If you are interested in how to become a substitute teacher, you should consider what the role of a substitute teacher is. Being a substitute teacher means being an on-call teacher who is ready to fulfill the role of a full-time teacher when they are ill, taking a vacation, taking maternity or paternity leave, or may be absent due to any other reason. Typically, they can choose to work part-time or assume longer-term assignments as they become available. 

If you are looking for a flexible schedule and variety in your teaching career, this is the right job for you. Being a substitute teacher means potentially immersing yourself in different classrooms and subjects over the course of time. Additionally, the transferable skills you will obtain are impressive on any resume. 

Substitute Teacher Job Description

A substitute teacher job description can be seen as simple, in that, substitute teachers are required to step-in and carry out the tasks of the absent teacher for whom he/she is substituting. When looking deeper, substitute teachers must also be able to be flexible and hardworking as they deliver on lesson plans and additional assignments that they may not have outlined. They must have the skills to create lesson plans that meet certain learning objectives, and they may need to report to a classroom with as little as a few hours’ notice. Being prepared is always part of the job description. 

become a substitute teacher.

Responsibilities of a Substitute Teacher

The following is a list of responsibilities of a substitute teacher and explanations that go along with each: 

  • Follow lesson plans provided by the regular teacher to create a cohesive and consistent learning experience for students – Since you will be teaching a classroom that will have been run by another teacher, it’s important that you both collaborate to make the transition of teachers as seamless as possible. 
  • Manage the classroom effectively to encourage student participation, minimize distractions and maintain a positive learning environment – You may be seen as an outsider by the students, since class will have already been in session by the time you teach them. Make sure you create a safe and comfortable environment for the students that encourages learning and participation, since they may not be as familiar with you. 
  • Adapt teaching methods to fit the needs of each individual student – Every student is different, meaning that they may learn differently. Regardless of the length of time you are substituting the classroom for, be sure to vary your methods of teaching to reach as many students as you can. 
  • Supervise students in and out of the classroom, including in the halls, on the playground, and in the cafeteria – While you are teaching, you are in charge of students in the classroom as well as while they are participating in activities outside of the classroom. Whether they’re on lunch, at recess, or waiting outside of the classroom, you should be sure to keep your eye on them in case of emergency. 
  • Provide in-class and at-home assignments based on the available lesson plan – The teacher you are substituting for will likely provide you with a lesson plan for their classroom. You may be asked to provide take-home, as well as, in-class assignments that align with the lesson plan and learning objectives. 
  • For long-term substitutes: develop lesson plans and assignments consistent with the regular teacher’s past lesson plans – Substitutes that will be teaching a classroom for a long period of time should align their lesson plans and assignments to the lesson plans of the teacher they are substituting for. This creates consistency and a seamless transition from teacher to teacher. 

Skills and Qualifications for a Substitute Teacher

The skills and qualifications for a substitute that may either be required or expected are below: 

  • A valid and current Substitute Teacher license (if required in your state) – Certain states may require a valid substitute teacher license in order to begin teaching in the classroom. Please look at the specific state and school district you are interested in becoming a substitute teacher to determine if you need an official license. 
  • Bachelor’s degree or higher, preferably in education – Just as regular teaching requires a bachelor’s degree or higher, substitute teaching requires it as well. When looking at how to become a substitute teacher, obtaining your bachelor’s degree is a great place to start.
  • Strong English verbal and written communication skills – In order to communicate effectively to students in your classroom, it’s important to have strong verbal and written communication skills. 
  • Excellent interpersonal skills – Setting an example for your students is extremely important. Demonstrating interpersonal skills throughout the day will help showcase to students what kind of behavior you expect from them.
  • Ability to lead and instruct students of all ages – Because you will likely be hired for a variety of classes, you will need to teach students of all ages and from different backgrounds. 
  • General knowledge of several subjects – In the same way that you will be teaching students of all ages, you will also need to be able to teach a variety of subjects. You may be asked to teach a classroom specializing in a subject you have not previously taught, but having the general knowledge of the subject will allow you to adapt. 
  • Ability to adapt plans to specific classrooms – Many substitute teachers will prepare lesson plans in advance. However, they will likely not know the details of the classroom they are teaching well in advance. It is important that they can take their general lesson plan and adapt it to fit the classroom they will be substituting in.
  • Flexibility and critical-thinking skills – Substitute teaching can vary on a day-to-day basis. Individuals who choose this career path must be able to be flexible and adapt to the situations at hand. 
  • Patience – Just like with regular teaching, being patient with coworkers and students is key. Not only does it foster a good learning environment, but it helps you build connections with coworkers that may try and help you adjust at the school you are substituting at. 

Salary for Substitute Teachers

According to Indeed, the salary for substitute teachers, is around $38,437 a year and substitute teachers get paid weekly or monthly depending on the school. Pay can vary state by state and may also take into consideration different factors, such as, experience. For example, in May 2019, the highest salary among states was in Hawaii, with an average salary of $48,200. This was quickly followed by Oregon, with an average salary of $44,710. 

Job Outlook for Substitute Teachers

The BLS doesn’t release outlook information specifically for substitute teachers, but an estimated 2020-2030 job growth of 9% is expected for teacher assistants. Explain that much of this growth is in step with a general rise in the population of under-18 students, together with a relatively stable outlook for public sector employees, which is the bulk of the teaching profession.

How to Become a Substitute Teacher Step by Step

Before we delve into what you need to become a substitute teacher, it’s important to note that some state boards of education may offer a special substitute teaching license. This is offered either before an individual begins work, or after an individual substitute teaches for a certain amount of days. If it is not a state board of education, then individual school districts will decide whether or not to offer this. Below is a list of steps for how to become a substitute teacher and other important information you may need if pursuing this career: 

1) Earn a bachelor’s degree 

When looking to become a substitute teacher, you may need to earn a bachelor’s degree. You may also be required to obtain a certain GPA from when you received your bachelor’s degree, but this can vary by state. In other instances, you can have an associate’s degree or no degree at all as long as you graduated high school.

2) Apply for a substitute teaching license, if required in your state 

If it is required by your state or school district, you may need to apply for a substitute teaching license. Not all places require this, however, it is important to check before seeking out a job. 

3) Take the tests required for substitute teacher licensure, if necessary

Again, not all places will require a substitute teacher license. However, if your state or school district does, you may be asked to take and pass any required tests before receiving this license. 

4) Apply to Local School Districts Substitute Teacher Pool

Once you are licensed, apply to your local school district’s substitute teacher pool – After you have taken any necessary testing and received your license (if required), you are ready to apply as a substitute teacher in your local school district!

5) Complete the Hiring Requirements

Complete any hiring requirements for substitutes outlined by the district(s) you apply to – Prior to teaching, you will likely need to complete hiring requirements. This can consist of a background check or paperwork.

Begin accepting assignments as a substitute teacher – Now, you’re ready to teach! Once you are needed as a substitute, you will likely be contacted and can start accepting assignments. 

Most school districts hold a list of approved substitute teachers. These will likely be the first individuals called when an opening becomes available at one of the schools. Additionally, substitute teachers who also hold a regular state teaching certification may receive higher pay than those who do not. There are a variety of certification options to consider. Learn which one fits your needs and aspirations best!


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