Here’s How to Become a Substitute Teacher

substitute teacher walking with and getting instructions from another teacher on her way to class
substitute teacher walking with and getting instructions from another teacher on her way to class

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.

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.Featured Teaching ProgramsSponsored Content

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. If you’re unsure of what subjects you can teach as a substitute, here’s a guide to teaching specializations and what they really mean.


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. 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 2021 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, here are median annual wages for substitute teachers:

Substitute Teachers, Short-Term

National data

Median Salary: $30,100

Projected job growth: 8.2%

10th Percentile: $22,270

25th Percentile: $25,670

75th Percentile: $41,570

90th Percentile: $50,560

Projected job growth: 8.2%

State data

State Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Alabama $18,130 $17,240 $22,660
Alaska $36,810 $30,100 $59,030
Arizona $29,940 $28,410 $46,070
Arkansas $29,720 $29,120 $29,800
California $38,550 $30,330 $60,070
Connecticut $30,330 $24,960 $74,990
Delaware $30,380 $24,080 $38,980
District of Columbia $31,200 $31,200 $46,120
Florida $29,940 $19,390 $51,810
Georgia $22,480 $17,250 $34,570
Hawaii $49,630 $39,150 $50,190
Idaho $22,780 $17,750 $45,200
Illinois $36,620 $23,770 $59,800
Indiana $28,690 $18,730 $45,980
Iowa $36,300 $28,660 $46,410
Kansas $29,670 $23,430 $37,510
Kentucky $18,580 $17,870 $25,070
Louisiana $23,550 $17,600 $59,030
Maine $29,170 $25,270 $36,330
Maryland $37,970 $24,480 $58,870
Massachusetts $30,370 $28,910 $58,870
Michigan $30,040 $22,790 $58,520
Minnesota $36,570 $29,460 $50,750
Mississippi $17,990 $17,020 $23,520
Missouri $29,120 $22,880 $46,390
Montana $23,430 $21,810 $28,850
Nebraska $45,980 $29,670 $46,870
Nevada N/A N/A N/A
New Hampshire $29,120 $23,500 $36,620
New Jersey $29,760 $24,960 $37,660
New Mexico $28,850 $22,660 $48,140
New York $36,810 $29,070 $59,810
North Carolina $24,060 $21,890 $30,130
North Dakota $37,230 $28,910 $59,030
Ohio $28,940 $22,610 $46,870
Oklahoma $22,470 $17,610 $36,330
Oregon $48,140 $46,100 $61,050
Pennsylvania $29,900 $22,620 $49,060
Rhode Island $30,130 $24,020 $59,830
South Carolina $24,930 $18,520 $46,810
South Dakota $29,110 $28,540 $36,550
Tennessee $22,290 $17,250 $30,130
Texas $24,040 $18,130 $30,360
Utah $23,340 $18,130 $29,640
Vermont $29,120 $28,350 $37,310
Virginia $30,330 $19,760 $46,100
Washington $46,300 $36,570 $59,250
West Virginia $37,720 $35,370 $58,650
Wisconsin $44,240 $28,890 $58,520
Wyoming $29,330 $28,830 $38,120

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2031. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

Take a look at where substitute teachers are most in demand in the U.S.:

Metropolitan Areas Employment
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA 31,010
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 22,190
Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI 14,230
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX 13,700
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 11,840
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 11,100
San Diego-Carlsbad, CA 6,360
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 6,050
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 5,370
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA 4,880

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 training 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 needs 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. While 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.

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