Substitute Teacher Career Guide

A substitute teacher is an on-call teacher who substitutes for a full-time teacher when they are ill, taking vacation or maternity leave, or will be absent for other reasons. 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 one, and substitute teacher salaries and job outlooks.

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 for the full-time teacher who is absent. The substitute teacher is therefore responsible for delivering lessons based on the lesson plans and accompanying assignments 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.

Many districts publish available substitute teaching positions on an online portal through which subs can select positions that meet their needs. Smaller districts, as well as private or charter schools, typically text or email subs when opportunities arise. This may be 30 minutes before school starts or even in the middle of the school day. For this reason, being responsive and immediately available is a key strength for a substitute teacher. Schools will take note of responsive subs and be more likely to call them back for future opportunities.

Since subs may be called to work with only a few hours of notice and potentially very little information about lesson plans, substitute teachers typically have a few lesson plans and activities for common subjects already prepared and have good improvisation skills.

Substitute Teacher Requirements and Common Tasks

Substitute teacher requirements vary from state to state, and school districts have varying requirements as well. Some states do not regulate substitute teachers at all and leave it up to the individual school district to determine the requirements.

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 (if in a long-term sub position), attend staff meetings, and address student concerns. Substitute teachers may also be responsible for non-classroom duties as necessary, such as handling lunch or recess duties, maintaining records of student progress, and consulting with parents.

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 another good way to stay at the top of the list when school districts are looking for substitute teachers.

How to Become a Substitute Teacher

The standard qualification for substitute teachers in most cases is a bachelor’s degree. Some state boards of education offer a special substitute teaching license, either before beginning work or after subbing for a certain number of days, while others leave it up to individual school districts to decide. In some districts, certification might not be required and in others, full teacher certification may be required. Checking with the schools in your area and consulting your state board of education is the best way to determine the requirements for a substitute teacher in schools near you. In addition, some states offer emergency substitute teaching certificates for situations in which schools do not have enough subs to call on in their regular pool; as such, emergency subs often have less stringent requirements than regular substitutes. These emergency certificates are usually valid for one to two years and may have limitations on the number of days subs can work in a year. For example, in California, emergency substitute teaching permits are good for one year and limit subs to teaching 30 days during that year. Arizona emergency sub certificates are good for two years and holders are limited to 120 days of substitute teaching in the same school per school year. Keeping in mind that the process can vary greatly, the typical path to a substitute teaching career in a K-12 public school is as follows:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree.
  2. Apply for a substitute teaching license, if required in your state.
  3. Take the tests required for substitute teacher licensure, if necessary.
  4. Once you are licensed, apply to your local school district’s substitute teacher pool.
  5. Complete any hiring requirements for substitutes outlined by the district(s) you apply to.
  6. Begin accepting assignments as a substitute teacher.

Most school districts maintain a list of approved substitute teachers who will be called when an opening becomes available. It is also worth noting that in many areas, substitute teachers who hold regular state teaching certification command a higher rate of pay. Those who hold a regular teaching certificate will also be better positioned to accept long-term assignments since conditionally licensed substitutes are frequently limited in the number of days they are allowed to work.

Substitute Teaching Requirements by State

The sortable table below shows substitute teacher requirements and information by state, including which states offer regular substitute teaching certificates, emergency substitute teaching certificates, the minimum degree level required at the state level, and other important information. Even in states that only require subs to have a high school diploma or GED or have no state-wide educational requirements, it is quite possible that school districts require a college degree. With this in mind, it is important to check with the schools in your area to find out their requirements for prospective substitute teachers to make sure you qualify. Most states require a background check and fingerprinting for public school substitutes since they will be working with children. Also, many states allow current and/or retired certified teachers to substitute teach with no additional certification. Finally, we have included average annual salary information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, you should know that outside of the largest school districts, such as Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City, there are few full-time or full-time equivalent positions for substitute teachers; as a result, salaries tend to reflect the part-time nature of this work.

StateSubstitute License/Cert. Offered?Min Education RequiredAdditional RequirementsEmergency Sub Cert.? (Min. Education)Service Limit (Cert type)Avg Annual Salary
AlabamaYesHS/GEDNeg TB test$18,840
AlaskaHS/GEDShort-term: no license req’d;
Long-term: need teaching cert
120 days$50,200
ArizonaYesBachelor’sSet by employing school districtYes (HS/GED)120 days$34,680
ArkansasHS/GEDLong-term (>30 days in the same class) must have bachelor’s$29,690
CaliforniaYesBachelor’sAll: pass basic skills exam;
Short-term: need specific college credits or pass exam;
Long-term: need 45 hrs district training;
Emergency subs: no bachelor’s if enrolled w/ >90 creds
Yes (bachelor’s)Short-term: 30 days (20 if SPED);
Long-term: 120 days
ColoradoYesHS/GEDHS/GED for 1-year permit; bachelor’s for 3- and 5-year permitsN.Av.
ConnecticutYesBachelor’sShort-term: districts can request waiver of bachelor’s req;
Long-term (>40 cons. days): need authorization & bachelor’s w/spec. coursework
Short-term: 40 days$46,770
Delaware60 credit hoursNo permit issued, but bachelor’s degree typically req’d$33,740
FloridaHS/GEDSome counties issue sub certificates; add’l reqs may apply for long-term (>10 days same class)$40,870
GeorgiaHS/GED4 hours training45 consec. days;
HS/GED: 10 consec. days
HawaiiBachelor’sTB test; Substitute Teacher course or teacher training$47,940
IdahoSet by employing school district$32,910
IllinoisYesAssociateShort-term: valid one year, no renewal, district training req’d;
5-year: bachelor’s req’d
Short-term: 5 consec. days$42,390
IndianaYesHS/GEDPermit requested by hiring district & limited to requesting district$31,910
IowaYes60 credit hoursShort-term: associate/60 credit hours req’d;
Long-term: bachelor’s degree & teacher prep req’d
Short-term: 10 consec. days;
Long-term: 90 consec. days
KansasYesBachelor’sBachelor’s & teacher prep req’d for non-emergency licenseYes (associate)Emergency: 45 consec. days;
Long-term: 140 consec. days
KentuckyYesBachelor’sNon-emergency substitute license: bachelor’s & teacher prep req’d;
Emergency: bachelor’s degree w/GPA per credit hour minimum; app through hiring district
Yes (bachelor’s degree)$20,880
LouisianaTeaching Authorization initiated by the hiring district$35,520
MaineSet by employing school district$30,650
MarylandSet by employing school district$42,820
MassachusettsShort-term: license not req’d;
Long-term: Emergency license req’d, bachelor’s req’d
Yes (bachelor’s degree)Short-term: 90 consec. days$39,830
Michigan60 credit hoursPermits district-based, not portable; education and experience req’d variesShort-term: 90 consec. days$39,410
MinnesotaYesBachelor’sCTE: Substitute education/experience for bachelor’s;
Long-term: limited to ret’d teachers
Short-term: 15 consec. days$40,870
MississippiSet by employing school district$20,780
MissouriYesVariesHS/GED: 36 credit hours + sub training unless bachelor’s;
CTE: reqs vary
MontanaHS/GED3 hours training35 consec. days$24,480
NebraskaYes60 credit hoursShort-term: human relations training + district hiring letter;
Long-term: bachelor’s + teacher prep + out-of-state cert
Short-term: 90 days total$41,490
NevadaYes60 credit hoursLong-term (>60 days): regular teaching certYes (HS/GED); only in districts with fewer than 9,000 students totalN.Av.
New HampshireSet by employing school district20 consec. days$33,840
New JerseyYes60 credit hoursAll: Must have school sponsor; current students may apply with 30 credit hours; 20-day limit may be extended depending on credentials w/state approval;
CTE: reqs vary
20 consec. days$30,650
New MexicoYesHS/GEDTraining module req’d$30,670
New YorkState does not issue substitute permits;
New York City, NYCDOE-issued license req’d
90 days total$39,660
North CarolinaSet by employing school district$25,910
North DakotaYesHS/GEDFrontline substitute training (waived if >48 college credits)30 consec. days (if no bachelor’s)$41,070
OhioYes60 credit hoursReqs vary based on education and college majorYes (HS/GED)Varies by license$37,690
OklahomaSet by employing school district$30,030
OregonYesBachelor’sRestricted: bachelor’s;
Sub Teaching License: bachelor’s + teacher prep + provisional license
Yes (varies)Restricted: 60 days total$52,180
PennsylvaniaYesBachelor’sRegular: teaching certificate (PA or other);
Emergency: bachelor’s
Yes (bachelor’s)$34,790
Rhode IslandBachelor’sSet by employing school district$39,050
South CarolinaAssociate + ETS ParaPro Assessment; other reqs set by district$31,420
South DakotaSet by employing school district45 consec. days (non-certificated)$29,850
TennesseeHS/GEDSkills test or equiv; other reqs set by employing school district$24,370
TexasSet by employing school district$31,710
UtahSet by employing school district$24,390
VermontSet by employing school district$31,150
VirginiaHS/GED2 years full-time postsecondary education or 2 years work exp. w/children90 consec. daysN.Av.
WashingtonYesBachelor’sAll: completed teacher prep programYes (bachelor’s)$44,230
Washington DCBachelor’sAssociate may be sub’d for bachelor’s w/1+ years classroom exp. or for ret’d teachers$35,850
West VirginiaYesBachelor’sAll: teacher training or equiv education/exp.;
Short-term/restricted: may be approved w/associate
Short-term: 10-30 consec. days$42,970
WisconsinYes60 credit hoursShort-term: training course req’d;
Long-term: regular teaching cert
Short-term: 45 consec. days$43,270
WyomingYesHS/GEDAll: pass US and Wyoming Constitution exams;
HS/GED: in-service training req’d (waived w/associate)

Substitute Teacher Salary and Job Outlook

Substitute teacher pay is usually based on a daily rate. According to the most recent data from National Substitute Teachers Alliance (NSTA), the current day rate for substitute teachers ranges between $20 and $190 for a full day, with the national average being $105 for a full day.1 There are cases in which a substitute teacher working full-time may earn a salary comparable to full-time teachers, depending on the school district. This is because, in a long-term position, the substitute is responsible for all facets of the teaching role, not just executing a set curriculum during classroom hours. In addition, many school districts raise the per-day rate for substitute teachers who have worked more than 30 days in the previous calendar year.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that short-term substitute teachers in the US earn an average annual salary of $38,410 per year, as of May 2021.2 Substitute teachers in Oregon reportedly earn the highest average salary ($52,180) of any US state, followed by Alaska ($50,200), Hawaii ($47,940), Connecticut ($46,770), and California ($44,610).2

Benefits for substitute teachers can differ depending on the school and the length of the assignment. However, benefits for substitutes tend to be much lower than those of regular educators and may be absent altogether. Schools frequently require substitute teachers for both short-term emergency assignments and longer engagements. Moreover, stints as a substitute teacher can sometimes lead to a permanent job in a school. While substitute teaching can be challenging, it can be a good way to build one’s resume and fill gaps in employment.

Additional Resources

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: What are the minimum substitute teacher requirements?

Answer: Requirements for being a substitute teacher vary by state and by school district. Most states require substitute teachers to have some college or a college degree. Others have less stringent requirements or allow individual school districts to set requirements for substitute teachers. As a general rule, however, a substitute teacher must pass a criminal background check and have at least some college experience.

Question: Do you need a bachelor’s degree to be a substitute teacher?

Answer: The education required for substitute teachers varies from state to state and even district to district. However, a bachelor’s degree is considered the standard entry-level requirement in most areas, particularly when long-term teaching assignments are included. Even in areas where a high school diploma or GED is the minimum education requirement, teachers with bachelor’s degrees are commonly paid at a higher rate. Be sure to verify the requirements specific to your area by checking local school district hiring portals. You can also get started with our job board.

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. Additionally, under most substitute agreements it is 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 and/or summer schools. Substitute teachers might also look for teaching assistant positions in daycares and private schools for work during the summer months.

Question: How much do substitute teachers make?

Answer: Substitute teachers usually earn a flat per-day rate, but this varies widely by state and school district. According to NSTA, the average day rate for substitutes is $105/day.4 According to the BLS, short-term substitute teachers earn an average annual salary of $38,410, with the lower 10% earning $22,270 on average and the top 10% earning $50,560.2

1. National Substitute Teachers Alliance (NSTA): https://www.nstasubs.org/
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021, Substitute Teachers, Short-Term: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes253031.htm