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How Long Does it Take to Get a Substitute Teacher Certificate?

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Individual states set all teacher credentialing standards and licensing requirements. The length of time required to obtain a substitute teaching certificate involves running a credit check, having fingerprints taken and sending out copies of your transcripts, in some districts. Other school districts demand additional educational training and coursework for at least a four-year college degree in the prospective substitute teacher's specialty. While certain states allow credits for practical background experience as part of the substitute requirements, others require formal undergraduate college coursework.

Undergraduate Coursework

While the ideal situation matches the prospective substitute's undergraduate coursework with the available classroom position, some substitute teachers agree to take classroom assignments outside their experience to obtain a substitute teaching credential. Substitutes fill in for teachers in extreme shortage areas, including special education, mathematics and science in larger districts, including Los Angeles and New York City. Smaller public school districts require the substitute to hold an undergraduate certificate in the subject area. Credentialing laws do not apply to charter and private schools in most states. Substitute hiring for these schools involves an immediate decision by the school or district official in charge of personnel.


Substituting in public schools requires state certification. Local districts accept copies of the substitute's higher-education coursework and the personnel office approves the substitute's qualifications. This check is immediate in small districts, while larger school districts require a lead time of days or weeks to complete the coursework check and match the substitute teacher with open assignments.

Emergency Certifications

Emergency substitute teaching certifications allow instructors to enter the classroom without the usual legal requirements specified by state or district regulations. Certifications allow substitutes to work for a few days, weeks or substitute for a teacher for the entire school year. While large districts in Los Angeles issue dozens of emergency substitute credentials, other nearby districts have little need for extending emergency certifications to substitute teachers.

National trends for special education, science and mathematics teachers show large-scale shortages for teachers in these areas. Most districts use emergency certification for substitutes when a noncertified, but qualified substitute teacher applies for a short-term or long-term assignment. Approval for emergency certification requires only a day or two in some states, including California, with applications made through the local school district office.

Substitute Licensing

State licensing involves a personal check for criminal activity, clearance from the state sex offender registry and copies of the substitute candidate's fingerprints. Copies of transcripts must also accompany the substitute application filed with the state. Individual application approval requires several weeks, while districts applying on behalf of a substitute speeds the process to a matter of days. Many private and charter schools use substitutes without a state-issued license, but these agencies do check criminal registries before allowing the substitute to enter the classroom.

Geographic State and Metropolitan Salary Map for Substitute Teachers

Health Clearances

Most public schools, including district schools in Palatine, Illinois, and Tustin, California, require substitutes to submit a recent copy of a clear tuberculosis x-ray or Mantoux test, a skin test reaction signaling exposure to tuberculosis. Negative reports on either test allow the substitute a clear medical slate to enter the classroom.


Lee Grayson has worked as a freelance writer since 2000. Her articles have appeared in publications for Oxford and Harvard University presses and research publishers, including Facts On File and ABC-CLIO. Grayson holds certificates from the University of California campuses at Irvine and San Diego.