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How to Become a Substitute Teacher [Step-By-Step]

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Are you passionate about teaching but unsure if you’re ready for the commitment of full-time roles?

Or maybe you’d like to pursue a teaching career but want more experience before going for permanent positions?

Either way, we’re here to assure you that’s okay! Many aspiring educators feel this way.

Substitute teaching is an excellent way to learn the ropes and develop classroom instruction skills.

Wondering how to become a substitute teacher? This is the ultimate step-by-step guide for you!

An Overview of Substitute Teacher: A Primer

Substitute teachers are typically stand-ins for full-time teachers who, for any reason, temporarily can’t fulfill their current role. They take over the class while the permanent teacher is away.

This means that they teach the assigned lessons and do all the tasks a regular full-time teacher does but only for a short period. Depending on how long you’re expected to teach, you may or may not need to create a lesson plan for every class.

Substitute teaching is similar to online teaching jobs in that much flexibility is involved. 

You can choose when you’d like to work because you’re not signed to a single school or institution. In addition, you also have the flexibility to choose which grades and subjects you’d like to teach.

How Much Do Substitute Teachers Make? 

On average, short-term substitute teachers earn an annual wage of $42,680, with a median hourly rate of $16.95.

Many factors, including your previous experience and highest educational attainment, can drive this number higher or lower.

What You’ll Need to Become a Substitute Teacher & Associated Costs

Substitute teaching generally has fewer prerequisites compared to full-time educators. However, there are still some additional requirements you have to prepare. Below is a short rundown.

  • High School Diploma or GED: Most places require at least a high school diploma or GED to apply for substitute teaching positions. Online high school courses can cost at least $1,800, while online GED exams cost $36 per subject.
  • Bachelor’s Degree: Many states also require a Bachelor’s degree. Even if it isn’t strictly required in some schools, having a degree in education or other related fields is a big plus. The average cost of a Bachelor’s degree is at least $15,000.
  • License or Certification: Some states, especially in the larger school districts within states like Alaska and Alabama, require certifications for substitute teachers.
  • Classroom Management: The job description of a substitute teacher is similar, if not almost identical, to that of full-time teachers. That said, you need to have the skills to effectively manage a class. 
  • Interpersonal Skills: As an educator, you’ll work with students from all walks of life. Having strong interpersonal skills will help you build better relationships with them, given that most of your classes will only be short-term.
A Female Substitute Teacher Teaching Online at Home

How Much Does It Cost to Become a Substitute Teacher?

To become a substitute teacher, you’ll need at least $17,000 if you plan on getting a Bachelor’s degree. Most expenses will come from your education and other resources like textbooks and housing.

You can lower the expenses by finding out if the schools you plan to apply to employ educators with no Bachelor’s degree.

Is It Hard to Become a Substitute Teacher? 

A substitute teaching position comes with its unique set of challenges. 

For one, you likely won’t have access to a student’s official transcript and school report card. Often, you won’t have any background on the students you’re teaching. Even then, you’re expected to conduct lessons effectively.

That said, it’s relatively easier than a full-time position because you can start teaching anytime during the school year. There’s more flexibility in your work schedule.

You might think that substitute teaching is a side hustle that is not common, but that’s far from the truth. Because some schools employ high school diploma holders, some college students take on this job on the side to help with expenses.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Substitute Teacher? 

Part of what makes substitute teaching a great part-time job on the side is that you can become one within a year or two. 

You can often start your journey teaching as a second career by applying for substitute teaching positions first. This gives you more classroom experience to help you figure out if a mentoring career is for you.

How to Become a Substitute Teacher in 4 Simple Steps

On to the most important part of this guide: a simple step-by-step walkthrough on how to become a substitute teacher. We’ll go over the most basic steps and briefly explain why they’re necessary steps if you want this career path. 

Step 1: Get Your Diploma and Degree

All teachers, whether full-time or substitute, are checked for their educational background. Most schools require at least a high school diploma or a GED and further studies—like a Bachelor’s or Master’s—for certain subjects.

You don’t strictly need a bachelor’s degree in education, as most institutions will accept educators that graduated from other degree programs. 

Often, when employers look for substitute teachers, they’ll match the applicant’s degree to the specific subject they need to teach. For example, STEM graduates are more likely to be accepted in Science and Math teacher posts.

Some school districts also accept other types of teaching degrees, including technical education from vocational programs to become an educator for a specific industry or occupation. Common examples are woodworking, automotive, and culinary.

Step 2: Research State-Specific Requirements

Substitute teacher requirements can vary from state to state. Each state has its own standard qualifications, and the specifics of each one can also differ from district to district.

This is why it’s important to research the requirements that apply to you. The first thing you should be checking is the minimum academic requirement.

Substitute teaching in high school and elementary school may have significant differences in required documents. Colleges and Universities rarely employ substitute teachers. 

Meeting with school a male substitute teacher

When you know which positions are open to your educational background and teaching experiences, the application process becomes easier for you.

On top of the documents related to your education, some states may also require background checks, both criminal and medical, before you can start teaching. This ensures the safety of the students and faculty you’ll be working with. 

Step 3: Gain Teaching Experience

Aspiring teachers have to undergo a Teacher Preparation Program during their graduate or undergraduate studies. This is one of the first opportunities for educators to gain classroom experience.

Some certification programs also offer this course to prepare future teachers on the competencies needed for every grade level. 

This isn’t a strict requirement for every single school, but it’s a great way to gain experience, as you’re usually required to finish a predetermined number of hours. 

However, there are other ways to gain experience, including online substitute teacher jobs, tutoring gigs, and even charity work as an educator. 

As you gain more classroom experience, you open the doors to more substitute teaching opportunities.

Step 4: Obtain a License or Certification

Unlike full-time teachers, substitute teachers are often not required to have a teaching certificate or license. However, this still heavily depends on the state and school district requirements.

A substitute teaching license, if deemed necessary by employers, is usually the same as those obtained by full-time educators. As for certifications, some states offer a substitute teacher certification as part of the qualifications.

These certifications entail a series of training courses you have to accomplish and a written exam that you have to pass. 

Even if most areas don’t require certification, obtaining one as a substitute teacher can lead to better job opportunities and higher compensation.

Reasons to Consider Becoming a Substitute Teacher

Substitute Teacher And Student Working Together

Now that you know about the process of it all, are you ready to take on becoming a substitute teacher? Here are four more reasons to help convince you why you should consider this career path.

  • Flexible Work Schedule: Substitute teaching is a job with a high amount of flexibility. You get to choose the schedules that work for you.
  • Rewarding: Even if you only get to teach students for a short time, you can still impact their lives in a positive way, which makes substitute teaching a rewarding career path.
  • Second Career: Becoming a substitute teacher gives you the freedom to expand your income sources. This career also lets you take on the usual summer jobs for teachers with no problem.
  • Work-Life Balance: Compared to a full-time teacher, substitutes get better chances of achieving a work-life balance because of the flexibility that comes with the job.

Frequently Asked Questions

What State Pays Substitutes the Most?

States that pay substitutes the most include Alaska, Oregon, and California.
Alaska pays over 140% of the national average, the highest among the three. While salaries in Oregon and California are over 60% of the national average.

What is the Average Degree for Substitute Teachers?

The degree a substitute teacher pursues depends heavily on what they’d like to teach. The standard qualification in most states is a bachelor’s degree but there’s usually no specific degree program required. 

Some common programs include a Bachelor’s degree in Special Education and Secondary Education.

Similar Gigs to Check Out

Passionate about imparting knowledge but still unsure if substitute teaching is the career path for you? Here are three similar gigs to check out!

  • How to Become a Counselor: A Counselor, especially a school counselor, also gets to work with students. They work on helping individuals reach their goals for overall wellness.
  • How to Become a CPR Instructor: A CPR Instructor is an educator that focuses primarily on teaching people about emergency cardiovascular care.
  • How to Become a Consultant: Consultants share their expertise with clients by giving professional advice. The specifics depend heavily on the field they’re in.

Wrapping Up

We hope this guide on how to become a substitute teacher helped you as an aspiring educator who might want extra flexibility in their work schedule.

Although the steps are straightforward, we know challenges are bound to come your way.

However, teaching, be it full-time or as a substitute, is highly rewarding and fulfilling. You’re given the opportunity to touch lives and impart knowledge to future leaders and members of society.

Share your thoughts with fellow aspiring educators in the comments and send this to others who might also need the walkthrough!

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