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

Nov 06, 2019

Learn about how to become a substitute teacher; this article follows the process every step of the way. You'll also learn about expectations and requirements for substitute teachers, such as education and certification.

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  • 0:04 Becoming a Substitute Teacher
  • 1:36 Step 1: Meet…
  • 2:47 Step 2: Obtain…
  • 3:11 Step 3: Work in a…
  • 3:29 Step 4: Earn an…

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Becoming a Substitute Teacher

First, let's take a quick look at the steps you'll need to complete before getting hired as a substitute teacher:

  1. Earn a high school diploma
  2. Earn an undergraduate degree
  3. Research and complete other requirements for substitute teachers in your district
  4. Apply for a position as a substitute teacher in your district

Note that specific requirements for substitute teachers will depend on the state or district in which you intend to teach. Read on for details about how these requirements may vary.

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma

In most states and school districts, a high school diploma or the equivalent (like a GED) are minimum requirements for substitute teachers. In some districts, if you have not yet earned an associate's or bachelor's degree, you may not be eligible for a position as a substitute teacher, but you may apply for substitute teacher assistant positions.

Step 2: Earn an Undergraduate Degree

Next, to maximize your job potential as a substitute teacher, you will want to complete an undergraduate degree program.

  • Some districts set an associate's degree as the minimum for any kind of substitute teaching job.
  • Other districts may restrict long-term or higher-paid substitute teaching licenses or assignments to those with bachelor's degrees.
    • The definition of short-term or long-term will depend on your state or district; this typically denotes the number of consecutive days a substitute teacher may spend in a single classroom.
  • Long-term substitute teaching assignments can have additional requirements as well, such as a degree or a certain number of completed credit hours in the subject you intend to teach.
  • If your state requires a substitute teaching license, a bachelor's degree may be a co-requisite. In some states, like Kansas, you must also complete a state-approved teacher preparation program before earning your first license.

Generally speaking, the higher your level of education, the more opportunities you may have for longer-term assignments and increased pay. But even if you already have a bachelor's degree, you may find that your district restricts some positions to those who have a professional teaching certification, or who have passed certain credentialing exams.

Step 3: Research and Complete Other Requirements for Substitute Teachers in Your District

The necessary credentials for substitute teachers can be very different depending on where you intend to teach. Therefore, it's important to research substitute teaching positions for your state and district to make sure you fully understand what is expected of you. Some additional things to look out for include:

  • Substitute teaching license or permit: Some states, such as Illinois, Ohio and North Dakota, require licensure for all substitute teachers. This license is usually renewable.
  • Background check and fingerprinting: Most prospective substitute teachers have to clear a criminal history background check, either before employment or as part of a licensing process. This process can also include submitting fingerprints to your public school district; be sure to check with your district for specific instructions on where and how to complete fingerprinting.
  • College/university transcripts: Often, you will have to submit these documents as part of the application process, so it may be a good idea to obtain these as soon as possible. If the job does not require an undergraduate degree, you may still need to submit a copy of your high school diploma or equivalency.
  • References: Most substitute teaching applications require professional references from current or previous employers. Sometimes the school district will provide a reference form that your employer must submit themselves.
  • Physical health check: Some states and districts require that you submit confirmation of good physical health with your job or license application. You may also need to clear a drug test or tests for specific diseases like tuberculosis.
  • Safety training: In some districts, you'll need to confirm that you have completed specific training related to classroom or child safety, including first aid/CPR/AED training, anaphylaxis awareness, and diabetes care.
  • Teaching experience: Some substitute teaching positions ask for prior student teaching experience or interning. Other districts provide orientation training for substitute teachers, which covers subjects like classroom management, instruction, and the teaching profession. Some training requirements may be statewide; for example, substitute teachers in Oregon must complete the Protecting Student and Civil Rights in the Educational Environment exam, while Virginia substitute teachers must receive training in how to recognize signs of child abuse.

Step 4: Apply for a Position as a Substitute Teacher in Your District

After completing your research, you should have a pretty good idea of how to apply to be a substitute teacher in your district. Again, this process will vary depending on your location, but in general, you'll find application details on your school district's website. Your application process may involve creating an online account on an official website. Follow the instructions carefully and make sure that you have prepared everything that you need to submit your application, such as transcripts, references, training confirmation, fingerprint cards, and so on.

Because substitute teaching is usually an on-call role, you will most likely be applying to a pool of substitute teachers in your district, rather than one specific position. If your application is approved, you will then be able to accept assignments as they come up.

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