Careers for a Substitute Teacher

Distinguish what it takes to be a substitute teacher at each grade level to determine if this is the job for you. Find out the skills and education you'll need to obtain to be successful in this role.

Substitute Teacher Duties & Responsibilities

As you learn how to become a substitute teacher, you'll find the responsibilities of the position can vary based on the needs of a given classroom. Whether you find yourself in a short-term role due to teacher illness or a long-term role for a situation like maternity leave, it will be necessary for you to ensure students receive a quality education without deviation from a designed lesson plan.

Although the requirements to become a substitute teacher may vary by state - or even school district - you will need to pass a criminal background check and health screening. Educational requirements will vary greatly from state to state.

For example, in Hawaii, Iowa, or Wisconsin, you would need a bachelor's degree to become a substitute teacher, but in Illinois, Kansas, or Nebraska, only some college is necessary, but you would not need a four-year college degree. In Alabama, New York, or Virginia, a high school diploma or GED would be enough education to qualify for a substitute teacher position.

Additionally, the requirements set by public and private schools may be different, so consider researching the requirements for geographical areas you may want to teach in.

As a substitute teacher, you will need a few skills to help you succeed in your role:

  • Excellent time and people management skills to ensure you are able to control a classroom at all times
  • You will also need to be patient, fair, and empathetic to student needs to ensure all students receive a quality education.
  • Organizational skills will help you in the classroom as well as in your job search.

It's also important to note that because you may be on-call or working on day-to-day basis, you will be responsible for ensuring you can find enough work to meet your financial needs. Due to the uncertain nature of the position, work may never be guaranteed, and you will likely not have traditional employee benefits with your substitute teacher position.

High School Substitute Teacher

A high school substitute teacher instructs students from grades 9-12 with ages ranging from 14 to 18. In most cases, high school substitute teachers will be teaching one subject in one classroom throughout the day, but requirements of the job may vary. While some positions will require you to teach multiple classes of the same subject matter, you may also find yourself filling in for more than one absent teacher at different times and locations throughout the day, as some jobs may not require a full day substitute.

Although you will be following the lesson plan of a full-time teacher when you fill-in, having a better understanding of the subject will allow you to better instruct students and answer questions. Additionally, you will want to have a broad knowledge of many different subjects to give yourself many teaching opportunities.

One of the most challenging aspects of teaching in high school will be dealing with inappropriate behavior. Often, students will try to challenge substitutes to see if the substitute can retain order in the same way a full-time teacher can. When working with students this age, you will need to have strategies for what behaviors to address and what behaviors to ignore. Additionally, you will want to establish clear expectations very early to ensure the students understand what is expected.

Substitute Elementary School Teacher

An elementary school substitute teacher instructs grades kindergarten through fifth with ages ranging from five to 11. Elementary school teachers may be teaching one subject, or they may be responsible for teaching a wide variety of subjects, so having a good understanding of all subjects is important. Substitute teachers with a flexible schedule will often find the most jobs as will teachers who can work across grades, subjects, and in special needs classrooms.

As a substitute elementary school teacher, you may find students to be less receptive to directions given. Without the understood routine put in place by the full-time teacher, these students may be more hyperactive and difficult to control. As a substitute, you will need to ensure the lesson plan is followed accurately and effectively for the benefit of the students.

Substitute Preschool Teacher Job Description

A substitute preschool teacher works with children younger than five years old. One of your primary responsibilities as a substitute preschool teacher will be to ensure the classroom always remains a safe place for students. This means you will need to closely supervise behavior and activities while also following the full-time teacher's predesigned lesson plans.

In addition to teaching responsibilities, you may need to be prepared to assist students by taking care of bathroom accidents or preparing safe and healthy classroom snacks. Given these extra requirements, a background in child care or early childhood education can stand out on a prospective preschool substitute teacher's resume.

Daycare Substitute Teacher Job Description

A daycare substitute teacher will have many job requirements similar to a preschool substitute teacher. However, as a daycare substitute, you may be working with children as young as newborns. Although teaching will still be a major part of your job duties, you will also find that this role requires you to ensure children's basic needs are met. These responsibilities may include monitoring proper hygiene for students, making sure students are fed and healthy, and attending to any first aid needs.

As is the case with a preschool substitute teacher position, a background in child care or early childhood education will help you immensely in this role and supply you with the skillset necessary to address the unique challenges of teaching very young children.

Long-Term Substitute Teacher Job Description

A long-tern substitute teacher is a more unique substitute teacher position. Long-term subs may be needed at any level from kindergarten through grade 12. Although the general duties of the position will be similar to any other substitute teaching role, additional responsibilities may also be attached to the position which would not be necessary for a short-term substitute.

As a long-term substitute, you will need to place a greater emphasis on building a rapport with students to gain their trust and confidence. You may also find yourself needing to be open to communication with students' parents to address any concerns with behavior, performance, or information concerning your role as a substitute. Some parents may question the effectiveness of having a substitute fill-in for a full-time teacher for long periods of time, so you may need to address these concerns.

Unlike a short-term substitute teaching position, you may find yourself needing to do more day-to-day planning work as a long-term substitute. Because you will need to cover the required material over a much longer period of time, you will need to adapt to the student needs and concerns more so than a substitute who will be in and out of the classroom in one day.