Substitute Teacher Career Guide

A substitute teacher is an on-call teacher who fills in for a full-time teacher who is absent for illness or scheduled time away. This guide provides information on what substitute teachers do, how to become one, and substitute teacher salary and job outlook.

Table of Contents

How to Become
Job Description
State Requirements Table
Salary & Job Outlook
Additional Resources
Frequently Asked Questions
Related Pages

How to Become a Substitute Teacher

The standard qualification for substitute teachers is a bachelor’s degree. Some states offer a special substitute teaching license, while others leave it up to individual school districts to decide. Some districts require full teacher certification, but others do not. Many states allow current and retired certified teachers to substitute teach with no additional certification. 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 to traditional substitute teachers, emergency substitute teachers are used in some states to fill in when schools face a shortage of available substitutes from their usual pool. Emergency substitutes typically have less strict requirements compared to regular substitutes. 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 PK-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. Complete required background checks and registration requirements.
  5. Once you are licensed, apply to your local school district’s substitute teacher pool.
  6. Complete any hiring requirements for substitutes outlined by the district(s) you apply to.
  7. Begin accepting assignments as a substitute teacher.

Most school districts maintain a list of approved substitute teachers who will be called when needed. Those who hold a regular teaching certificate will 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 Teacher Job Description

A substitute teacher must carry out the lesson plans and accompanying assignments of the absent teacher and ensure that learning continues in their absence. Substitute teachers can often choose to work on a part-time basis or accept longer-term openings that become available.

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 for openings. 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 on such short notice, they typically have a few lesson plans and activities for common subjects already prepared and have good improvisation skills.

Common Tasks

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. 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 they are substituting.

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.

Substitute Teaching Requirements by State

The sortable table below shows substitute teacher requirements and information by state, including which states offer regular and/or emergency substitute teaching certificates, the minimum degree level required, and salary information. Even in states where substitute teachers are only mandated to have a high school diploma or GED, or where there are no statewide educational requirements, certain school districts may still require a college degree. It is important to check with the schools in your area to find out their requirements.

StateSubstitute License/Cert. Offered?Min Education RequiredAdditional RequirementsEmergency Sub Cert.? (Min. Education)Service Limit (Cert type)Avg Annual Salary2
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 teachers usually earn a flat per-day rate, but this varies widely by state and school district. According to the National Substitute Teachers Alliance (NSTA), the average day rate for substitutes is $105/day.4 According to the BLS, short-term substitute teachers earn a median annual salary of $37,380, with the lowest 10% earning $24,420 per year and the top 10% earning $63,140.2 Benefits for substitute teachers can differ, but tend to be much lower than those of regular educators or nonexistent.

Many school districts raise the per-day rate for substitute teachers who have worked more than 30 days in the previous calendar year. It is also worth noting that in many areas, substitute teachers who hold regular state teaching certification command a higher rate of pay. With a national shortage of teachers in multiple areas, substitute teachers are needed to help fill the gaps in our education system.

Additional Resources

Frequently Asked Questions

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.

1. National Substitute Teachers Alliance (NSTA): https://www.nstasubs.org/?page_id=34
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2022 Occupational Employment and Wages, Substitute Teachers, Short-Term: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes253031.htm