How to Become a Substitute Teacher

how to become a substitute teacher

Interested in becoming a substitute teacher but need help figuring out where to start? You’ve come to the right place! In this article, we’ll discuss what substitute teachers do, how to become a substitute teacher, and how much money substitute teachers make. We’ll also cover topics such as how long it takes to become a substitute teacher and the benefits of substitute teaching.

What is a substitute teacher?

A substitute teacher is an educator who teaches students and manages classroom behavior when a full-time teacher is absent from work. Substitute teachers can work in public, private, charter, or specialized schools such as fine arts or STEAM academies.

Types of substitute teachers

Substitute teachers can work in elementary, middle, or high schools. They can substitute for teachers of academic subjects or specialized subjects such as music, art, or PE.

Many substitute teachers take on short-term positions daily, such as when a teacher is absent for illness or personal days. Occasionally, long-term substitute positions are available, such as when a teacher is on maternity or long-term medical leave.

What does a substitute teacher do?

Substitute teachers follow lesson plans and daily procedures outlined by the teacher. They are responsible for managing classroom behavior, teaching lessons on various topics, assisting students as needed, and following school policies and procedures. Most substitute teachers also leave notes for the teacher with an overview of the day, including student behavior, lessons that were taught, and any concerns that arose.

Long-term substitutes (such as when a teacher is out on maternity or medical leave) typically have additional responsibilities such as grading assignments, maintaining communication with parents, and attending meetings with other school staff.

How to Become a substitute teacher

The path to becoming a substitute teacher varies widely across different states and sometimes even differs from one school district to another. Education requirements range from a high school diploma to a bachelor’s degree. Check your state’s Department of Education website or your school district’s employment website for specific requirements.

While the specific requirements vary based from one state or district to another, plan on taking the following steps to become a substitute in your area:

Complete the education requirements for your state

Different states and districts require varying levels of education for their substitutes. Some states, such as California, require bachelor’s degrees for substitute teachers. In other states, such as Florida, you’ll need a minimum of a high school diploma to become a substitute. Texas substitute teachers must have completed at least 60 hours of college coursework. Some states, such as Colorado and Connecticut, require experience working with children if you have less than a bachelor’s degree.

In almost all states, the requirements to be a substitute vary from one school district to another. For example, Georgia’s minimum state requirement for substitutes in Georgia is a high school diploma or GED. However, many school districts require a certain amount of college coursework or a bachelor’s degree.

Most school districts also have higher education requirements for long-term subs who will be in the same classroom for several weeks. Long-term subs are often required to have at least a bachelor’s degree and may be required to have a valid teaching certificate.

Obtain any necessary certifications.

Some states require that substitute teachers pass specific certification exams, such as the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST). Check your state’s Department of Education website to see if you need any specific certifications.

Some school districts may require that their substitutes be certified teachers, although this is more common for long-term subs who will be in the same classroom for several weeks. If so, you must complete an approved educator preparation program and take the required teacher certification exams. Many test takers are surprised at the difficulty level of these exams. Don’t make the mistake of assuming your certification exams will be easy! Be sure to use study guides, practice tests, and other free resources to familiarize yourself with the exam format, content, and style of questions.

Looking for an educator preparation program in Texas? 240 Certification has a high-quality, state-approved alternative certification program that can be completed in 12-18 months!

Apply to be a substitute teacher.

Once you have completed the education requirements and passed any required certification exams, it’s time to start applying for jobs! One of the best places to look for substitute teaching jobs is on each district’s employment website, but you can also find job listings on sites such as Indeed, SchoolSpring, or ZipRecruiter.

Most schools or districts accept applications for substitute teachers year-round and conduct substitute training regularly throughout the school year, so don’t assume you need to wait until the beginning of the school year to apply!

Complete a background check and any district- or school-specific training

All substitute teachers must complete a background check, typically involving paperwork, a small fee, and fingerprinting. The school or district that hires you will instruct you on how to do this.

Many schools or districts have specific training that their substitutes must complete before working in a school. This training typically takes 1-2 days and often covers policies and procedures, best practices for teaching, and the responsibilities of substitute teachers.

Helpful Skills for Substitute Teachers

Successful substitute teachers have strengths in many of the following areas:

  • Confidence. Substitute teaching can sometimes feel like you are starting a brand new job every day. Confidence is key for substitute teachers entering a new classroom and meeting new students.
  • Patience. Patience is crucial for teachers of any subject or grade level, but especially for substitute teachers. Working with children can be challenging, especially when you are not their regular teacher, but patience and understanding can help make substitute teaching an enjoyable and rewarding role.
  • Flexibility. Different teachers have different teaching styles, rules, and procedures that you’ll need to be able to adjust to each day. If you’re subbing at different schools, you must adapt to several school policies and procedures. Being flexible and willing to adapt to different scenarios is an important quality for substitute teachers.
  • Passion for teaching. Even though substitute teachers are not responsible for planning lessons, they must still implement the lessons and activities engagingly and excitingly. Students will appreciate your enthusiasm and passion for teaching and learning. 

Common career paths for substitute teachers

Many substitute teachers go on to become paraprofessionals or certified teachers. Your experience as a substitute can improve your chances of being hired in these roles when the time comes, so be sure to substitute regularly in the school or district where you wish to be employed full-time.

When it comes time to take certification exams for these roles, 240 Tutoring has you covered! We have study guides and practice exams for many teacher certification and paraprofessional exams.

Substitute teacher salary and job outlook

Substitute teachers are typically paid an hourly or daily rate. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly wage for short-term substitute teachers is $17.59 at the elementary and secondary levels. However, in California, substitute teachers make an average of $20.35 per hour, while substitutes in Montana make about $10.82 per hour.

Substitute teacher pay may also vary based on your education, certification status, and subbing assignment. Many school districts have a slightly higher hourly rate for substitutes who are certified teachers, have a bachelor’s degree, or take on long-term subbing positions when a teacher is out for an extended period of time.

Substitute teachers are in high demand across all states right now. According to the Monthly Labor Review from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, substitute teacher shortages have caused up to twenty percent of substitute requests to go unfilled! If you’ve considered becoming a substitute, now is the time to do it!

Substitute teacher FAQs

How long does it take to become a substitute teacher?

This will vary based on your state or district’s education and certification requirements.

Suppose you already meet the education and certification requirements to be a substitute teacher in your area. In that case, the overall process of application, background check completion, and new-hire training will likely take less than a month.

The process will take longer if you must complete additional education or obtain certifications. Obtaining 60 hours of college coursework will likely take at least two years, and getting a bachelor’s degree will take at least four years. Studying for and taking certification exams can take anywhere from one to six months, depending on how much you need to study and how frequently exams are administered in your area.

What is the salary range for substitute teachers?

Most substitute teachers are paid at a daily or hourly rate. This rate varies significantly from one area to another and can range from about $8.35 per hour to $42.13 per hour! On top of this wide gap, some school districts have slightly higher pay rates for substitutes who are certified teachers or for those who take on long-term subbing positions. All of these factors lead to much variation among substitutes’ income. The good news is that substitute pay scales can usually be found on a school district’s website, making it easy to decide which jobs meet your income requirements.

Your total income will also depend on how often you take substitute jobs. Some substitute teachers only work one or two days per week, while others work nearly daily. Be proactive about finding and taking on open substitute positions when you can!

What are the benefits of substitute teaching?

Substitute teaching offers more flexibility than full-time teaching positions. In most cases, substitute teachers can decide which days of the week they want to work, what grades they want to work in, and which schools they want to sub at. This flexibility allows substitute teachers to work part-time while attending school or at another job. Keep in mind, however, that it’s essential to take on substitute positions regularly, especially if you hope to obtain a full-time position later. Most substitute teachers work at least two to three days per week, and some work each day.

In addition to offering flexibility, substitute teaching provides valuable experience and networking opportunities. You’ll get hands-on experience in various grade levels and subjects as a sub. And the more often you sub, the more connections you’ll make. As teachers and administrators become more familiar with you, they’ll be more likely to contact you if a long-term subbing or full-time teaching position becomes available.

Can I become a substitute teacher without a college degree?

In most states, yes! The only states that require all substitutes to have a bachelor’s degree are California and Kansas (aside from emergency substitutes). Many other states require a certain amount of college coursework, while others require a high school diploma. Remember that even if your state does not require a bachelor’s degree, the school district you want to work for might! Always check your school district’s website for up-to-date requirements.

Even if you do have to have a bachelor’s degree in your state or district, chances are that this degree does not have to be in education or another specific subject. In most cases, a bachelor’s degree in any area is the only education requirement.

Do I need a teacher certification to be a substitute teacher?

Generally speaking, no. Most states do not require their substitutes to be certified teachers, although several states require you to be certified to take on long-term substitute positions. Long-term positions are often defined as teaching for more than 19 days in the same classroom during one school year, but this varies from state to state.

While a teaching certificate is usually not required to be a substitute teacher, many school districts have higher pay scales for substitutes who are certified teachers, so this is certainly worth looking into!

Interested in teaching a specific subject? Check out these additional articles:
How to Become an Art Teacher
How to Become a History Teacher
How to Become an English Teacher
How to Become a Physical Education Teacher
How to Become a Math Teacher
How to Become a Science Teacher
How to Become a Music Teacher
How to Become an Elementary Education Teacher