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How to Become a Substitute Teacher: Step-by-Step Guide

Learn how to become a substitute teacher. Research the job description and the education requirements and find out how to start a career in education.

Should I Become a Substitute Teacher?

Substitute teachers carry out the instructional and classroom management processes for teachers who are absent for a day or for extended periods of time. Substitute teachers are responsible for maintaining established rules, procedures and policies of the classroom, school and district. Teaching can be a challenging profession, since working with young people can be tiring and sometimes frustrating. These professionals work during regular business hours but they may also have to complete some work after school hours. Substitute teachers work on an as needed basis and their hours may not be consistent. However, it is possible for substitution to lead to a more permanent position.

Specific requirements for substitute teachers vary by state and individual school districts. Most commonly, a bachelor's degree is required. Some districts may require that substitute teachers obtain certification.

Career Requirements

Degree Level High school diploma minimum; bachelor's degree recommended and may be required
Degree Field Education, various B.A. or B.S. degrees
Experience Previous teaching experience
Licensure or Certification Districts may require substitute licenses or certification
Key Skills Flexibility, patience, instructional skills, verbal and written communication skills, Microsoft Excel, familiarity with basic office equipment such as printers, copiers and fax machines
Salary (2015) $20,687 (Annual median salary for a substitute teacher)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ONET Online, Moore County Schools, Baldwin County Board of Education, PayScale

Step 1: Meet Educational Requirements

Most school districts require substitute teachers to have a bachelor's degree in any academic discipline from an accredited college or university. Some school districts require a minimum number of college credit hours. Yet in other instances, only a high school diploma may be required. These differences in education may also depend upon if the substitute teacher is short-term or long-term. Additionally, some employers may request professional experience with school age children for individuals who don't have a bachelor's degree.

Success Tips:

  • Acquire a background check. All school employees must complete a criminal background check, which includes submitting fingerprints. These requirements can take up to three weeks and aren't transferable if certified in another state. Convictions and pending criminal cases will disqualify prospective substitute teachers from becoming certified or licensed.
  • Meet the health and immunization requirements. Most districts will require all school employees to have updated immunization records. Some districts call for training on communicable health topics.

Step 2: Obtain Substitute Teacher Certification

Depending on the school district, prospective substitute teachers may be required to complete training courses and pass written exams in order to earn certification. After obtaining certification, individuals are allowed to substitute in a variety of grade levels and schools within a district. Districts have diverse standards and guidelines that substitutes must meet in order to renew and keep their certifications updated.

Step 3: Work in the Local School District

In order to apply for a position, prospective substitute teachers will need to submit proof of certification and any additional paperwork to the district's human resources department. Some districts require interviews. Substitute teachers may also need to complete an orientation program.

Step 4: Earn an Advanced Degree

An individual may give themselves more substitute teaching options by earning an advanced degree. In fact, substitute teachers who earn a graduate degree may find permanent employment as they are one step ahead of those with bachelor's degrees.

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