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What Qualifications Do You Need to Be a Substitute Teacher

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Ah, brave soul. Substitute teaching is not for the weak or the meek. You're called in at the last minute. Students see you as a challenge to test at every opportunity. Yet, you're expected to maintain order while following the regular teacher's lesson plans. Still, some teachers like substituting because of its last-minute, temporary nature. You can accept a job or not, work with the ages you prefer, stay home with your own children when they're sick and work when you want to without carrying the burden of classroom issues home with you each night. Subbing experience may lead to a long-term job or give you an advantage when applying for full-time work. The qualifications needed to be a substitute teacher vary widely between states and even between school districts, and many have different pay scales depending on your qualifications.

Job Description

While students may want you to believe your role as a sub is to show a movie for their enjoyment, let them play games or just chat with their classmates, the actual job of a substitute teacher is much more involved and significant. As a sub, you'll:

  • Check in with the school principal, sub coordinator or designated staff member
  • Review the lesson plans and notes left by the teacher
  • Adhere to the schedules and procedures of the classroom and school
  • Follow the lesson plans to teach the day's curriculum
  • Oversee student behavior in the classroom, in the halls, and elsewhere in the school and outdoors for a safe and positive learning environment
  • Respect the confidentiality of students and the school
  • Report illness/injuries and discipline problems promptly
  • Leave a summary of the day for the regular teacher
  • Perform other duties as requested, such as taking attendance, following dismissal procedures and filling in for the teacher in morning and after-school duties such as monitoring the cafeteria or playground, escorting students to buses or assisting with the parent pick-up waiting area  

Additional duties depend on whether you're substituting in elementary, middle or high school. In elementary school you'll stay with one class all day, taking them to special classes such as art, P.E. and music. Or, if you're subbing for an art, P.E. or music teacher, you'll stay in the designated room or area for that subject and have different classes come to you throughout the day.

In middle school, you'll have different classes every 50 minutes or so, but you may teach the same lesson every class period. In high school, you might follow different schedules on alternating days.

Education Requirements

Each state may have some guidelines for substitute teachers, but ultimately, most leave specifics like salaries and required qualifications up to individual school districts.

Educational requirements range from just a high school diploma or GED to a bachelor's degree with teacher's certification. Some look for those with a high school diploma and 30 to 60 hours of college or community college coursework, which is the equivalent of one to two years of college study. Many school districts limit non-certified subs to short-term assignments, requiring subs who replace teachers for weeks or months to be certified teachers.

Teacher certification is regulated at the state level and is designed for licensing permanent teachers in that state. It usually involves having a bachelor's degree and taking competency tests that may include information unique to that state, such as state history, geography and sometimes science, if the state has beaches and marine life, for example, or an extreme climate. Every state's certification requirements and tests are different, so being certified to teach in one state doesn't necessarily mean you'll be automatically certified in another.

Most states don't require substitute teachers to be certified, but some do. In those states, their subs are likely to be former permanent teachers who have retired or who are taking time away from full-time teaching.

Regardless of their requirements, school districts are often forced to relax their standards when they can't find enough substitute teachers. If the district has a teacher shortage, more teachers will have permanent jobs and fewer will be available to sub. In those areas, although the district may normally accept only certified teachers, you may find them accepting subs with non-education bachelor's degrees or even those with two years of college. Districts may also lengthen the number of days a non-certified sub can stay in a long-term assignment.

Salaries for substitute teachers also vary between school districts. The median wage for substitute teachers nationally was $14.12/hour in May 2020. The median is the midpoint of a list of salaries, where half earned more and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned $9.16/hour, while the top 90 percent earned $24.93/hour.

In addition to providing a high school or college transcript as proof of your education, most school districts now require substitute teachers to have a background check that includes fingerprinting, a drug test and professional references.

Geographic State and Metropolitan Salary Map for Substitute Teachers

About the Industry

Substitute teachers are employed by public and private school systems to fill in for absent teachers in elementary, middle and high schools. The job requires the stamina to stand for much of the day, walk about the campus or school with or without the children, climb, reach and lift objects that may weigh 20 pounds.

Years of Experience

Substitute teachers are not required to have experience in order to be hired. Even teachers who are recent college graduates are sought after because they can become certified teachers. Of course, a certified teacher with years of experience is the most desired substitute teacher. Such a teacher would command top wages in the school district and would be most likely to be offered long-term sub jobs and the higher pay that accompanies them.

Job Growth Trend

Substitute teachers will continue to be in demand as long as permanent teachers are in demand. This demand is strongest in the STEM areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.


Barbara Bean-Mellinger is a freelance writer who lives in the Washington, D.C. area who has written about careers and education for,, and more. Barbara holds a B.S. from the University of Pittsburgh and has won numerous awards for her writing.

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