘exit ticket’ to complete before the bell rings.
  • Small group activity while co-teaching.
  • Avoid the dreaded, “I’m done, what do I do now?” question. Leave these writing prompts on a back table for students to grab when they’ve completed an assignment.
  • Lead a group writing activity for students who may struggle with writing independently. Each student adds a sentence while you write the full story on the board or chart paper.
  • Read the prompt aloud to spark a fun group discussion.
  • Ask students to read their responses to practice public speaking.
  • Flex your classroom management skills by prompting a friendly, organized debate with older students.

Finish the day by celebrating the students’ hard work

Find a way to show off the students’ work with their classroom teacher. You could add them to a classroom bulletin board or share in a folder on the front desk. When kids know their hard work is being shared with their teachers, they often get excited and want to do their best! Plus, their teacher will be thanking you for keeping their class engaged, focused, and learning while they’re out.

Did you use this great resource in your classroom? Be sure to share with us by tagging @KokuaEducation on Instagram or Facebook and use the hashtag #KokuaClassroom. Follow us for more resources for substitute teachers!

Is Substitute Teaching Right For You?

Is Substitute Teaching Right For You?

So, you’re thinking about becoming a substitute teacher, and you are asking yourself if substitute teaching is the right job for you. Being in the classroom is unlike most jobs out there; it requires skills that run the gamut of occupational types, but can also provide flexibility and the opportunity to positively impact your community. 

While being an educator, even for a day, can be a challenging job, it is also one of the most important and rewarding. After all, how many jobs provide the opportunity to change someone’s life in one day?

3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Pursuing a Substitute Teaching Job

  1. Do you thrive in an environment where you need to multitask and adapt?
  2. Can you speak in front of a small group or classroom of students?
  3. Can you maintain the consistent dual role of instructor and nurturing caregiver?

Multitasking is a must

Consider the role of a waiter as they rush around a busy dining room – refilling drinks at table one, dropping off an extra side of ranch at table five, and grabbing the bill at table four. You will find yourself in similar situations in the classroom.

While one student needs help understanding the instructions on an assignment, another will need a bathroom pass, while a third needs their glasses out of their locker. It takes strong task management to prioritize and not forget anything or anyone, all while crossing off the to-do list left by the teacher. 

Stage fright?

Any teacher will tell you that, at some point in their career, they were nervous to speak in front of a classroom full of students. Just because it isn’t an acceptance speech at the Academy Awards doesn’t mean it can’t shake your nerves to stand up in front of a room full of kids – especially when they expect you to have all the answers! You will need the confidence to address a room full of people while being firm, but also remaining approachable so that every student feels comfortable asking questions.

Educators should always expect the unexpected – kids are not going to follow a script! Are you ready to answer an unrelated, potentially uncomfortable question on the spot? If so, being a substitute could be right for you. The bright side is these moments often make the fondest memories!

Balancing many roles 

Substitute teachers wear many hats outside of teaching. In the course of any given day, you will serve as teacher, counselor, nurse, disciplinarian, and confidant. Even with meticulous and thorough instructions left by the classroom teacher and minimal behavior issues, you will have to improvise and play whatever role your student needs in that moment. This skill will be especially important in long-term subbing situations, such as covering a teacher who is on maternity leave. The more time you spend with a group of students, the more they will rely on you as a trusted role model and guide.

Whether it’s a first grader who fell on the playground and is now inconsolable because only mommy knows how to put a bandaid on the right way, or it’s a Junior in high school that just got her heart broken the night before and can’t curb the tears in class the next day, you have to be available to help them. While schools often have support staff (counselors, nurses, etc) to help, you will be the first point of contact. Having the patience and empathy to help them through a tough time is just as important as being able to communicate the learning objectives for the day.

Let’s get to the best part about substitute teaching

Being a substitute teacher is a great responsibility balanced with great joy. You’ll witness that “lightbulb moment” when the lesson you are teaching clicks, and the student says, “Oh-I get it now!”. You could be the person who opens a student’s eyes to possibilities they never knew existed, and be that role model who can change their life.

You may not even know it as it’s happening, but you could be the inspiration, or the stability, or the warm smile that made all the difference in a child’s day. That’s a pretty cool job perk.

Ready to become a substitute teacher? Apply now and be in the classroom as soon as next week.  
Substitute Teacher Tips for the First Day [Checklist]

Substitute Teacher Tips for the First Day [Checklist]

Your first day as a substitute teacher can be exciting. You want to walk away feeling overjoyed…not overwhelmed. So we have put together a checklist of substitute teaching tips for your first day so you know what to expect.

Do your best to prepare beforehand, stay organized, and ask questions, and your first day in that new substitute teaching job will be a rewarding experience for you and your students.

Here is a helpful walk-through of how you can prepare for your first day. 

The Night Before

Dress appropriately and wear comfortable shoes

Each school has its own expectations for teacher dress code. Dressing business casual will help you play it safe and present yourself as a professional to school leaders, students, and families. You’ll be moving around the classroom throughout the day, so comfortable shoes and nonrestrictive outfits are a must! 

Some examples of business casual: 

  • Slacks or khakis 
  • Dress shirt or blouse
  • Open-collar or polo shirt 
  • Dress or skirt at knee length 
  • Knit shirt or sweater 
  • Blazer or jacket 
  • Comfortable, flat shoes 

Prepare a “substitute teacher bag” with back up materials

Substitute teachers should be prepared as much as possible with personal items and simple supplies. This will help you to stay comfortable and have a smooth day.  

Simple checklist for your substitute teacher bag:  

  • Pencils
  • Pens 
  • Notebook
  • Water bottle
  • Snacks (avoid common allergens like peanuts) 
  • Stickers 
  • Folder 
  • Hand sanitizer 
  • Tissues 
  • Photo ID 
  • Phone charger 
  • Sunglasses 
  • Clipboard 
  • Mask (if your school requires them as part of their COVID-19 safety protocol)
  • Small picture book (only if you have a favorite you already own!)

Pack a lunch

You likely won’t have time to leave the building for lunch, and you don’t want to go hungry during a busy day of teaching. Pack your lunch in an insulated bag in case you don’t have easy access to a fridge. Lunch schedules can be unpredictable, so bring extra snacks in case your class has an early or late lunch period.

Bring a water bottle

Staying hydrated is important, especially when you’re talking and moving around all day. While some schools may have vending machines or water fountains, it’s much easier to bring your own water bottle and have easy access throughout the day.

Avoid relying on additional technology

School equipment may vary, so do not rely on any specific devices or access to applications or websites (YouTube, for example). If you have a concern, check in with your supervisor beforehand to see if they have additional information on the school site.

Upon Arrival to the School

Locate restrooms and work areas when you arrive 

Your school should have separate restrooms, work, and break spaces for teachers (You finally get to go into the Teacher’s Lounge!) If these are not pointed out for you, make sure to ask your supervisor so you feel clear on where you should be throughout the day.

Turn your cell phone on silent

Staying hydrated is important, especially when you’re talking and moving around all day. While some schools may Keep yourself and your students focused by minimizing distractions. Calls, texts, or notifications can take away from the flow of your lesson, even when you don’t respond. Avoid using your phone unless it is part of an emergency protocol – this includes taking photos or videos of students at any time.

Post the learning objective on the board 

Most lesson plans will state the objective. Take a few minutes before students arrive to post this objective on the board or somewhere in the room clearly for students to see. 

Many teachers have a designated place for their objectives. If you’re not sure where that is, find your own space on the board to display it clearly.

During the Day

Greet students at the door 

As a substitute teacher, you may be a new face for the students. Set a warm, positive tone by greeting them as they walk in the room. This gives you a chance to have a face-to-face interaction with each student, and kick off the day by building a relationship. These small interactions are powerful and can make a big difference in a child’s day. One of the best reasons to become a substitute teacher!

Circulate the room to ensure students stay engaged

Try to avoid standing or sitting in one place during lessons, especially if students are working independently or in groups. Circulating the room will help students stay on task and give them individualized support. It will also establish you as an engaging substitute teacher and strengthen your classroom management.

Do not leave student unattended for any reason

As a substitute teacher, you are responsible for the safety of your students. Therefore, students should never be alone without an adult in the room. Before the day starts, be clear on school protocols for any incidents or emergencies, and always get approval from an administrator.

Use positive, clean language

Substitute teachers should set a positive example for students. Keep your language clean – especially for younger students, who repeat everything! When in doubt, choose another word or phrase that feels more appropriate.

Provide frequent positive affirmations, celebrations, and words of encouragement

You should give students their personal space at all times. Rather than hugging or touching a student (even with good intent), find other ways to show you care! Some ideas for celebrations or positive affirmations: 

  • Use positive words (“I’m so proud of you!” or “You did a great job today!”) 
  • Leave a sticky note on their desk 
  • Use the reward system set up in their school 
  • GIve shout outs at the end of the day 
  • List students who had a great day in a note to the teacher
  • Lead a celebratory class cheer or chant 
  • Give students a special job (handing out papers, collecting homework, reading aloud, leading the line, etc.)

Wrapping up your first day as a substitute teacher

Leave a note for the teacher 

Provide the teacher with details about the day in a “while you were away” note. In the note, be clear about how the lessons went, progress that was made, where students might be behind, and any behavior issues that occurred and how they were resolved. 

Leave the room just as you found it

A classroom is a personal space for a teacher. Make sure you clean up after any activities and leave the room just as you found it that morning. This includes picking up trash, organizing desks or learning spaces, and rearranging furniture.

Share feedback with Kokua

After you’ve completed the day, drop a note to your Kokua Operations team about any wins, challenges, likes, and dislikes from your experience. Kokua is here for you every step of the way. We want to place you into substitute teaching assignments where you feel successful and energized, and will help you work through any challenges. Kokua wants to celebrate the wins and small moments with you too! 

Not a substitute teacher yet? Apply now to join the Kokua family of substitute teachers.