Learn How to Become a Substitute Teacher

career-substitute-teacherWhen 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.

Substitute Teacher 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.

When You Become a Substitute Teacher Where Can You 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.


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.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for substitute teachers in 2016 was $28,010. Different education industries will pay differently, as some industries may require more previous knowledge or training than others. Here is a breakdown of the top paying industries’ average salary:

  • Junior colleges: $46,110
  • State government: $38,710
  • Technical and trade schools: $36,780
  • Other schools: $35,320
  • Management of companies and enterprises: $34,650

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.

How to Find Substitute Teaching Jobs

It’s important to make sure that you have the qualifications necessary before going through with an application for a substitute teaching position. If you have a specific school in mind, you can call them or visit their administrative audience to introduce yourself and ask what their application process entails, otherwise there are a few measures you can take to ensure that schools have access to your contact information in case they do need a substitute teacher.

  1. Contact individual schools: By going to individual schools, you can find out what their needs are and also introduce yourself. When you do so, you may be able to fill out paperwork during your visit. You may also have an opportunity to meet with the principal or administrators. You can also call the schools directly to find out more information. This works well for private schools.
  2. Call the school district’s office or review the online application: By contacting and researching a respective school district, you’ll be in the know regarding how to find substitute teaching jobs for all of their schools. Some districts require trainings or an orientation. Others may require references and an interview.
  3. Check job boards or hiring websites: Many schools advertise open substitute positions online. If you specialize in a particular area of study, you can narrow your search by typing in the class you’d like to teach as well.

Once you’ve successfully been a substitute teacher at any school, your likelihood of being hired back is heavily based on how you leave things for the teacher. Here are some tips about what teachers love to find once they return, which increase your chances of being hired back or specially requested:

  • Leave notes explaining how the day(s) went and what was accomplished. Don’t worry if you couldn’t follow the instructions exactly. Teachers know that substitute days aren’t going to be perfect.
  • Explain the status of a project or assignment that wasn’t finished.
  • Correct anything that need to be corrected. The teacher should leave a key or answer sheet for you.
  • Note any extreme discipline issues, but teachers know who their trouble students are.
  • Tidy the room and put away any supplies or books that can be stored.
  • Say thank you for the opportunity.

How to Change Careers by Becoming a Substitute Teacher

If you’re considering becoming a teacher, it’s a great idea to be a substitute teacher first. Changing careers to become a teacher requires teaching experience, so substituting is a smart way to gain that experience to be a more competitive candidate. Not only do you get hands-on classroom time, you get to know other teachers and administrators who may let you know of a job opening or even write letters of recommendation for you. You can have the chance to teach classes in different areas of study to see if you like one best. You may also discover that one grade-level resonates with your teaching style more than another.

If you’re keen on teaching at a particular school or in a specific school district, being a substitute there makes you a familiar face who is more likely to be asked back to substitute again, and if there’s a job opening, notified of the position before it goes out to the public. In some cases, you may be able to secure a long-term sub position, which can last from one week to one year, which will substantially increase your chances of landing a full-time position at any school in the future.

There are few careers a person can try out before they commit, which is a key advantage of the teaching profession. Use your time as a substitute teacher to earn your teaching certification if your state does not require one to be a substitute. White you’re in the field, use the opportunity to develop core teaching skills, like time management, discipline, student rapport, clear communication and developing professional relationships with school administration and staff.

Substitute Teacher Requirements by State


Aspiring substitute teachers must hold a high school diploma or GED and complete an application and pay a $30 fee.


Substitute teachers need a high school diploma in Alaska. Teachers who are in the classroom for more than 19 days need a certificate.


Valid for six years, the substitute teacher certificate can be obtained by holding a bachelor’s degree, paying a fee and submitting fingerprints.


The 300 individual school districts determine the requirements for substitute teachers. There are stipulations for teachers who are in the same classroom for more than 30 consecutive days, however.


Visit California’s Commission on Teacher Credentialing to learn about the various substitute teaching permits, including 30-day permits and permits for prospective teachers.


A 1-year authorization requires a high school diploma where a 3- or 5-year permit requires a bachelor’s degree or higher. Find out more on the state’s website.


Substitute teachers need to hold at least a bachelor’s degree. To teach for more than 40 days, subs need a valid authorization. Each school district has their own application process.


A minimum of a high school diploma and a background check are required to work as a substitute teacher. There may be more requirements in some school districts.

District of Columbia

Public schools in that nation’s capital require substitute teachers to hold a bachelor’s degree or complete at least 60 semester hours of course work, plus a valid license.


To substitute in Florida, you’ll need at least a high school diploma. More information about certification can found at the Department of Education’s website.


A minimum of a high school diploma or GED is necessary to work as a substitute teacher in Georgia. Learn more about the application process at the state’s Department of Education website.


Anyone with a bachelor’s degree will be considered for substitute teaching positions in Hawaii, however, priority is given to those who have completed the state’s Teacher Education Program.


Substitute teachers should have a high school diploma but there are no state-wide certification requirements. Specific school districts determine certification rules.


K-12 substitute teachers must have a bachelor’s degree or higher in order to obtain a license, which are valid for five years. Visit the state’s Department of Education site for further details.


Each school district determines their substitute teaching standards in Indiana. You’ll need at least a high school diploma and be age 18 or older.


Learn the difference between Iowa’s substitute teaching license and authorization through their Department of Education website.


To obtain a standard substitute license in Kansas, applicants need to hold a degree, complete a teacher preparation program and submit a fingerprint card.


Substitute teachers can apply for an emergency substitute teaching certificate if they hold a bachelor’s degree. Individual school districts may have additional requirements.


Substitute teachers do not need to earn a state permit. Each school district manages the hiring of substitute teachers.


Substitute teachers are permitted to work for 10 days in one position with a high school diploma or GED. Learn more about the requirements at the state’s Department of Education website.


The state of Maryland doesn’t govern substitute teaching licenses or permits. Learn more about requirements from individual school districts.


Temporary substitute teachers are not required to hold an educator license, however, some school districts may have additional requirements for employment.


Browse this PDF document from the Michigan Department of Education to learn more about substitute permits. Includes information about daily and yearly permits.


Licensure is required for substitute teachers, however, “short call” substitutes are only required to obtain a credential from the state’s Board of Teaching.


Each school district manages the hiring process for substitute teachers. Degree requirements may differ depending on the district class.


A substitute teacher certification application can be completed online. You’ll need to pass a criminal background check and have 60 hours of college credit to qualify.


Extended substitute teaching assignments typically require some form of training, a high school diploma and background check. More information can be found at the Secretary of State’s website.


Provided by the Department of Education, this document explains the differences and requirements for state and local substitute teaching permits.


There are various guidelines for substitute teacher credentials in Nevada. A bachelor’s degree is typically required, but exceptions are made in certain instances.

New Hampshire

Substitute teachers should inquire with individual school districts to learn credentialing requirements. If substituting for more than 20 days, certification is required.

New Jersey

To apply for a substitute teacher credential, you’ll need at least 60 semester hours at a college and to pass a background check. More details can be found on the state’s education website.

New Mexico

This brief document provides a clear set of requirements needed to work as a substitute teacher in New Mexico. At a minimum, a high diploma is necessary.

New York

Eligibility requirements for substitute teachers include a bachelor’s degree as well as a nomination by a school principal. Visit the state’s Department of Education site to learn more.

North Carolina

A professional educator’s license isn’t required in North Carolina, however, individual school districts may have requirements for substitute teachers.

North Dakota

An Interim Substitute license is available to those who complete 48 semester hours of coursework, complete a fingerprint packet and submit a letter from a ND school administrator.


Ohio’s Department of Education site provides comprehensive information on substitute teaching licenses. Learn more about the 1-year and 5-year options.


The state oversees substitute teaching credentials, however, some districts may have additional requirements. Visit the state’s Department of Education site to learn more.


Substitute teachers without an Oregon teaching license must complete an approved teacher education program. More details can be found on the state’s site.


A substitute teacher candidate must hold a bachelor’s degree and meet other requirements. Referred to as “emergency permits,” the credential is valid when no qualified or certified applicant is available.

Rhode Island

To apply for a 1-year permit, substitute teachers must complete an application form and pay a fee of $50.  A bachelor’s degree is a minimum requirement.

South Carolina

There are no substitute teacher credentials issues by the state and requirements can be lax. Local school districts may require some level of education, either a high school diploma or college degree.

South Dakota

While the state doesn’t issue substitute teaching permits, they do require that applicants pass a background check and be age 18 or older. Local school districts oversee the hiring of subs.


The Tennessee Department of Education does not license substitute teachers. They are hired by individual school districts in the state.


Each school district or education service center governs the responsibilities and requirements of hiring substitute teachers.


Though it is encouraged, Utah schools do not require substitute teachers to hold a license if teaching fewer than 20 days, but teachers must complete a background check.


A valid teaching license from any state or bachelor’s degree fulfills Vermont’s requirements for substitute teaching, in addition to a mandatory teacher training.


A bachelor’s degree, content knowledge and prior teaching experience are required to substitute teach in Virginia if no teaching certification is earned.


Washington requires a bachelor’s degree or higher and completion of any state’s teacher preparation program. Learn more about alternative requirements online.

West Virginia

Applicants are required to complete training through a Regional Education Service Agency (RESA) as well as pass a criminal background check.


Eligibility requirements for a 5-year license include completion of an approved education preparation program. Visit the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s site to learn more.


State guidelines allow for college credit or a high school diploma as long as applicants complete training and observations. The U.S. and Wyoming Constitution exams are also required.


Tell us a little about yourself and we’ll connect you with schools that offer teaching degree programs.