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Substitute Teacher Career Guide

How to Become a Substitute Teacher

There aren’t many professional careers you can try out before fully committing, but substitute teaching is one of them. Subbing is also the perfect place to start if you’re pursuing a teaching career because it provides valuable experience and a source of income as you work toward your teaching degree

The benefits of this unique teaching role don’t stop there. Subbing allows you the freedom to choose assignments at whichever schools you want. It’s also an opportunity to clock classroom hours and build professional relationships, both of which are paramount to paving the path toward your dream teaching job. Whether you’re just starting out or are changing careers, substitute teaching is an excellent way to build a future in education. 

If you’re looking to make the switch to teaching, your current bachelor’s degree could already qualify you to teach specific subjects as a substitute teacher.

Demonstration Teacher and Host Teacher

What Is a Substitute Teacher?

A substitute teacher is someone who fills in for a full-time teacher’s absence due to illness, parental leave, or other reasons either for a day or sometimes much longer. Most people at some point in their education have had a substitute teacher. This “guest” teacher is responsible for delivering the absent teacher’s lesson plans and assignments and sometimes may be required to attend staff meetings and lead additional student activities. In other scenarios, the substitute may create their own lesson plan aligned with the learning objectives of the class. 

What Does a Substitute Teacher Do?

There are many responsibilities in the day-to-day work of a substitute. Their day might go something like this: 

  • You receive a call from a school telling you that a substitute is needed. It’s common for calls to come the morning of the assignment. 
  • If possible, you find out ahead of time the lesson plans left by the teacher. If there was an emergency, there may not be any robust plans. 
  • You report to class to meet the students. You may need to get instructions from the principal or administration in order to locate the correct classroom. 
  • You deliver the day’s lesson and help the students with their assignments. You should do your best to keep students on task and provide useful feedback.
  • You give a report to the teacher about how the day went, notifying them of any concerns or issues. A little professional courtesy like this can keep you top of mind for future assignments—and lead you one step closer to having your own classroom.

Before any subbing assignment, there are many things you can do to prepare in addition to creating lesson plans. Substitute teachers must:

1) Familiarize themselves with the school’s procedures and district regulations.

2) Consult with the board of education for the district where they’re interested in teaching to learn its requirements for substitute teachers. 

3) Build their competitive edge by completing a teaching internship and staying current on teaching practices and technologies.

How Do I Become a Substitute Teacher?

Qualifications to become a substitute vary across schools, districts, and states. The best way to start your path to becoming a sub is to check with the school you’re interested in to find out their requirements for substitute teaching. At a minimum, a high school diploma or equivalent is required. Some require state-level certification or a teaching certificate (granted after successful completion of competency tests). The certificate you'll need will depend on your state and school district requirements. And different grade levels may have unique certification requirements—high school certificates may be more challenging to obtain than elementary school certificates. 

While some states require an educator certification, some will have unique substitute certificates with or without a bachelor’s degree. If you already have a degree, it could potentially open the door to substitute teaching assignments, particularly if you’re well versed in a particular subject. Here are some helpful steps to follow if you’re looking to set yourself apart as a substitute teacher. 

Once you’ve earned the credentials you need for the school where you want to teach, there are steps you’ll need to follow so you can apply to be part of their substitute teacher pool. After completing all these steps, you’ll be ready to start accepting assignments. To find substitute teaching jobs, contact individual schools, call your local school district, or search online for hiring websites, job boards, and applications.

Best Degree for Substitute Teachers

Educational Studies – B.A.

These online, non-licensure educational studies degrees prepare...

These online, non-licensure educational studies...

These online, non-licensure educational studies degrees prepare you to make a difference in a field that interests you.

Based on your career goals and interests, you can choose an educational studies program in one of 10 content areas that meets your needs while working toward employment in school settings, corporate training, or instructional design. These programs do not lead to a teaching license.

  • Time: Completion time varies depending on the specialty track you choose.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,575 per 6-month term.

Candidates for this special education degree program often include:

  • Elementary Education
  • Elementary and Special Education
  • Mild to Moderate Special Education
  • Secondary Biology Science Education
  • Secondary Chemistry Science Education
  • Secondary Earth Science Education
  • Secondary Physics Education
  • Middle Grades Science Education
  • Secondary Mathematics Education
  • Middle Grade Mathematics Education

Students in this program will be prepared for careers including:

  • Instructional support
  • Community outreach
  • Training
  • Education staff (museums, learning centers, etc.) 
  • K-12 opportunities that do not require a teaching license

Elementary Education – B.A.

An online teacher certification program for aspiring elementary...

An online teacher certification program for...

An online teacher certification program for aspiring elementary teachers.

Leads to teacher licensure. Specific grade levels will vary depending on teaching certification in your state.

  • Time: 60% of grads earned this degree within 36 months.
  • Tuition: $3,575 per 6-month term.

Candidates for this program often include:

  • Aspiring elementary school teachers who currently lack a teaching license
  • Substitute teachers
  • Career-changers
  • School paraprofessionals
  • Others who feel the call to teach

This elementary education degree program includes courses in the foundations of teacher education, instructional planning and presentation, assessment, and classroom management. Core teacher education courses focus on diversity, disciplinary literacy, elementary education methods, and pedagogy. It requires in-classroom observation and a term of full-time demonstration teaching. This online teaching degree program helps you to be eligible for teaching certification in any of the 50 states.

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No need to wait for spring or fall semester. It's back-to-school time at WGU year-round. Get started by talking to an Enrollment Counselor today, and you'll be on your way to realizing your dream of a bachelor's or master's degree—sooner than you might think!

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Pretty teacher talking to the young pupils in classroom at the elementary school

What Skills Does a Substitute Teacher Need?

The skills and qualities a substitute should possess are largely similar to those of a full-time teacher. They include:

  • Being punctual and prepared. It’s important to get to class early, read lesson plans, and be ready for the day.
  • Being authoritative. As a substitute teacher, it’s critical to maintain control of the classroom while the regular teacher is away. 
  • Having a sense of humor. Mistakes will happen and you likely won’t get everything perfect. It’s best to be able to laugh at yourself.
  • Being flexible. Last-minute notice is the norm for substitute teachers. Flexibility is key.
  • Staying enthusiastic and committed to the role. Learning the intricacies of managing a different class every day can be challenging. Stay positive and enjoy the challenge.
  • Being able to manage time wisely and effectively. It’s important to ensure the students stay on track with their work even while their teacher is out. Manage time well and help the students do so also.

How Much Does a Substitute Teacher Make?


While it’s difficult to say exactly how much a substitute teacher makes each year because of the sporadic hours, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the average hourly wage for substitutes is $17.35 which translates to $36,090 per year if one substitutes at full-time hours. The top 90% make $24.93 per hour which equals out to $51,850 per year.

What Is the Projected Job Growth?


The market for substitute teachers is expected to grow at a 3% rate from 2019 to 2029. With the growing teacher shortage and the increasing demands on teachers, it’s possible that number could grow.

Do I Need a Degree to Be a Substitute Teacher?


To be a substitute teacher, you generally don’t need a degree. In some states, you will be required or encouraged to have some sort of teacher certification. However, having a degree can set you apart. Substitute teaching is a great job while you’re working toward a teaching degree as it gives you applicable experience and helps you learn teaching skills and classroom management.

Interested in Becoming a Substitute Teacher?

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