Substitute Teacher Career Guide

A substitute teacher is an on-call teacher who substitutes for a full-time teacher, usually for a short period of time. Substitute teachers can often choose to work on a part-time basis or accept longer-term openings that become available. This guide provides further information on what substitute teachers do, how to become a substitute teacher, and substitute teacher salary and job outlook.

Substitute Teacher Job Description

Substitute teacher positions require that an instructor carry out the tasks of the absent teacher for whom he/she is substituting. It is a temporary or long-term replacement of the full-time teacher who is absent. The substitute teacher is therefore responsible for delivering lessons based on the lesson plans outlined by the full-time teacher. In cases of unforeseen or extended absences, the substitute teacher may need to create lesson plans that meet the learning objectives of the class for which he or she is substituting. Depending on the school district’s procedures and the type of teacher absence that must be filled, substitute teachers may report to a classroom with as little as a few hours’ notice; for this reason, substitute teachers typically have a few lesson plans and activities for common subjects prepared “just in case.”

Substitute Teacher Requirements and Common Tasks

Substitute teacher requirements vary from state to state. School district, country and independent schools have varying requirements as well. Substitute teachers are expected to fulfill all the responsibilities of a regular teacher, in that they are required to teach scheduled classes, follow the full-time teacher’s lesson plans, attend staff meetings and address student concerns. Substitute teachers may also be responsible for non-classroom duties as stipulated by the school, such as writing reports, maintaining records of student progress and consulting with parents.

How to Become a Substitute Teacher

The standard qualification for substitute teachers in most states is a bachelor’s degree. Some states offer a special substitute teaching license, while others require a full teacher’s license. In some cases, a teaching license might not be required; checking with the state Board of Education is the best way to determine the requirements for a substitute teacher in your state. However, it’s worth noting that in some areas substitute teachers who hold state teaching certification may command a higher rate of pay.

The first step for those who hold a bachelor’s degree is to apply for the school district(s) in which the prospective substitute is interested in teaching. Most school districts maintain a list of approved substitute teachers who will be called when an opening becomes available. Note that absences that must be filled due to teacher illness can be on short notice; a substitute teacher may be called for availability the night before or the morning of an absence.

Substitute Teacher Salary and Job Outlook

Substitute teacher pay is usually based on a daily rate. However, a substitute teacher working full time may make a salary comparable to full-time, hired teachers depending on the school district. In addition, many school districts raise the per-day rate for substitute teachers who have worked more than thirty days in the previous calendar year. For comparison, the average annual salary of kindergarten and elementary school teachers is $53,090.1 The average annual salary of middle school teachers is $53,430 per year.2 High school teachers earn an average annual salary of $55,050.3

Benefits for substitute teachers can differ depending on the location of the school and the length of the assignment. Schools frequently require substitute teachers for both short-term emergency assignments and longer engagements. There are more substitute teacher jobs available at certain times of the year, such as shortly after spring break. Moreover, stints as a substitute teacher can sometimes lead to a permanent job in a school. While substitute teaching can be challenging, it is a great way to build one’s resume.

Helpful Skills and Experience

A substitute teacher who holds state teaching certification with endorsements in multiple subject areas will be a competitive choice for districts looking to fill teacher absences. Those who have completed teaching internships or practicums may also have an edge when an opening becomes available. Staying up to date with teaching practices and technologies is a good way to stay at the top of the list when school districts are looking for substitute teachers.

Additional Resources

The National Substitute Teachers Alliance provides information, resources, and support for new and working substitute teachers across the US.

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Frequently Asked Questions about Becoming a Substitute Teacher

Question: What are the substitute teacher requirements?

Answer: Requirements for being a substitute teacher vary by state and by individual district. Some states require that substitute teachers have a high school diploma or a college degree. Others have no requirements and leave it to individual districts to decide. As a general rule, however, a substitute teacher must pass a criminal background check.

Question: Do I need to live in a school district to substitute there?

Answer: While some school districts may consider residency when reviewing available substitutes, most school districts do not. Under most substitute agreements it is also up to the substitute to decide whether or not to accept an assignment.

Question: Are substitute teacher positions available in the summer months?

Answer: Summer substitute teacher openings may be available for school districts that operate year-round schools or summer schools. Substitute teachers might also look for teaching assistant positions in day cares and private schools for work during the summer months.

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics – Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/kindergarten-and-elementary-school-teachers.htm
2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics – Middle School Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/middle-school-teachers.htm
3. US Bureau of Labor Statistics – High School Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/high-school-teachers.htm