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Substitute Teacher

Education and Training: Some college
Average Salary: $8-18 per hour
Job Outlook: Good

Substitute teachers are people who stand in for a regular classroom teacher when he or she must take a sick day or personal day. Many subs work on a part-time, as-needed basis and choose their own hours from those that are available, but some schools hire permanent substitute teachers to float from classroom to classroom as teachers are unavailable on any given day of the week. Some substitute teachers will also have long-term sub positions, especially in cases where regular teachers take maternity leave or long-term sick leave.

Substitute teachers are responsible for controlling the classroom, maintaining classroom routines, helping students with work, and carrying out lesson plans. At the elementary level, subs may be expected to teach basic concepts to students, but at the middle and high school levels, their lack of expertise in a subject area often means they are assisting with worksheets or supervising tests instead of actually teaching. Different school districts have different policies on what subs are to be doing during the day, but the most controlling factor in how a sub spends time in the room is the lesson plan left behind by the regular classroom teacher.

Besides lesson plans, substitute teachers are responsible for classroom discipline, and they record basic notes for the teacher and the administration, including taking attendance.

Education and Training Requirements

Education requirements for substitute teachers vary from one school district to another. Most districts require at least a few hours’ worth of college classes for their subs, but permanent substitutes and long-term substitutes are more likely to need actual teaching credentials, even including a teaching license. To find out about education requirements, potential subs should check with their local school districts.

Most school districts require that substitute teachers have licenses with their individual districts, as well. These are normally easy to obtain, and potential substitutes may simply have to attend an interview, provide transcripts from college, and possibly provide letters of recommendation to get these licenses or certifications.

Getting the Job

Substitute teachers should apply with their individual school districts. Normally, applications go to the main administration office. Substitute teachers who work on an as-needed basis will simply apply to be subs in general. Typically, they will provide a centralized calling center with their available days for substitute teaching. Then, they can either deny or accept job requests as they come up. Sometimes job requests are last minute, as much as the morning of a substitute teaching job, but others they are planned a week or more ahead of time, if teachers know they are going to be out of school.

Substitute teachers applying for long-term or permanent substitute positions will go through a more formal process involving interviews and such.

Job Prospects, Employment Outlook and Career Development

Job prospects for substitute teachers are always fairly steady, and many school districts – particularly those in tough inner city schools – have difficulty keeping a sufficient list of subs to cover all their teacher absences throughout the school year.

Substitute teachers with actual teaching licenses may use their substitute experiences to forge relationships in a school district, thus making it more likely that they will be hired for a position when one in their area opens up.

Working Conditions and Environment

Substitute teachers work directly in schools, keeping the same schedule as regular classroom teachers. Their hours are fairly regular, as they do not need to come as early or stay as late as classroom teachers. Substitutes in elementary classrooms typically have a more hands-on role that may involve teaching basic concepts, reading stories, and directing activities. In most school districts, the role of middle and high school substitute teachers is more supervisory.

Salary and Benefits

Substitute teachers are typically paid by the day, and different school districts can have widely different rates. Inner city schools that have more difficulty keeping good substitutes on their availability lists may pay more. On an hourly basis, substitute teachers make anywhere from $8 to $18 per hour. Full-time substitutes can make up to about $38,000 per year – close to the average teaching income.

Part-time and even some long-term substitutes do not get benefits from their school districts, but many permanent subs get benefits similar to those that teachers have – including healthcare coverage and paid time off.

Where to Go for More Information

American Federation of Teachers
555 New Jersey Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 879-4400

National Education Association
1201 16th St. NW
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 833-4000

National Substitute Teachers Alliance

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesEducation & Training