Find out how substitute teaching can get you closer to the teaching career you've been dreaming of.

When you decide to become a substitute teacher, you open yourself up to the unexpected. Schools call in substitutes whenever full-time teachers get sick, travel or take maternity leave. While you may not know what subject or grade level you’ll be teaching on any given day, you will always have the opportunity to bring a new perspective and fresh energy to the students you meet.

Job Description

Every substitute teaching job is different. Sometimes you’ll simply look after a class while they watch a movie or complete an assignment that their regular teacher left for them. Other days you will follow a detailed lesson plan. Your work day will typically last six to seven hours, ending when the students go home.

If you take on an extended assignment, you will have homework to correct and lesson plans to write. But regardless of the time frame of the job, when you become a substitute teacher you will occasionally be called upon to improvise when the regular teacher does not leave a lesson plan or activity for the class.

Where Can Substitute Teachers Expect to Teach?

If you become a substitute teacher, you never know where your job will take you. You might spend one day teaching inner-city high school science, two days teaching third graders at an international school and then two months teaching junior high English at a private school. You have the freedom to choose which assignments to pursue at whichever schools you wish.

Since substitute teachers often teach a wide range of grade levels, you will likely take assignments with elementary schools, junior high schools, middle schools and high schools if you want a significant number of work hours. In time you might develop a preference as you learn which age groups you enjoy and are most effective in teaching. As you develop relationships with districts and schools in your area, you may find yourself with plenty of work teaching only specific grade levels or subject classes. School districts are often interested in your preferences and skills, particularly if you have a teaching degree or work experience in a particular subject.

What About Compensation?

Substitute teachers earn significantly less than full-time classroom teachers, but there are still plenty of reasons to pursue substitute teaching. Often, a student will become a substitute teacher to explore the teaching profession. It’s a great way to find out if teaching is right for you before pursuing your teacher certification. (For more information, see our article on how to become a teacher.) It’s also an excellent opportunity to decide what teaching specialty interests you most. Substitute teaching is also a great way to earn money on the side if you are a stay-at-home parent, student or are self-employed.

Training and Certification

State teaching certification boards do not regulate substitute teaching. In fact, many districts have their own substitute teacher requirements. Therefore, the qualifications you need to become a substitute teacher will vary widely depending on where you want to teach.

All districts and/or schools have a minimum substitute teacher requirement of a high school diploma or its equivalent. Many also require successful completion of competency tests. A bachelor’s degree is sometimes required and will certainly give you an extra edge when competing for jobs, particularly if you studied education. In a few areas, substitute teachers must have full teaching qualifications. Just check with the school you are interested in to find out what their substitute teacher requirements are.

Substitute Teacher Resources

The following resources will be invaluable if you become a substitute teacher:

Whether you’re a retired teacher looking to give back to the community or a young person searching for the career of your dreams, substitute teaching is a fun and flexible job. When you become a substitute teacher, you can express your creativity and influence students all within typical classroom hours. Plus, if you’re considering a career as a certified teacher, there’s no better way to get your foot in the door at schools where you may want to work in the future.