Substitute Teacher: Career Info & Requirements

Substitute teachers are instructors who fill in for permanent teachers when they are absent. Substitutes generally work in classrooms in the kindergarten through 12th grade levels, often serving multiple schools. Read about the requirements and benefits of this challenging profession.

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Career Definition for Substitute Teachers

Substitute teachers are independent contractors who temporarily replace permanent teachers. Teaching assignments may last from one day to several months, and work is often sporadic, but 'subs' may work more often if they sign up with several schools. Once a substitute teacher is placed on a school's roster, he or she may be called in to teach any grade, often on very short notice. Depending on the circumstances, a substitute teacher may carry out the absent teacher's lesson plan or create his or her own. Substitute teachers are employed by public and private schools throughout the United States; however, a 2009 article in USA Today reports that, as layoffs increase in other industries, applications for substitute teaching jobs are reaching record highs in many large cities (

Education High school diploma or equivalent or bachelor's degree
Job Duties Temporarily replace permanent teachers of all grade levels, enforce lesson plans
Median Salary (2015)* $26,830 (for substitute teachers)
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 6% (for all kindergarten, elementary, and high school teachers, not substitute teachers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education and Certification Requirements

Substitute teaching educational requirements vary by state and employer, from a bachelor's degree and state teaching certification in some areas, to a high school diploma or GED in others. The Utah State University Substitute Teaching Institute website offers a list of educational requirements by state ( Individual school districts and private schools may have additional requirements. In most states, applicants must also pass background checks and a tuberculosis test. Those interested in becoming substitute teachers generally apply directly through a school district or private school; the application process can take several months to complete.

Required Skills

Substitute teachers should be patient, flexible, and good with kids. They must be creative and organized so that they can maintain order in the classroom and efficiently carry out lesson plans. Excellent verbal and written communication skills will enable them to understand the permanent teacher's instructions, develop their own lesson plans, leave a written report of the day's activities, and maintain contact with the school for future employment. Because most substitute teachers are independent contractors, networking skills are essential. Bilingual candidates will often have an advantage in many regions.

Economic Outlook and Financial Forecast

Substitute teaching job opportunities may be strongest for applicants who have a bachelor's degree and a teaching certificate. Although the BLS does not offer specific job outlook statistics for substitute teachers, kindergarten and elementary school teaching jobs, in general, were expected to grow at an average rate of 6% from 2014-2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Once again, The BLS does not offer job outlook statistics for substitute teachers, but high school teaching positions were predicted to grow at the same rate of 6% from 2014-2024. Those who are bilingual and have experience teaching more in-demand courses, such as math and science, may have more opportunities. The BLS reported that in May 2015, the median annual salary for substitute teachers was $26,830.

Alternate Career Options

Similar career options in this field include:

Teacher Assistant

Working under a teacher's supervision while giving students additional support and instruction, these assistants have normally completed some college courses, and many states require a qualifying exam. An average expansion of positions, with 6% growth, was projected by the BLS for the 2014-2024 decade. In 2015, teacher assistants earned an annual median wage of $24,900, per the BLS.

Childcare Worker

Individuals interested in working with children part time might look into this career. These workers care for children in homes, preschools, public schools, and childcare centers, providing basic care for children when families aren't available to do so. A high school diploma is usually sufficient to enter this profession, although some states have further training or licensing requirements. The BLS predicted an average employment growth of 5% from 2014-2024, and the reported median salary in 2015 was $20,320.

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