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How to Become a Substitute Teacher Guide

By Zach Skillings

Zach Skillings is the Scholarships360 Newsletter Editor. He specializes in college admissions and strives to answer important questions about higher education. When he’s not contributing to Scholarships360, Zach writes about travel, music, film, and culture. His work has been published in Our State Magazine, Ladygunn Magazine, The Nocturnal Times, and The Lexington Dispatch. Zach graduated from Elon University with a degree in Cinema and Television Arts.

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Posted: March 1st, 2022
How to Become a Substitute Teacher Guide

Substitute teaching is a great way to work with students on an as-needed basis. When regular teachers can’t make it to class, substitutes are hired to keep the ball rolling. They play a critical role in K-12 schools by ensuring that student education is not disrupted. If you’re wondering how to become a substitute teacher, keep reading to learn what it takes. 

See also: How to become a teacher

1. Know your state’s requirements 

The path to becoming a substitute teacher varies depending on where you live. Different states have different requirements, some more stringent than others. For instance, substitute teachers in Connecticut are required to have a bachelor’s degree and teaching license. But in Indiana and many other states, only a high school diploma or GED is required to become a substitute teacher. Jump to our list below to view each state’s minimum education requirements.

2. Obtain the necessary education 

As you can see, there’s no nationwide standard for becoming a substitute teacher. The level of education you need depends entirely upon where you want to work. The most common education requirements include the following: 

High school diploma or GED

This is the minimum requirement for any substitute teaching position. As you can see in the chart above, many states only require substitute teachers to possess a high school diploma or GED. But in other states, you’ll need more advanced credentials. Even in the states that just require a high school diploma, keep in mind that this is the bare minimum qualification. By gaining some college experience, you will likely have a better shot at employment. 

Associate degree or college credit 

Some states expect substitute teachers to have at least an associate degree. Associate degrees usually take two years to complete and can be earned at community colleges. Your area of study isn’t particularly important, but it would help to major in an education-related field. Alternatively, some states will accept a certain number of college credits in lieu of an actual degree. For instance, Nevada requires substitute teachers to have at least 60 credits of college-level coursework. 

Bachelor’s degree

Some states require substitute teachers to have a bachelor’s degree. While most full-time teachers have a degree in education, the type of bachelor’s degree becomes less important for substitute teachers. That being said, it’s helpful to major or minor in a field such as teaching, childhood education, elementary education, or secondary education. It can also be helpful to study an academic subject like history, biology, or English. The key is to make sure your degree is either education-related, or is a subject typically taught in K-12 schools.

3. Obtain a substitute teacher license (if necessary)

In some states, substitute teachers must have a license before they can start working. Among the states that issue substitute teaching licenses, many offer different types of licenses that dictate the parameters of the teacher’s work. For instance, Colorado offers three types of substitute authorizations — one-year, three-year, and five-year — based on educational background and experience. Check with your state’s Department of Education to learn more about license requirements in your area. 

Don’t miss: Everything you need to know about TEACH grants

4. Apply to the substitute teacher pool 

Once you’ve met your state or school district’s substitute teacher requirements, it’s time to start applying for jobs. There are two main ways to go about this: 

Apply directly to a school or school district 

The first option is to apply for teaching positions directly with the school or school district you’d like to work for. This involves completing an application and submitting supporting materials such as a resume, list of references, and proof of certification. You can then expect to complete an interview and undergo a background check. If hired, you may also need to complete an orientation to learn about the specific school’s policies and procedures. 

Apply through a staffing agency 

The second option is to apply through an organization that serves as a staffing agency for schools. Some school districts rely on staffing agencies to help them recruit a qualified pool of substitute teachers. Just as you would if you were applying directly to a school district, you’ll need to upload your resume and other supporting documents. The only difference is that you’ll be applying through the agency’s website. If accepted to the agency’s substitute teaching pool, you’ll likely need to complete an orientation before you can begin working. 

Also see: What is the Praxis for teachers?

5. Start accepting assignments  

Unlike other jobs, substitute teachers don’t always begin work immediately after getting hired. Instead, they must wait to be notified of available assignments. Depending on the school district, this could come in the form of a phone call, email, text message, or notification on an online management system. Substitutes usually receive notification several weeks ahead of time. But in some cases, they receive notifications only a few hours before they’re needed. Of course, substitutes have the option of rejecting assignments if they’re not a good fit. 

Related: Top scholarships for teachers

Frequently asked questions

How much do substitute teachers get paid?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, substitute teachers made a median annual salary of $36,090 in 2020. Keep in mind that many substitute teachers are part-time and supplement their income with other work. Additionally, earning potential can vary depending on geographic location. In California, where the cost of living is very high, substitutes can earn over $40,000 per year. But in states like Tennessee and Georgia, it’s common for substitutes to earn less than $25,000 per year. 

Are substitute teachers in demand?

Since the pandemic started, the demand for substitute teachers has skyrocketed across the country. Many school districts are offering higher wages to substitutes in an effort to fill staff shortages. Given the current situation, most substitute teachers should have little trouble finding consistent work. 

Is being a substitute teacher worth it? 

Substitute teaching is great for people who enjoy working with students and desire the flexibility of part-time employment. Working as a substitute is also a nice way to figure out if you’d like to become a full-time teacher. However, some people may not enjoy the unpredictable nature of substitute teaching. Ask yourself the following questions if you’re thinking about becoming a substitute: 

  • Do you enjoy being able to work with students from different grade levels? 
  • Are you thinking about becoming a full-time teacher, but aren’t ready to make that commitment yet? 
  • Are you okay with the possibility of unpredictable part-time work? 
  • Do you have other work opportunities to supplement your substitute teaching income? 
  • Are you okay with a job where you may not be eligible for benefits like health insurance or paid time off? 

If you answered yes to most of these questions, then substitute teaching could be right for you! 

Don’t miss: Scholarships360’s free scholarship search tool

Substitute teaching requirements by state

Every state has its own set of regulations for the credentials required to substitute teach. Below, we’ve classified each state’s rules into one of four categories. Find your state to figure out your requirements!

High school diploma or GED

To be a substitute teacher, applicants only need a high school diploma or GED in these states.

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • Wyoming

Associate Degree or at least some college credit

To be a substitute teacher, students must hold either an associate degree, or some college credit in these states.

  • California
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Michigan
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • North Dakota
  • Rhode Island
  • Virginia
  • Wisconsin

Bachelor’s degree

To be a substitute teacher, students must hold at least a bachelor’s degree in the following states:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Connecticut
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Minnesota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Washington
  • Washington, D.C.
  • West Virginia

Requirements are set by the district

In the following states, the requirements for substitute teachers vary based on the school district. So, you’ll have to check in with your individual district to be sure.

  • Hawaii
  • Mississippi
  • New York
  • Oklahoma
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont

This chart was created using data from the Substitute Teaching Division. For more information on substitute teaching requirements in your area, check with your state’s Department of Education.

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