Substitute teachers are an important part of the school system. They take over when a classroom’s regular teacher is ill or has to take time off, and they make sure that the lessons stay on track.

Some substitute teachers stay in a classroom for a day or two, but others may take over a class for a full school year. For this reason, a substitute teacher must know how to make lesson plans and how to follow a curriculum just as any other teacher would. They must also be flexible and able to adapt to all of the different schedules and classrooms they may encounter, and they must be able to maintain control of a classroom full of students, no matter how well-behaved or unruly they may be.

How to become a substitute teacher

Substitute teaching is a rewarding career and is easier to achieve than one might expect. Here is a full-length description of how to become a substitute teacher.


While a Master’s Degree is preferred for other teachers, substitute teachers have a set of requirements that are much less restrictive. All that you need to become a substitute teacher in most school districts is a Bachelor’s Degree. This Bachelor’s Degree can be in any subject, but obviously, a degree in the specific field one would like to sub for is preferable.

For example, if one would like to teach high school English, an English degree is a plus. A degree in education is also a plus, but it is not usually a requirement. The higher the degree one has, the more competitive their substitute teaching resume will be. Teachers may be substituting for elementary school teachers, high school teachers, or preschool teachers, and each level has a different set of expectations from the applicant.

One other requirement for becoming a substitute teacher is to pass a Basic Skills proficiency exam in the state in which you will be teaching. This exam assesses one’s skills in reading, writing, and basic math. The score required varies from state to state, so it is important to look up the requirements in your state and adhere to them. Keep in mind, though, that you must take this test in the state in which you will be teaching, not in your native state or the state in which you attended college (if they are different).

Job Duties

A substitute teacher’s duties are much like those of a class’s regular teacher.

According to teacher.org, some daily tasks include:
  • Taking attendance
  • Making announcements about school or classroom news or policies
  • Monitoring students during their lunch break
  • Monitoring students at recess
  • Bus duties (helping students to find and board the correct bus to get home after school)
  • Teaching
  • Following lesson plans
  • Making lesson plans
  • Ensuring the safety of students
In addition to these duties, long-term subs may also be required to do the following:
  • Enter grades into the grade book or computer
  • Attend meetings
  • Call parents of students about issues or updates in the classroom
  • Other duties expected of a full-time teacher

In most cases, a substitute is expected to take on all of the duties of the regular teacher, so it is important to find out what is expected of you beforehand so that you can be prepared.

Short-Term Versus Long-Term Substitutes

As mentioned in the introduction, substitute teaching can be either a long-term job or a short-term one. Substitutes who are asked to take over a classroom for the short-term are usually there between a day and a week. These subs typically just follow the same routine as the full-time teacher, acting on the plans that have already been made, or simply keeping the students busy and working until their normal teacher returns.

Long-term substitutes play a much different role, however. While they may still be given lesson plans and the other materials necessary to run the classroom, in reality, they are acting as a full-time teacher. They are responsible for keeping track of students grades, for staying up-to-date on school policies, and for making sure that the students are learning and progressing over the long-term. For this reason, it is a good idea for substitutes to have experience taking a course in education or at least be familiar with making and carrying out lesson plans – as well with dealing with any unexpected events that may occur over the course of a semester.

Desirable Qualities

Contrary to what you may have thought when you were in school, a substitute teacher is more than just someone who comes into the classroom and plays a video for the students to keep them busy while their regular teacher is away. They are there to teach and to keep the class running smoothly. Substitute teachers must be authoritative and in control of the classroom, but flexible enough to deal with things as they occur and to cater a lesson to better fit the students. They must also have a sense of humor to make students feel comfortable and secure without seeming like a push-over.

Substitute teachers must also be prepared for anything students may throw at them. They must have the ability to let things just roll off their backs, as students are typically more difficult around a substitute than they are around their usual teacher. A sub must earn the respect of his or her students, even if it is just for an hour a day.

The best substitute teachers also communicate fully with the teacher they are replacing. Leaving a note at the end of the day updating the regular teacher on the things that happened while he or she was gone is a great way to assure that everything goes smoothly, and to ensure you will be asked back.

In-Depth Job Description

While there aren’t too many requirements necessary to pursue a career in substitute teaching, there are a lot of tasks required on a daily basis.

Here is a description of many of the duties and responsibilities one must be prepared to carry out if they are hired as a sub:
  • Arrive early to cover bus duty or other duties, as well as to communicate with the administration about what is expected of you during the day
  • Stay after school to carry out similar duties and to return borrowed materials and report to the administration
  • Follow the proper sign-in and sign-out procedures for the school
  • Write or deliver oral reports to the administration as needed about the progress or students or the events of the day
  • Follow lesson plans left by the regular teacher, and/or be prepared to make your own
  • Be able to adapt lessons and the classroom environment to the needs of the students, as well as their interests and grade level
  • Work to achieve the goals of both the daily lesson plan and the overall curriculum
  • Keep in mind the overall scope of the lessons, units, and projects, and how they fit into the overarching curriculum
  • Use teaching methods that are best suited for the subject matter and students
  • Keep the classroom neat and tidy
  • Straighten tables, chairs, and materials, and erase the chalkboard
  • Never leave students unattended in the classroom or outside of it
  • Take attendance
  • Be aware of emergency procedures and evacuation plans
  • Be familiar with the disciplinary protocol for students who act out
  • Be familiar with district regulations and school procedures
  • Carry out the duties assigned to the regular teacher outside of the classroom, including hall monitoring, lunchroom duty, bus duty, or recess duty
  • Be courteous with the regular staff and other teachers
  • Collect necessary information from students and staff while maintaining the proper levels of confidentiality
  • Be enthusiastic about and committed to your work
  • Be able to interact with staff, faculty, and students at all grade levels with ease
  • Be sensitive to issues that require goodwill on behalf of the school, and keep in mind the school’s needs and public image
  • Be great at time management
  • Be fluent in using the computer for lessons and inputting grade information
  • Be an effective communicator both out loud and in written text
  • Be an active listener
  • Be ready for the unexpected, and be prepared to act in a useful and helpful way when unplanned events arise

What Types of Schools Substitutes Can Work In

Once one has established that they are qualified to become a substitute teacher, they have multiple options for what types of schools they can teach in, which includes private, public and charter schools.

Here is a list of the most common:
  • Private Schools – Private schools are schools in which tuition is required to be paid. Some of these schools have religious affiliations, but others are non-denominational. Substitutes do not always necessarily have to belong to the religious organization that the school is based on, but some private schools only hire subs who are members of their denomination or at least very familiar with and respectful of it. Private schools typically have a strict dress code that must be enforced. The substitute teacher is also expected to follow a curriculum that has been laid out by the school, while students must also meet the state standards.
  • Public Schools – Public schools are free to students, and the curriculum is laid out by the county. Teachers are allowed to come up with their own lesson plans, however, so a short-term sub can often just follow the plan that has already been made by the full-time teacher. Most subs get their start in the public school sector. You can apply to be a substitute for a specific subject by applying at the board of education.
  • Charter Schools – Charters schools are similar to private schools, in that the school is responsible for the curriculum. These schools are often very choosy when it comes to both students and teachers, so substitutes may find that there are a lot of strict requirements to work at this type of establishment.

Qualified substitute teachers can also find work as tutors, as well as by teaching classes online. These things are sometimes used as a “fallback plan,” as there is no guarantee of daily work as a sub. Sometimes a substitute teacher will be employed with the same school or assignment for months, but other times they may just have to wait until a school needs them. Tutoring or teaching online courses on the side is a good way to keep earning income as one waits for their next opportunity.

Average Substitute Teacher Salary

According to Glassdoor.com, the typical substitute teacher makes around $29,501 per year. This number can vary based on which grade levels you substitute for, where you work, and whether you are a long- or short-term sub. For example, a substitute teacher at an elementary school can make up to $47,000 per year, while a preschool sub can make around $29,000.

Where to Work as a Substitute Teacher

The Bureau of Labor Statistics breaks down the employment statistics for substitute teachers, including which states have the highest employment rates.

Here are the five states with the highest employment rate for substitute teachers, along with the average salary:


  • Employment: 106,790
  • Hourly Mean Wage: $19.67
  • Annual Mean Wage: $40,920


  • Employment: 69,500
  • Hourly Mean Wage: $11.53
  • Annual Mean Wage: $23,990

New York

  • Employment: 37,370
  • Hourly Mean Wage: $18.57
  • Annual Mean Wage: $38,630


  • Employment: 27,870
  • Hourly Mean Wage: Not estimated for this study
  • Annual Mean Wage: Not estimated for this study


  • Employment: 23,450
  • Hourly Mean Wage: $13.34
  • Annual Mean Wage: $27,750

Tips for Substitute Teachers

Once a substitute teacher is hired and given an assignment, there are a few things he or she can do to make the job easier. While other teachers know that you are not familiar with the daily routine, you should arrive early and try to get a handle on things as soon as possible. Read all the notes that the regular teacher left behind for you (if their absence was planned) and attend any required meetings. Be prepared for your main job to be keeping order in the classroom, especially if you are a short-term sub.

If you are assigned a class that is extremely difficult to manage, you can usually try to avoid coming back to that classroom or school in the future. If you have a good experience, though, leaving the classroom in good order, grading assignments properly, and leaving a note (possibly along with your business card) are great ways to get hired back in the future.

Turning Substitute Teaching into Something More

If you are a long-term sub, the potential is high to become that classroom’s full-time teacher if the regular teacher ends up leaving for good. If this is your goal, make it known that you are interested in pursuing a longer-term position, and if everything goes well, you may just be able to turn your substitute gig into a full-fledged teacher position for the next school year.


Becoming a substitute teacher is every bit as demanding as being a full-time teacher. The sub must be able to adapt to a new environment on a nearly daily basis and must be able to maintain an air of authority and enthusiasm at all times. Substitute teachers often find it difficult to be embraced by the students because they are “new,” but this can be remedied by remaining composed, calm, and in control of the classroom.

Substitute teaching is a rewarding career, as it puts you in contact with students whose lives can be changed by you – and vice versa. If you want to teach but do not have a Master’s Degree, you can still leverage your Bachelor’s Degree into a well-paying job opportunity. As mentioned above, substitutes often go on to become full-fledged, full-time teachers. They can do this by substituting in classrooms long-term, or they can work as a substitute during the day while pursuing their Master’s Degree in teaching in their free time.