The Quick Guide to Becoming a Substitute Teacher

It requires a unique mix of skills.

Substitute teacher giving a student a high five and a quote: ""I feel like I've became part of the school family," Ann M. tells us. "The teachers and principal really value me as part of their staff and know they can count on me."

According to a recent Education Week survey, 77 percent of school leaders across the nation reported having a hard time hiring enough substitute teachers to provide adequate coverage for teacher absences. And while shortages vary by state, subject area, and even by schools within districts, one thing is certain: the value of substitute teachers cannot be overstated. Effective substitute teachers make a significant contribution to our students, our schools, and our communities. If you’re wondering how to become a substitute teacher, below are answers to some of the most common FAQs.

Is substitute teaching a good job for me?

Becoming a substitute teacher is an attractive prospect for many people. If you’re considering a teaching career, it’s a good way to test the waters before plunging all the way in. For new teachers or those relocating to a new district, it’s a good way to get your foot in the door. Even if you’re just looking to make some extra money with a flexible part-time job, substitute teaching can be a great opportunity.

Some of the questions to ask yourself before making the decision to become a substitute teacher include:

  • Do you like working with children?
  • Are you OK with the possibility of unpredictable, part-time work?
  • Is being able to set your own schedule a high priority?
  • Do you like the idea of working with different age groups?
  • Are you comfortable covering a wide spectrum of content?
  • Are you able to forego benefits like vacation pay and health benefits?

It’s important to answer these questions honestly because, frankly, the job is not for everyone. Priscilla L. became a substitute teacher when her children entered elementary school. “It was a perfect fit for our family,” she says. “We could go to school and come home together. It gave me valuable insight into the community where they spent so much of their time.”

What skills are needed to be a substitute teacher?

Substitute teaching requires a unique mix of skills. First and foremost patience, empathy, and a sincere love of children are mandatory. These skills are also required to do the job well: 



Substitute teachers need to be able to communicate clearly with students and not be afraid to stand up in front of the class. In addition, they must be able to work with team teachers and other school personnel. 


One of the hardest parts about being a substitute teacher is classroom management. Especially if you’re working with students you’ve never met before, an air of confidence and (benevolent) authority is essential.


Every teacher’s classroom community is different. When you enter as a substitute teacher, you need to be able to adapt quickly, fit in, and follow the teacher’s plans. 


Every teacher’s nightmare is returning from time off to find their classroom a mess with no evidence of what was accomplished (or not) while they were gone. Substitute teachers must be able to keep materials and paperwork organized and accessible for teachers when they return. 

Time Management

School schedules can be complicated. Substitute teachers must be able to move lessons along and keep students on track. In addition, they must be able to follow the schedule and ensure students are where they need to be at the right time. 

Computer Literacy

Many classroom tasks require technology skills, from taking attendance to accessing video lessons and smart boards to helping students log on to learning apps. Being comfortable with technology and knowledgeable about troubleshooting tactics is a must. 


Last but not least, sometimes substitute teachers need to get creative. That might mean having your own special tricks to keep learners engaged or knowing what to do when a lesson falls flat. Even the most seasoned teachers have days when everything falls apart. So being able to think on your feet is important. 

For more tips on how to be an effective sub and have fun doing it, read our article 50 Tips, Tricks, and Ideas for Substitute Teachers.

What are the benefits of being a substitute teacher?

There are many benefits to becoming a substitute teacher. The work is part-time and flexible. It’s a great way to earn supplemental income while gaining valuable experience. “My time as a substitute was invaluable to my development as a teacher,” says Alyssa E. “I got experience at different levels in different subjects. In addition, I picked up a lot of helpful tips for setting up my classroom community.” 

Being a substitute teacher is definitely less stressful than being a full-time classroom teacher. You are not responsible for planning lessons or attending meetings or trainings. And when the students leave for the day, so can you. Plus, you can count on having holidays and summers off (unless you choose to sub for summer school).   

And if you get on a school’s preferred substitute list, you really get to know students and teachers and become an important part of the community. “I feel like I’ve became part of the school family,” Ann M. tells us. “The teachers and principal really value me as part of their staff and know they can count on me. It’s super stressful for teachers to take time off. So I’m happy to be able to give them peace of mind when they need to step away.”

Best of all, you get to work with kids! Plus, you gain a sense of pride for making a valuable contribution in a field where there is much need. 

What are the drawbacks to being a substitute teacher?

As a substitute teacher, you are an at-will employee. That means there are no guarantees when it comes to hours or wages. The demand is unpredictable and does not usually provide benefits. If you are just starting out and working at a different school each day, it’s hard to feel connected. It takes time and exposure to build a rapport with students. In addition, let’s just say some teachers’ plans are better than others. If you’re lucky enough to sub for an uber-organized teacher, the job is a dream. If not, well, that’s where creativity comes into play (see above). 

What are substitute teacher requirements?

The rules and regulations for substitute teachers vary widely from state to stateGo to your state’s Department of Education website to verify the requirements in your community. Usually, you must hold a valid teaching license or substitute license. Some districts with particularly urgent needs issue provisional licenses. The level of education required to be a sub also varies by state. Some require only a high school diploma. For others, you’ll need a college degree and possibly proof of particular coursework. 

Other requirements could include a criminal background check and a certification of health and vaccination. Some districts require safety training such as CPR and first aid. Most school districts have an application process and ask for letters of recommendation. And once you get hired as a substitute, you may need to attend orientation or training sessions. 

How much do substitute teachers get paid?

On average, substitute teachers can earn anywhere from $75 to $200 for a full day’s work. But sub pay varies greatly from state to state and between urban and rural communities. Some districts offer incentive pay for high volume days like Friday and Monday. Some districts differentiate pay depending on the grade level. Get in touch with your local school district to learn about rates in your area.  

Have you recently made the decision to become a substitute teacher? How’s it going? Please share in the comments.

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The Quick Guide to Becoming a Substitute Teacher