How to Become a Substitute Teacher
Reviewed by Sarah Mattie
If you’re looking for a job that can provide a flexible schedule, immerse you in a variety of classrooms and subjects, and arm you with an impressive transferable skill set, substitute teaching may be just the career for you.
Becoming a substitute teacher can be a smart way to find out you want to be a full-time teacher in your area before you make a full-year commitment to a school. It can also provide a transition into a teaching career in a district without full-time positions available, in addition to allowing you to make professional connections that could lead to a full-time job elsewhere.
If you’re not interested in full-time teaching, substitute teaching can also be a career in its own right. For example, retired teachers often find themselves not ready to give up the school environment entirely and may elect to become substitute teachers in order to earn money on a flexible schedule without the responsibility and stress that often accompanies teaching full-time. In addition, parents who take leave to stay home with their young children may find substitute teaching allows them to later re-enter the workforce on a schedule that follows that of their school-age children.
What Does a Substitute Teacher Do?
Substitute teachers are responsible for stepping in when teachers are away and making sure classwork continues as planned. Typically, teachers will have lesson plans prepared ahead of time, but sometimes substitute teachers will have to create their own lessons, depending on the suddenness of the classroom teacher’s absence. In addition, long-term substitutes who have been assigned to cover a teacher on an extended leave can expect to organize the lessons and actively teach the students in their assigned classes.
What to Expect as a Substitute Teacher
With so many subjects and ages that could be taught, it’s difficult to say what all substitute teachers should expect on any given day. Generally, you will be able to accept or reject a substitute offer with knowledge of what grade level and/or subject you will be teaching; however, some districts allow substitutes to be moved to a different class or cover additional classes throughout the day.
You will need to be prepared for students of different age groups and from diverse backgrounds who have different learning styles and needs. Patience, flexibility, and a good sense of humor will help you, especially when faced with students who may mistakenly think your presence signals a “day off” from learning.
Pros and Cons of Being a Substitute Teacher
As with any job, substitute teaching comes with its own set of benefits and potential drawbacks. Here are some pros and cons to consider.
Career Outlook and Salary for Substitute Teachers
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), substitute teachers earn a median wage of $36,090. Those in the top 90% of wage estimates can earn up to $51,850 per year. While the BLS does not track job growth for substitute teachers, the National Education Association says finding subs is a persistent problem for schools and districts nationwide.
(Salary data reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in May 2020 for substitute teachers. Figures represent national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Information accessed April 2021.)
Steps to Become a Substitute Teacher
While some states or districts require only a GED or high school diploma, others require a bachelor’s degree and/or certification. While you will need to pass a background check universally, some locations have that as your only “test,” while others may require additional exams, training, and/or observation time.
Resources for Current and Future Substitute Teachers
State-by-State Requirements for Substitute Teachers
If you’re interested in becoming a substitute teacher, it’s a good time to kick off your new career. Several states are experiencing a substitute teacher shortage and looking for creative ways to incentivize and bring prospective subs to their schools.
To help you get started, we’ve broken down the requirements for substitute teachers for each state in the country.
To work as a substitute teacher in Alabama, you don’t need a teacher’s certificate, but you will need a high school diploma or GED. You’ll also need to submit a $30 fee and application packet verifying these other requirements:
- Background check
- Eligibility to work in the United States
There is no formal certification process in Alaska to become a substitute teacher. Instead, job-seekers apply directly to school districts and adhere to their requirements. However, most districts require that applicants have at least a bachelor’s degree, and they may also ask for:
- Evidence of classroom experience
- Fingerprinting and background check
- Letters of recommendation
- Official transcripts
You don’t need a teaching certificate to be a substitute teacher in Arizona. If you have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school and meet these additional qualifications, you can apply to substitute:
- Completed application plus $60 fee
- Official transcript(s)
- A photocopy of your valid Arizona Department of Public Safety Identity Verified Prints (IVP) fingerprint card
The state of Arkansas requires prospective substitute teachers to have a high school diploma or GED equivalent plus a completed background check. Some districts may also require some college credits and/or completion of mandatory training or observation time. If you’re hired as a substitute and stay for more than 30 days, your employer will need to submit a licensure exception for you to continue teaching without a license.
California refers to all of their substitutes as “emergency substitutes,” while other states only use “emergency” in reference to truly unexpected situations. There are several substitute teacher permits you can apply for in California, depending on your education and experience:
Emergency 30-Day Substitute Teaching Permit: This option is for day-to-day substitute teaching and requires the following:
- Official transcripts showing you’ve earned a bachelor’s or higher degree from a regionally-accredited college or university
- Meeting the basic skills requirement
Emergency Substitute Teaching Permit for Prospective Teachers: This permit is for individuals who have not earned a bachelor’s or higher degree and requires:
- Completion of a minimum of 90 semester units from a regionally-accredited four-year institution
- Verification of current enrollment in a regionally-accredited teacher preparation program
- Meeting the basic skills requirement
Emergency Career Substitute Permit: This option is available for those with 3+ years of substitute teaching experience in California and requires:
- Official transcripts showing you’ve earned a bachelor’s or higher degree from a regionally accredited college or university
- Meeting the basic skills requirement
- Verification of past classroom and substitute experience
- Statement of endorsement signed by the superintendent
Emergency Designated Subjects Career Technical Education Permit: For qualified substitute teachers in career technical education to teach for up to 30 days, they must meet the following requirements:
- A high school diploma or equivalent
- Three or more years of relevant work experience
Colorado issues one-year, three-year, and five-year authorizations that allow you to work as a substitute teacher. The one-year authorization requires just a high school diploma or its equivalent, and while it is renewable, not all school districts will accept it. The three-year authorization requires a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited school, and the five-year authorization requires a current or expired Colorado teaching certificate or license.
You’ll need a bachelor’s degree and a strong background in your subject of choice to become a substitute teacher in Connecticut, although requirements vary by school district. Typically, substitutes must pass a background/fingerprint check before being hired and can work up to 40 days per academic year without a valid teacher’s credentials.
Pay varies by district in Connecticut. For example, in the Connecticut Technical Education and Career System (CTECS), you’ll receive $155 per day as a substitute, while other district rates start at $120 a day.
Requirements for substitute teachers in Delaware are set at the school district level and not by the Delaware Department of Education, so it’s a good idea to check with the district in which you want to work for a specific breakdown of requirements. However, you can expect them to do a background check on you, and districts will want to see a minimum of a high school diploma for consideration.
- You are a retired teacher
- You have 1-2 years’ experience working with students
- Submit a professional reference letter to email@example.com (if you have less than one year of experience with students)
You’ll also be asked to submit a complete background and fingerprint checks, and you may be asked to come in for a group interview. D.C. sub rates are competitive: you can expect to make $120 for a full day of teaching.
The requirements for substitute teaching in Florida are governed by the individual school district and not set by the state’s department of education. At a minimum, you’ll need to show proof of both a background check and a high school diploma.
Georgia employs substitute teachers in priority order according to an applicant’s credentials. While the minimum requirement is a high school diploma and satisfactory background check, many schools prefer that you hold a valid teacher certificate. The preference order for hiring includes:
- Holding a valid teacher certification in-field
- Holding a valid teacher certification
- Bachelor’s degree or higher
- High school diploma or GED certificate
Most substitute teachers have a 45-day limit in one classroom, but those teaching without a certificate can work no more than 10 consecutive days.
To be a substitute teacher in Hawaii, you can apply directly to the school you’re interested in, and you’ll need to reapply each school year. To be considered, you must have a bachelor’s degree, and the state prioritizes the hiring of any teachers with a certificate or license. You’ll also need to complete some other requirements:
- Complete a state-wide substitute teacher course
- Agree to a background check
- Provide official transcripts
Substitute teachers enjoy a higher wage than many other states; they can earn between $151 to $178 per day, depending on their credentials and experience.
Idaho school districts set the standards for their substitute teachers, often requiring that you be at least 21 years old, have at least a high school diploma, and complete school-required training. Some schools will also request that you be available for a certain number of days each year, and you’ll be asked to complete a fingerprinting and background check.
To obtain a substitute license in Illinois, you must have a bachelor’s degree or higher from a regionally accredited institution of higher education. Licenses are valid for five years and can be renewed. Additionally, the state requires you to complete short-term substitute training before you can start working.
School employers in Indiana directly screen candidates for a substitute teaching license, which is valid for one academic school year (and is non-renewable). To be eligible, you must meet these minimum requirements before you can apply for licensure online:
- Hold a high school diploma or equivalent
- Be 18 years of age or older
- Meet the requirements of the school employer
The state of Iowa issues a renewable five-year substitute license to teachers with a valid or expired teacher license, which allows them to teach for up to 90 consecutive days. The state also offers a non-renewable two-year license for those over 21 who are currently enrolled in a teacher preparation program in the state. To be eligible, you must be a junior or senior and be recommended by your program. For those who do not have and are not pursuing a teaching certification or degree, five year substitute authorizations are available to those who have a bachelor’s or higher and complete a substitute authorization course.
In Kansas, you must complete a teacher preparation program to become a substitute teacher, and you can apply for a substitute license with a lapsed license. The state also allows districts to hire substitutes with an emergency license to fill positions in areas of high need, which is valid for the academic year. To apply for this license, you need to hold a bachelor’s degree in your subject of choice. All substitute teachers in Kansas also need to submit a fingerprint card for consideration.
Kentucky issues either a standard five-year certificate or an emergency certificate to its substitute teachers. To qualify for the five-year certificate, you need a B.A. in a teacher preparation program and either a Kentucky teaching certificate (current or expired) or a valid out-of-state teaching certificate.
Schools eligible for an emergency substitute can hire teachers with a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution, or those with at least 64 semester hours of college credit and a 2.5 minimum GPA. You can renew your five-year substitute certification by submitting the application and certification fee.
In Louisiana, the requirements for becoming a substitute teacher vary according to the school district. While you can apply for jobs with a high school diploma and a completed background check, many schools will also ask the following of you:
- A bachelor’s degree or higher with a minimum GPA of 2.5
- Direct classroom experience or credits taken in a teacher preparation program or another directly related training program
- Completion of state competency or subject-matter tests
Maine school districts set the standards for substitute teachers. While state law requires only a high school diploma to be a substitute, many schools prefer candidates with some postsecondary education. Maine is experiencing a teacher shortage, and some districts like Portland Public Schools (PPS), are incentivizing substitute teachers with different pay rates based on their credentials. In PPS, subs with associate degrees earn $85 per day, those with bachelor’s degrees are paid $95 per day, and certified teachers garner $100 per day.
Other requirements that prospective substitute teachers will need to meet:
- Complete orientation, training, or observation time
- Have previous classroom experience
- Complete background checks or fingerprint cards
School districts set the standards for substitute teachers in Maryland, but most require the following:
- High school diploma or higher (associate or bachelor’s degrees are preferred)
- Completed background check
- Be at least 18 years old
- Submit an online application
- Provide recommendations
The Massachusetts Department of Education doesn’t regulate the standards for substitute teachers and leaves hiring processes up to the school districts. However, you do need a bachelor’s degree to work as a substitute teacher, and many districts (including Boston Public Schools) require at least one of the following credentials:
- A teaching certificate (in Massachusetts or another state)
- 2+ years of teaching experience
- Completed background check
- Completion of a school-mandated training course
In Michigan, substitute teachers are issued permits to teach for different amounts of time, and the specific requirements for each vary:
Daily Substitute Permit: Used for one-off, daily assignments, this permit requires that you have at least 60 semester hours of credit (with a ‘C’ grade or better) from a regionally accredited two- or four-year school. These permits can only be used once in a 90-day period but can be extended if the school can complete a formal observation and assign the substitute a mentor.
Full-Year BASIC Substitute Permit: The BASIC permit requires that substitutes have 60 semester hours or more of college education and either completion of a major that corresponds to the permitted subject area they want to teach or a state-approved test for that discipline. The school is required to assign mentors to these substitutes, and they can renew their permit up to three times with either effective or higher ratings OR additional credits earned toward a teacher training program.
Full-Year SHORTAGE Substitute Permit: This permit allows teachers who have completed a teacher’s certificate and endorsement(s) to teach as a substitute at 0.5 FTE (half full-time). This permit can be renewed up to three times.
Expert Substitute Permit: This permit is for specialists in their field who have demonstrated success and expertise and allows up to 0.5 FTE employment as a substitute teacher.
Substitute teachers in Minnesota need at least a bachelor’s degree and enrollment in a teacher preparation program to apply for a Short-Call License, which is valid for three years. Retired teachers may be eligible for the Lifetime Substitute License if they previously held a Tier 3 or Tier 4 license.
There are no license requirements for substitute teachers in Mississippi, so check with the district you want to work in to see what qualities they’re looking for in a substitute. In addition to a fingerprint card and a high school diploma, schools will likely prefer applicants with a bachelor’s degree or completion of a teacher preparation program.
Unless you already hold a valid teaching certificate in Missouri, you’ll need to apply for a substitute teacher certificate before you can teach as either a content or a career technical sub. The application requirements are as follows:
- Submit an application with a $50 fee
- Provide original transcripts
- Complete a background/fingerprint check
Content subs need to show at least 60 hours of credit from a regionally accredited school, while career technical subs need an associate or bachelor’s degree plus relevant occupational experience directly tied to the vocation you’re applying to. You can expect to make an average of $109 a day as a substitute teacher in Missouri.
Montana substitute teacher requirements are controlled at the district level and not by the Department of Education, so they may vary depending on the school in which you’d like to work. Most districts, however, will ask for the following qualifications:
- A bachelor’s degree
- A satisfactory background check or fingerprint card
- An orientation session or training
Nebraska offers two permits for substitute teachers, each with different requirements. Both also require fingerprint cards, official transcripts, and the completion of an online application:
Local Substitute Permit: This permit involves the completion of 60 semester credit hours of college coursework, a professional education course, and a human relations training requirement, as well as a written request from the superintendent.
State Substitute Permit: This permit requires the completion of a bachelor’s degree, a teacher education program at an approved school, and a human relations training requirement.
Nevada issues both substitute teacher and emergency substitute teacher licenses. Substitute teachers must hold a valid teaching license and endorsement and have an associate degree plus at least 60 hours of credits from an accredited college or university. They can serve as a short- or long-term classroom substitute. Emergency teachers need just a high school diploma to apply and can teach for up to five days in a 20-day period in high-need, rural classrooms.
You won’t need a license to be a substitute teacher in New Hampshire. Districts manage the hiring and qualification process of substitutes, so the requirements will vary, but most include:
- High school diploma, post-secondary credit earned, or a bachelor’s degree
- Background check and fingerprinting
- Mandatory training, orientation, or observation time
In New Jersey, you’re qualified to substitute teach if you hold a New Jersey educator credential or a substitute credential or a career and technical education (CTE) substitute credential. To qualify for a substitute credential, you’ll need at least 60 semester credit hours at a regionally accredited college or university and a background check. To be eligible for a CTE credential, you’ll need at least two years of relevant full-time work experience in the past five years and to pass a background check. The state maintains a different application process and service times depending on the credential you choose. The compensation varies by district, but any substitute who is employed for over 60 days must be compensated at a salary consistent with a teacher’s.
Substitute teachers in New Mexico will need to submit an application and a Superintendent Verification Form signed by the school hiring you before you can be issued a license. In addition to earning a high school diploma and completing orientation at the school, you’ll need to demonstrate:
Option 1: That you’ve either completed an approved teacher preparation program from a regionally accredited college or university OR hold a current substitute or standard teaching license (in any state).
Option 2: Meet any TWO of the following:
- Worked as a voluntary assistant for a minimum of three hours during three days (in the last 12 months)
- Observed three or more hours of teaching
- Completed an approved substitute teacher workshop
- Been a substitute teacher in an accredited school recognized by the Public Education Department (in the past three years)
- Was employed for the three years before applying for substitute teaching employment
- Has completed at least 60 hours of college-credit courses from a regionally accredited college or university
- Has completed, or is currently enrolled in, an approved teacher preparation program from a regionally accredited college or university
In New York State, you must be nominated by the school principal before you can be considered eligible to sub and must reapply for nomination each year. Substitute teachers are compensated at a per diem daily rate of $188.75, without benefits, and need these credentials to apply for nomination:
- A bachelor’s degree
- Completion of an online application
- Authorization to work in the United States
- Background check/fingerprinting
- A New York teaching certificate OR completion of the New York State Combined Assessment and Processing event
To continue your status for the following year, you’ll need to work at least 20 days and maintain a satisfactory or higher rating. If you’ve worked more than 40 days, you’ll also need to demonstrate that you’ve earned credits in a teacher education program.
You don’t need a specific license to be a substitute teacher in North Carolina, but as with most states, you’ll need a minimum of a high school diploma and a completed background check. Because substitute hiring requirements vary by school district, some districts may have additional requirements, like college credits earned or direct classroom experience.
Substitute teaching licenses in North Dakota are valid for two years and expire on the applicant’s birthday. To receive a substitute license to teach grades K-12, you’ll need to meet these requirements:
- Complete at least 48 semester hours of college coursework
- Submit a background check
- Submit an official transcript
- Complete an online application and pay the $85 application fee
Substitute teachers in Ohio can apply for either a one- or five-year substitute license, neither of which is renewable. The grade level and subject you can teach and the amount of time you can serve in one classroom are dependent on your experience and education:
Education Degree-Unlimited: This license indicates that the substitute has completed a post-secondary degree in education. These subs can teach an unlimited number of days in a specific class in any subject or grade level.
Subject-Specific: For substitutes with a post-secondary degree in a subject related to the area of licensure, these teachers can substitute for unlimited days in the designated subject area at any grade level and can teach up to one semester in other subjects with local board approval.
General Substitute: For substitute teachers with a post-secondary degree in a subject other than the one they are teaching or in education, these teachers can substitute in any grade level and topic for up to one semester with local board approval.
To apply for your license, first apply for a job directly through a school district’s website and alert them you’ll also be completing a license application online. The school needs to e-sign your application when it’s complete. Make sure to gather these documents, as well:
- Completed background check
- Official transcripts
The Oklahoma Department of Education prefers that substitute teachers meet the standards of ‘highly qualified’ teachers, but because there are no statewide requirements, each district decides how and who to hire.
To be highly qualified means:
- Holding a minimum of a bachelor’s degree
- Having obtained full Oklahoma certification or an Oklahoma teaching license and does not have certification or licensure requirements waived on an emergency, temporary, or provisional basis
- Having demonstrated subject-matter competency in each of the academic subjects in which the teacher teaches, in a manner determined by the state
To be issued a substitute teacher license in Oregon, you can either apply for a restricted license (if you haven’t yet completed a teacher preparation program) or a regular substitute license (if you have completed a program). Restricted licenses are valid for one year with an option to renew for three years. You must have a bachelor’s degree and a district sponsor to be considered eligible.
For a substitute license, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree and either an out-of-state certificate (valid and active) or proof that you’ve completed a teacher preparation program and are eligible for certification. These licenses are valid for three years.
Compensation for Oregon substitute teachers ranges depending on the district you’re employed in but is generally competitive nationwide—substitutes make from $187.91-$248.71 per day.
If you already hold a Pennsylvania or out-of-state teaching credential and a bachelor’s degree, it’s relatively straightforward to become a substitute teacher in the state. School districts can also opt to hire non-credentialed substitutes on a day-to-day basis by requesting an emergency permit. School districts set the compensation amounts and may have additional eligibility requirements, so make sure to check with them first before applying.
To make it easier for aspiring substitute teachers to find jobs in Rhode Island schools, the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) eliminated their substitute permit process in 2016, and now require only a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited school to become a substitute teacher on a day-to-day basis.
You’ll need at least a high school diploma or a GED to become a substitute teacher in South Carolina. The state’s Department of Education doesn’t require additional prerequisites but instead asks school districts to manage the hiring and application process for substitute teachers.
In South Dakota, substitute teachers need to apply directly to school districts for any job openings. While the requirements will vary, you can expect that most will want to see that you have:
- A bachelor’s degree or some (60 credit hours or more) college-level experience in your field
- Direct classroom experience
- Official transcripts
- Letters of recommendation
Requirements for substitute teachers in Tennessee will vary by the school district, but at a minimum, applicants should expect the following conditions:
- A high school diploma or GED, or a bachelor’s degree
- Fingerprint card and background check
- A completed skills test
- Official transcripts
- Letters of recommendation
The Texas Education Agency doesn’t have a set of requirements for substitute teachers in Texas, and the districts govern decisions and requirements. However, most districts prefer that substitute teachers hold either a valid teacher certificate or have extensive experience and a bachelor’s degree or higher level of education in their subject of choice. To be considered for substitute teacher roles in Texas, submit your application to the school districts you’d like to work in.
There are no statewide recognized requirements for substitute teachers in Utah, which means prospective teachers will need to check with the school district for additional information. Most districts will require at least a high school diploma or GED, some form of teaching or substitute training, and a formal interview to be considered for an open classroom position.
In Vermont, hiring for paraeducators, substitute teachers, and other school support staff takes place at the district level; therefore, the requirements are not set by the state’s Agency of Education. Aspiring substitute teachers should review job postings through the SchoolSpring Application Network.
In Virginia, substitute teachers can cover a classroom for up to 90 teaching days during an academic school year. You can become a substitute teacher by fulfilling a few crucial requirements:
- Be at least 18 years old and have either a high school diploma or GED certificate
- Have two years of postsecondary education or two years of work experience with children
- Complete school-mandated orientation
Washington state has the same requirements for regular and substitute teachers: a valid teacher’s certificate from an approved teacher preparation program, completion of a bachelor’s degree or higher, and a completed background and fingerprint check.
In districts with a severe teacher shortage, districts can specifically request an Emergency Substitute Certificate be issued to substitute teachers who have valid or expired credentials.
West Virginia issues short- and long-term substitute teaching permits to teachers who meet the following criteria:
- Have a bachelor’s degree with a cumulative GPA of 2.0
- Completion of a county authorized initial substitute teacher training
A short-term permit allows you to sub for up to 30 days in the same classroom. If you’re interested in applying for the long-term permit, you’ll also need to demonstrate that you’ve completed at least 12 semester hours of credit (with a grade of C or higher) in the subject area you want to teach.
Substitute teachers in Wisconsin are issued licenses on either a one-year, three-year, or five-year basis. Five-year substitute licenses are issued to teachers who have completed a state-approved educator preparation program and who either have or are eligible for a teacher license. This license allows you to sub for either long- or short-term assignments and enables you to apply for a “One-Year License with Stipulations” to sub outside the grade or subject level of the license.
If you have an associate degree or higher and complete the state-mandated substitute teacher training, you can apply for a three-year license, which allows you to sub short-term (45 days or less) for the three-year window. All licenses are eligible for renewal.
Aspiring substitute teachers in Wyoming need to apply for a Substitute Teacher Permit, which is valid for up to five years and renewable thereafter. If you’ve completed at least 60 semester hours or an associate degree from a regionally accredited institution, you’re eligible to apply after completing a fingerprint card, background check, and the United States and Wyoming Constitution exams. If you haven’t earned college credit but have a GED and some direct experience, you can still apply. To be considered, you’ll need at least 24 hours of school district in-service training and at least 30 classroom observation (10 hours each level: elementary, junior high/middle, and high school).
Retired teachers with a teaching certificate (active or expired) can also apply for the Lifetime Substitute Teacher Permit to teach in any K-12 classroom. For first-time or reinstatement permits, submit a Wyoming application packet.