How to Become a Substitute Teacher

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Substitute teaching is a bit like being a stand up comic with a new audience every day. Anonymous
Teacher works with elementary students

A substitute teacher serves in the place of a teacher who is unable to perform his or her duties due to an absence. A substitute teacher may be called in for any teaching position within a school. The job may last for a day, a week or an entire year.

The goal of the short-term subbing teacher is to continue with the lessons of the full-time teacher. Being a substitute means you must continue all duties of the teacher if possible. This could include lunch or recess duty, bus duty, giving and grading assignments, handling discipline and keeping order within the classroom while teaching the provided assignment.

Substitute teachers must be prepared to teach any class at a moment's notice. Being a substitute teacher can be a daily adventure into the unknown.

Anyone certified to teach can also be a substitute teacher. However usually, a substitute could simply have a four-year degree in any area.

Qualities of a Substitute Teacher

Keep in mind that substitute teaching is not simply walking into a classroom and showing a movie, as some may believe. A good substitute teacher will arrive prepared in case no lessons have been left behind and is flexible and authoritative.

Substitute teachers are in a unique position in which they may only see a student for a single hour, but must remain in control of the class as if it is a daily job.

A substitute must have a sense of humor yet be able to control a classroom full of children without being threatening. A substitute should also be thick skinned, as the students are often much tougher on substitute teachers than a daily teacher.

A good substitute will also leave a note for the returning teacher on what assignments were completed and a few positives about the day, include a name and number if you wish to be called back.

Tips for Substitute Teachers

As mentioned, a substitute teacher is required to perform all the daily tasks of the regular education teacher. This means that you should find what tasks are required early and attend any assigned duty. This typically means simply keeping basic order as full time teachers are aware you do not know the routine.

You should also be flexible enough to be lost in a new school and fearless enough to ask directions or advice.

Take control of your day early on and remember that if it is completely unbearable, this is a classroom you can avoid in the future. However, the best way to get rehired in substitute teaching is to leave the room orderly, assignments graded and a business card with your name and number.

Substitute Teaching Job Opportunities

Being a substitute teacher may not be a first choice after receiving a teaching degree. However, being a substitute can put you on the path to being hired at a school that would not have considered a new teacher otherwise.

Subbing provides an opportunity for teacher candidates to show that they are capable and a team player. This could get you noticed as a potential teacher when a full-time job or long-term substitute position opens.

Substitute teaching can also offer a steady source of income while searching for a full-time job. If you have multiple certifications, substitute teaching will allow you to decide which grade level or subject area you most enjoy.

Statistically, substitute teachers are always needed. Teachers everywhere need to take days on occasion. With that said, substitutes will frequently have the opportunity to work.

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What are the Requirements for Becoming a Substitute Teacher?

To be considered as a subbing teacher, one should have a bachelor's degree at a minimum, which usually can be in any area or subject. The education requirements for substitute teaching differ than those of a licensed teacher, because substitute teachers are not required to complete an education degree or a teacher education program.

The minimum requirement for a substitute teacher is a bachelor's degree.

How to Become a Substitute Teacher

In most states, a substitute will have to pass a basic skills proficiency exam. This exam assesses basic math, reading and writing skills. Scores for proficiency exams vary by state so you must pass with a score in the state in which you serve as a subbing teacher, not where you attended college.

What Does a Substitute Teacher Do?

A substitute teacher takes the place of the regular teacher for a period of time.

Substitute Teaching Job Duties

All substitutes could be required to complete basic duties such as:

  • Making announcements
  • Taking attendance
  • Monitoring lunch, recess, or bus duties
  • Following lesson plans
  • Teaching and keeping students safe throughout the day

Short-term substitutes do not typically attend meetings, enter grades or make calls to parents, but a long-term substitute may be required to perform all duties of a full-time teacher.

Long-Term Substitute Teaching

A long-term substitute teacher can work in the same school in the same classroom for an entire school year if needed. This job may end in a year or lead to a full-time position.

Long term substitutes are often needed for a teacher who has fallen seriously ill and cannot return mid-year or when an unusually high number of students are enrolled in a certain grade for a year. In many cases, long term substitute teachers are needed when female teachers need to take maternity leave.

Long-term substitutes may even be eligible for health benefits through the district.

Substitute Teaching Jobs & Job Description

From time to time, classroom teachers require time away from the school, leaving the school to fill a gap in care for students under their guardianship.

Common practice across North America is for schools or individual teachers to draw from a pool of already-certified teacher candidates who enjoy guest-teaching on occasional basis, or who are looking to bolster their resume in hope of becoming a full-time teacher. Jobs do vary from district to district, but at the elementary or high school level, high school teachers:

  • Arrive early enough to be posted for before-school duties (i.e. bus duty, yard supervision) that they may be required to cover
  • Report to school office prior to start of school day to touch base with administration and gather required materials and class schedule; return after the day is over to return materials
  • Enforce and promotes a classroom environment that is conducive to learning and is appropriate to the grade level and interests of the students
  • Guide the learning process toward the achievement of daily lesson plan goals as well as curriculum goals and objectives as indicated in the lesson plans
  • Attempt to adhere to the broader scope and intent of the lessons, units, or projects assigned
  • Record attendance in accordance with school and district procedures
  • Ensure that students are never left unattended in the classroom or in the yard
  • Perform duties usually required of absent teacher such as lunchroom duty, hall monitoring, etc. at principal's direction
  • Collect and relay information about students and staff with utmost regard to confidentiality
  • Negotiate and influence students well within the confines of the classroom dynamic

Certified substitute teachers have a number of employment avenues open to them in various aspects of the school environment. Keep reading to learn more.

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Where Can Certified Substitute Teachers Work?

A substitute teacher can work in any public, private or charter school. In addition, many substitute teachers also serve as tutors or teach online classes.

Substitute teaching is different from teaching, in that tenure is not gained from being a subbing teacher, nor is there a guarantee for work each day.

Substitute teachers are needed at all levels Pre-K through high school and in all subject areas and specialties.

Public Schools

Many substitute teachers will begin work in a public school. A public school is free to attend for all students. The curriculum is controlled by the county, though teachers typically design the specific way in which the information is shared.

To become a substitute teacher in a particular area, visit the board of education for that district to fill out an application. Some areas allow teachers to call substitute teachers of their choice while others use an automated calling list. Some areas use a combination of both.

Private Schools

Other substitutes may wish to become involved with a private school. Private schools require tuition for students to attend. The curriculum is often chosen by the school, but students must meet all state standards. Private schools may also have a religious affiliation and require substitutes to be part of the denomination or in the least understand and adhere to the principles of the school.

Charter Schools

Charter schools also guide the curriculum independently, but are held at a higher standards because of the choice to be a charter school.

Charter schools could be selective in choosing students and the same holds true for teachers and substitute teachers.

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Substitute Teacher Organization

NSTA - National Substitute Teachers Alliance: The NSTA's mission is to promote dignity and respect for substitute teachers who provide educational continuity for our nation's students.

What is the Salary of a Substitute Teacher?

Substitute teachers usually make a daily wage that, at full-time hours, amounts to an average of $31,510 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2019 data. The amount depends on the school or district. However, most substitute teachers do not have a consistent schedule and do not work full-time.

Substitute teachers are able to work for both the public and private schools in a given area as most are not on contract.

Substitute teachers can earn benefits (health/retirement) when a certain number of hours are worked.

(Salary data for substitute teachers reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in May 2019. Figures represent state data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Information accessed March 2021.)

Salary (2019) and Job Outlook ( to ) by State

According to the published BLS data from 2019, the national average salary for Substitute Teachers is -, with an estimated - being employed nationwide. Also, the job outlook growth projection from to is expected to increase by 0%.

StateEmployedAvg Salary
New Hampshire3,240$22,790
New Jersey23,640$28,970
New Mexico4,550$20,150
New York47,510$36,060
North Carolina17,450$22,750
North Dakota--
Rhode Island1,820$28,630
South Carolina9,500$24,490
South Dakota790$27,770
Washington, DC350$27,990
West Virginia100$24,360

Data taken from BLS Occupational Employment Statistics ( for Substitute Teachers (SOC Code: 25-3098)

Salary (2019) By Largest Metropolitan Areas

AreaEmployedAvg Salary

Data taken from BLS Occupational Employment Statistics ( for Substitute Teachers (SOC Code: 25-3098)