How To Become a Substitute Teacher

Updated June 30, 2023

If you enjoy working with students and want to inspire a love of learning in others, becoming a substitute teacher may be a fulfilling role for you. Substitute teachers enjoy flexible schedules without the responsibilities of full-time teaching.

In this article, we discuss what a substitute teacher does, how to become one and answer questions regarding this job opportunity.

Key takeaways:

  • Substitute teachers are educators who supervise and continue a permanent teacher's lesson plan for students when the regular teacher is absent or on short-term leave.

  • The requirements to become a substitute teacher may vary depending on the state, but many individuals in this role have a high school diploma or GED, and some obtain their bachelor's degree or have some college credit hours.

  • Many states, like Ohio and Illinois, require aspiring substitute teachers to complete an exam to obtain a license, permit or certificate to work with and supervise students of all ages.

What does a substitute teacher do?

A substitute teacher is an educator who leads a class in place of a permanent teacher when they are absent or on short-term leave. These professionals serve an important role in monitoring students and following lesson plans to ensure the learning process continues in the teacher's absence.

Substitute teachers can work with a variety of different age groups, from elementary to high school, and many specialize in certain areas, such as science, social studies or technology. The grade level, the class's subject and how long the substitute serves in a given class may impact their job duties.

Some specific duties include:

  • Supervising students in class as well as during lunch, recess, study hall and detention periods

  • Following lesson plans from the teacher

  • Leading lessons using textbooks, presentations and other learning materials

  • Assigning and collecting homework, and keeping the assignments organized for when the teacher returns

  • Proctoring quizzes and exams

  • Promoting good behavior and in-class engagement

  • Collaborating with assistant teachers, lead teachers and school administration to ensure students are safe

Related: How To Become a Teacher

Average salary for substitute teachers

Salaries for substitute teachers primarily depend on the school district they work in, as well as their geographical location. Some substitute teachers may earn higher salaries for their level of education and years of relevant experience. For the most up-to-date information from Indeed, please click on the salary link below. The average salary in the U.S. is $10.53 per hour.

How to become a substitute teacher

In some states, substitute teachers are required to have a bachelor’s degree, along with other specialized licenses or certifications, as well. Here are the common steps to becoming a substitute teacher:

  1. Review your state's requirements.

  2. Earn a bachelor's degree, if required.

  3. Gain relevant experience.

  4. Receive state licensure or certification, if required.

1. Review your state's requirements

Each state sets the requirements for becoming a substitute teacher. Some states require candidates to have at least a high school diploma or GED, though many districts in that state may have a preference for candidates with higher education. Many states require an associate’s degree or a bachelor's degree in any discipline. Additional requirements may include:

  • Background check: State boards of education and school districts may run background checks and do fingerprinting on applicants to verify identity and review for any criminal history.

  • Physical exam: Some states and districts may also require applicants to complete a physical exam to ensure they are healthy and have up-to-date vaccination records per the state board's health requirements.

  • Professional references: This step involves contacting previous employers, coworkers and other references to verify employment and inquire about a candidate's work ethic, accomplishments, capabilities and personality. It may be done during the licensure process or the application process with a district.

  • Safety training: Some states and districts require candidates to complete training, such as CPR and first aid, as well as training for other health and safety circumstances to ensure candidates are well-prepared for the classroom.

Other requirements may depend on the specific school district involved. Be sure to check with your state's board of education to identify what the minimum requirements are to be eligible as a substitute teacher. You can check your state’s requirements on Stedi.

2. Earn a bachelor's degree

Several states require substitute teachers to have a bachelor's degree or a minimum number of college credit hours, but some also offer waivers to get around this requirement.

Also, those that work in long-term substitute roles, which are positions where the substitute works for a certain number of consecutive days, may be required to have a degree or credit hours completed in the subject in which they plan to teach. For example, a candidate with a biology degree may be eligible to teach science classes or a candidate with a degree in English literature may excel at leading language arts or English classes.

3. Gain relevant experience

Some states or school districts may require candidates to have previous teaching, tutoring or other professional childcare experience. Those with degrees in education may earn experience in the form of student teaching hours, an internship or teaching observation hours.

Some candidates may pursue experience in tutoring, either professionally, as a student or in a volunteer role. Work in a daycare center, after-school program or preschool may also suffice.
If a state or school district does not require teaching or related experience, roles that require organization, people management, communication, public speaking and/or training skills may also help aspiring substitute teachers secure employment.

4. Receive state licensure or certification, if required

After earning the necessary education and completing the additional state requirements, candidates may need to complete specialized training or an exam as part of their eligibility process. Some states, such as Ohio and Illinois, require a specialized permit, license or certification.

  • Training: Some states and districts offer an orientation program that provides instruction on classroom management and leading lessons. This program helps ensure all substitutes are prepared for the classroom and that education remains of high quality for students.

  • Examination: Other states may require candidates to take an exam that assesses their knowledge of classroom management, pedagogy, instruction techniques and other topics. Some candidates may take an exam like this after completing a substitute teacher orientation/training program.

When candidates meet the basic requirements, including any necessary training and exam qualifications, they may be awarded a specialized license, permit or certification to serve as a substitute teacher in that state. Also, many states accept a valid teaching license from those who want to work as substitute teachers.

Related: How To Answer “What Is Your Teaching Philosophy?”

FAQ about becoming a substitute teacher

Here are some commonly asked questions about becoming a substitute teacher to help you learn more:

What skills are necessary for a substitute teacher?

Substitute teachers should excel in the following skills to be effective in the classroom:

  • Communication: Substitute teachers must be able to effectively communicate with students of all ages, including being able to speak in front of classes. They should also be able to collaborate with other teaching professionals and school administration to ensure students are engaged and safe.

  • Leadership: They should have the confidence to lead a lesson, engage the students and motivate them to complete assigned work. They should also have strong conflict-resolution skills to help manage student interactions.

  • Adaptable: Substitute teachers are required to come into a classroom with already established rules and where students have developed a rapport with their teacher. These professionals should be comfortable picking up where the teacher left off, following their instructions and trying activities that keep students focused.

  • Organization: Substitute teachers can help a permanent teacher by collecting all assignments and filing them correctly for the teacher to easily be able to find them when they return.

  • Time management: Most schools organize the day in periods where students focus on a subject for a set amount of time—often between 30 to 75 minutes, depending on the grade level or school. Some schools operate on block schedules meaning classes only meet on alternating days, also known as an A/B schedule. Substitute teachers must be able to deliver the lesson plan for each period, keep track of assignments, and may also need to adjust to a changing schedule of students.

  • Computer literacy: Many substitute teachers will be required to use technology in the classroom, including computers, smart boards and similar things. Being comfortable with technology, as well as having basic troubleshooting skills, can assist substitute teachers on the job.

What are the work hours for a substitute teacher?

Many people enjoy substitute teaching because of the flexible schedule. On the days they’re scheduled to sub, they work the same hours as teachers, which may vary but usually follow a 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. schedule. Some substitute teachers may work during the summer if the school district holds summer school and a permanent teacher needs a replacement.

Since substitute teachers are typically on-call employees, they may also work intermittently throughout a week, quarter or school year depending on the district's needs. Some substitute teachers work for a few school districts to find more steady opportunities.

What qualifications do substitute teaching experience add to my resume?

If you’re pursuing a career as a full-time educator, having substitute teaching experience can provide you with practical classroom experience that complements your degree as well as your observation and teaching practicum hours. You may consider using substitute teaching experience to demonstrate your abilities in the classroom, such as behavior management, collaboration with other teachers, and lesson presentations.

Those who pursue substitute teaching but are not planning to become full-time teachers can use substitute teaching experience to demonstrate transferable skills, such as adaptability, time management and leadership skills. This experience can assist professionals on a variety of career paths and at various stages of their career development.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.


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