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How to become a substitute teacher

Substitute teacher leading a class

At a glance

  • Substitute teachers generally need a bachelor’s degree and, in some states, a teaching certification.
  • Tutoring, working at day cares or summer camps or volunteering in the community are all ways to gain experience working with children.
  • A substitute teacher’s duties typically range from simple tasks, such as taking attendance, to more advanced responsibilities, such as lesson planning.
  • If you’re looking to expand your education skills and knowledge, explore online education degrees and certificates at University of Phoenix!

Becoming a substitute teacher can be an excellent way to make the most of your skills and talents while finding fulfillment. Not only is it a great opportunity to help out in one’s community, but it also allows you to enjoy the flexibility of choosing when and how often you work.

Additionally, working as a substitute teacher can be beneficial if you’re looking for a source of income while completing a higher degree course like a master’s degree in education or are working another job, as it enables you to achieve both goals simultaneously.

Moreover, substitute teaching can be a great way to gain valuable classroom experience and make meaningful connections with teachers, administrators and other substitute teachers. It can also enable you to learn new skills, explore educational philosophies and gain exposure to various classroom environments. However, before you take on teaching as a profession, it’s crucial to understand the requirements associated with substitute teaching in your geographic area.

Typical requirements to become a substitute teacher

In most states, the requirements to be a substitute teacher aren’t as time-consuming or specific as those necessary to be a full-time teacher. But requirements differ depending on which grade you want to teach, the school district or districts you work for, and the state you’re in.

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In general, an aspiring substitute teacher needs to have at least a bachelor’s degree, although not necessarily a degree in education. Nor do substitute teachers need advanced degrees like a master’s in education.

The exception may be with regard to long-term substitute teachers. These educators cover a regular teacher’s absence for several weeks or even months in events like maternity leave or extended sick leave, and they may be required to hold the same educational qualifications as a full-time teacher.


Teaching experience isn’t always a requirement to be hired as a substitute teacher, especially since substitute teacher shortages are common throughout the country. Depending on your school district, the hiring professionals may prefer applicants who have experience working with children and youth — but that’s also not a universal requirement.

If you plan on becoming a long-term substitute, teaching experience will help you reach that goal. Some graduates from teaching programs will even use long-term substitute positions to get their foot in the door when looking for a permanent teaching position.



There’s no universal credential for substitute teaching in the United States, which means each state varies in its certification requirements. Every state has requirements for substitute teacher certification, meaning what is required to obtain a permit can vary considerably.

For instance, some states only employ candidates with an official teaching license, while other states merely require passing a state course. Right now, the following states require certification in order to substitute teach:

  • Alabama
  • Colorado
  • Iowa
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • New Hampshire
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • West Virginia

For aspiring substitute teachers, some states demand that applicants have a bachelor’s degree, while others necessitate the completion of college credits. 

The following states have such requirements:

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • New Jersey
  • Tennessee
  • Wyoming

In some states, having a degree and passing a background check are enough to apply to be a substitute teacher.

Check with your state’s Department of Education to determine which certification you need to be eligible for hire.

Background checks

Of the requirements to be a substitute teacher, undergoing a background check is required in all states. You should expect a background check to verify your employment history, check references and document any criminal record. There may also be drug screening. 

Safety training

Substitute teachers often complete safety training before they’re allowed to teach in a classroom. By providing safety training to substitute teachers, schools can better ensure the ongoing protection of their students


Helpful options for gaining experience

If you’re looking to gain experience working with children, several options are available:

  • Tutoring: Working one-on-one with local students, either on a volunteer basis or as a side job, is a great way to gain the experience school districts are looking for.
  • Camps and day cares: While camps and day cares don’t offer extended periods of teaching, working in these programs can teach you classroom management skills that are vital for success as a substitute teacher.
  • Volunteering: Giving back to your community by volunteering with local youth programs is one way to show your potential employer that education is a passion and a priority of yours.

Each of these options offers a pathway to gaining experience working with children while contributing to your community at the same time.

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The duties of a substitute teacher

Substitute teachers are responsible for a variety of tasks. These tasks depend on the length of the assignment. For a one-day assignment, the classroom teacher will often have prepared lesson plans and classroom materials ahead of time. For a long-term substitute assignment, the substitute may be required to plan lessons and grade just as a full-time teacher would.

The duties of a substitute teacher may also include one, some or all of the following:

  • Taking attendance
  • Administering tests and assignments prepared by the classroom teacher
  • Lesson planning
  • Supervising students during recess and lunch periods
  • Grading and maintaining a grade book
  • Assisting students with classwork and homework

Job outlook and pay

Becoming a substitute can serve as a steady and reliable path to a rewarding career in education. As of May 2021, substitute teachers earned an annual salary ranging from $22,270 to $50,560, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Pay can vary as a result of a number of factors including state, school, experience and industry.

The job outlook for substitute teachers depends on the employment of full-time educators. BLS projects that employment for high school teachers will grow 5% from 2021 to 2031 while employment for kindergarten, elementary school and middle school teachers is expected to grow 4%.

Salary ranges are not specific to students or graduates of University of Phoenix. Actual outcomes vary based on multiple factors, including prior work experience, geographic location and other factors specific to the individual. University of Phoenix does not guarantee employment, salary level or career advancement. BLS data is geographically based. Information for a specific state/city can be researched on the BLS website.

Steps to becoming a substitute teacher

While becoming a substitute teacher for K-12 or higher education doesn’t require as much time commitment as becoming a full-time teacher, substitute teachers must still follow certain steps to be eligible for teaching positions.

Check your state and school district requirements

Before applying for a position, it’s important to understand the requirements specific to your state or district. As mentioned, requirements vary from one area to the next, so be sure you know what’s expected of you for your application to be considered.

Common state licensure requirements include:

  • Clearances: Fingerprint clearance, background checks, child abuse clearances and criminal records checks
  • Verifications: Valid driver’s license, proof of education, professional references and certifications
  • Exams: Passing an exam on substitute teaching competencies
  • Clinical hours and practice: Practicing substitute teaching for a certain number of hours before applying for substitute teaching positions
  • Certifications: Completing substitute teaching courses or taking continuing education classes to become certified as a substitute teacher

Write your education resumé

Your resumé should accurately and concisely reflect your education credentials, relevant experience and volunteer positions. For example, an education resumé might include details such as the following:

  • Teaching philosophy and approach
  • Professional teaching experience
  • Certifications related to teaching
  • Education level (associate degree or higher)
  • Awards and recognition for substitute teaching excellence

By highlighting your relevant education degrees and qualifications and having an effective resumé, you can help stand out from other applicants.

Complete required training

Most schools or states with substitute teacher positions require you to complete training after you have been hired. This could include attending orientation, taking substitute teaching classes or completing online substitute teacher courses. In addition, some school districts offer specialized certifications to help further your education career. 

Helpful skills for substitute teaching

No matter the grade level, several skills are helpful when working as a substitute teacher:

  • Leadership: Strong leadership skills will prepare you to take charge of a classroom and effectively manage student behavior. These skills will also help set the tone for a successful lesson, build relationships with students and create a positive learning environment.
  • Clear communication: Communication skills will facilitate relationships with administrators, faculty and students. These skills will also help you navigate many challenges.
  • Organization: Monitoring students, lesson plans, classroom supplies and any materials you need to keep the classroom running smoothly is essential. Strong organization skills can help you manage your time effectively and ensure you have what you need to cover subjects in the allotted time.
  • Flexibility: Plenty can go wrong when preparing lesson plans, teaching students and scheduling. Being adaptable, especially when working with students of various ages, can help you efficiently handle last-minute changes.

Substitute teaching is a rewarding experience. Whether you’re looking for a part-time job or a way to gain teaching experience while you work toward becoming a full-time teacher, working as a substitute teacher can provide you with a flexible and meaningful way to make a living.

Earn a degree in education at University of Phoenix

If you’re eager to expand your knowledge and skill within education, there are several paths to consider. University of Phoenix offers the following online degrees and certificates:

Learn more about online education degrees and certificates at University of Phoenix!

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