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 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 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. 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 already prepared.

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, attend staff meetings, and address student concerns. Substitute teachers may also be responsible for non-classroom duties as necessary, such as maintaining records of student progress and consulting with parents.

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 thus, 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. Keeping in mind that the process can vary, 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. 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. 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 most school districts may 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. Note that with the pandemic, some of these state requirements have been relaxed in order to help fill gaps due to widespread teacher shortages.

StateSubstitute Teacher License/Cert. Offered?State Min. Degree Level RequiredAdditional Info./RequirementsEmergency Sub Cert. Offered? (Min. Degree Level)
AlabamaYesHS/GEDNeg TB skin test;
Cert. requested by school
ArizonaYesBachelor’sYes (HS/GED)
CaliforniaEmerg. only90 college creditsBasic skills requirement;
Current enrollment in college
Yes (90 college credits)
ColoradoYesHS/GED1-year: HS/GED, requested by district;
3-year: bachelor’s;
5-year: current/expired certified teachers
ConnecticutYesBachelor’sCert. needed if subbing over 40 cons. days;
Waiver available for bachelor’s degree by school
GeorgiaHS/GED4 hrs. training
HawaiiBachelor’sSub teaching course
IllinoisYesAssociate’s or 60 hoursShort-term: associate’s or 60 hours & training program;
Reg. sub license: bachelor’s
IndianaYesHS/GEDOver 18 yo
IowaYesHS/GEDPreservice sub authorization: Junior or Senior status in Iowa teacher prep. program, over 21 yo, & recommendation from program;
Sub authorization: bachelor’s & completion of sub authorization course;
Sub license: eligible for or held Iowa teaching license
KansasYesBachelor’sTeacher prep. programYes (60 college credits)
KentuckyYesBachelor’sTeacher prep. programYes (64 college credits with min. GPA)
MichiganYes60 college creditsMin. GPA required;
Permits given to schools, not to individuals;
Daily and extended daily sub permit: formal satisfactory observation & mentor teacher;
Full-year basic sub permit: mentor teacher required;
Full-year shortage sub permit: teaching cert required;
Expert sub permit: 5 yrs. experience & bachelor’s or industry license
Yes (certified teachers)
MinnesotaYesBachelor’sShort-call sub license;
Lifetime (long-call) sub license
MissouriYes60 college credits
MontanaHS/GED3 hrs. training
NebraskaYes60 college credits
NevadaYes60 college creditsSpecial license or provisional special license with endorsement as sub teacherYes (HS/GED)
New Hampshire
New JerseyYes60 college credits
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North DakotaYes48 college credits
OhioYesPostsecondary degreeGeneral sub: degree in any subject;
Sub with designated subject area: degree related to area of licensure;
Unlimited: education degree
OklahomaYesApply to school district for employment;
Apply for sub cert. through district
OregonYesBachelor’sRestricted sub teaching license: bachelor’s;
Sub teaching license: bachelor’s & teacher cert. program, no teacher cert
PennsylvaniaYesBachelor’sCurrent teacher cert. neededYes (bachelor’s)
Rhode IslandYes2 yrs. collegeDay-to-day: 2 yrs. college at 4-yr institution;
Long-term sub: teacher certification
South Carolina
South Dakota
VirginiaHS/GEDOver 18 yo;
2 yrs. full-time postsecondary education or 2 yrs. work experience with children
WashingtonYesBachelor’sSub teaching certificate: bachelor’s & teacher prep program;
Emergency: application initiated by school
Washington DCYesBachelor’s1-2 yrs. experience or retired teacher
West VirginiaYesBachelor’sMin. GPA required;
Over 18 yo;
Short-term: sub teacher training or clinical experience;
Long-term: coursework in endorsement area or clinical experience or teaching cert.
WisconsinYesAssociate’s3-year short-term: approved sub training program;
5-year: bachelors & approved teacher prep. program
WyomingYesHS/GEDAlternative path: HS/GED, 24 hours school district in-service training, 30 hrs. classroom observation, & state exams;
College credit path: 60 college credits & state exams

Substitute Teacher Salary and Job Outlook

Substitute teacher pay is usually based on a daily rate. According to the 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. 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 substitute teachers in the US earn an average salary of $32,360 per year.2 Substitute teachers in Maryland reportedly earn the highest average salary ($58,850) of any US state, followed by Hawaii ($47,020), Oregon ($45,520), Vermont ($42,410), and California ($42,010).2

Benefits for substitute teachers can differ depending on the school and the length of the assignment. 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.

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.

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. Some states require substitute teachers to have a bachelor’s 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 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

1. National Substitute Teachers Alliance (NSTA): https://www.nstasubs.org/
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2017, 25-3098 Substitute Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/oes/2017/may/oes253098.htm