How to Become a Substitute Teacher in the United States

Three Parts:Reviewing the Expectations of the PositionApplying For PositionsSubbing in the Classroom

Nearly 10% of certified teachers across the U.S. are absent on any given day. This means that school districts often have trouble finding enough substitute teachers. If you like being around kids, being a substitute teacher can be a great part time or full time job, allowing you to work when you want.

Part 1
Reviewing the Expectations of the Position

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    Determine the educational requirements for substitute teachers in your state. The educational requirements for substitute teachers varies from state to state. If you already have a teaching certification to be a regular teacher, you can often fast track the process by contacting the local school district’s office to apply to be a sub.[1]
    • In most states, if you do not have a teaching certification, you must at least have a bachelor’s degree. The bachelor’s degree does not need to be in teaching or pedagogy, though an undergraduate degree in these fields is considered beneficial for subbing.
    • In Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Delaware, Maine, and Vermont, you can be a substitute teacher as long as you have a high-school diploma or a GED equivalent. Detailed information on the educational requirements for substitute teachers by state can be found online.[2]
    • Some states, such as New York State, also require you to pass a state teaching test to ensure you are fit for teaching.[3]
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    Learn the standard pay rates for substitute teachers. The pay for substitute teachers can be pretty good, in general, though it may fluctuate based on the state you are teaching in. Substitute teachers are paid per diem, or per day. As a sub, you can be signed to a contract at a specific day rate but you may not receive extensive employee benefits.[4]
    • Substitute teachers who have a teaching certification can earn around $100 to $125 a day. Substitute teachers who do not have a teaching certification can earn around $80 a day. You may earn more than this based on your state’s mandated pay rates for substitute teachers. For example, in New York state, substitute teachers without a teaching certification can earn around $150 a day.[5]
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    Keep in mind the pros and cons of the position. As a substitute teacher, you will be expected to sufficiently cover the absence of regular, full time teachers. You may be responsible for planning lessons, instructing students on the learning material for the class, and managing the classroom so students do not get out of hand or appear unsupervised. You may also need to perform administrative tasks and ensure the overall safety and security of the students.[6]
    • As a sub, you have the flexibility to choose the days that you work and how often you work. You can also choose which schools you work in.[7]
    • Subbing can be a good way to get first hand experience as a graduate student in education or as a way to connect to students without the commitment of a full time position.

Part 2
Applying For Positions

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    Visit your local school district’s office. You should bring proof of your bachelor’s degree and a copy of your official transcripts to the school district’s office. These documents are required for the application.[8]
    • If you do not have a bachelor’s degree, you should bring a copy of your high school diploma or your GED equivalent.
    • The application is pretty straightforward and requires you to provide personal information as well as education information. The school district will also run a background check on you to ensure you have not been convicted of a felony involving minors.
    • You may need to pay a processing fee for the application, usually around $50-$100.
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    Get in touch with the principal at your local school. Some states, such as New York state, require you to get nominated by a principal at a local school. The principal will complete an online nomination for you, putting your name in the system as a substitute teacher. Once the online nomination is processed, you will receive an email with instructions on how to complete your application.[9]
    • You will then need to complete Employment forms and any follow up requirements, such as fingerprints for a background check.
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    Complete the application. Make sure you complete the application for employment through the school district and supply all the necessary documentation. You can complete the application in person at the school district’s office or online through the school district’s office.[10]
    • As part of the application process, you may want to list skills and abilities you have that will make you a more attractive candidate. Note if you have ever worked with children and have taught in some form or fashion before, such as after school tutoring, mentoring young kids, or working at a youth summer camp. You should also note if you have skills in a particular subject, such as writing experience for an English class or business experience for a mathematics class. These skills can help you stand out and increase your chances of getting hired as a sub.
    • If you are hired, you will be notified of your employment through your local school district. You will then be placed on the substitute teacher list for your school district. This means you are now eligible to sub in your school district.

Part 3
Subbing in the Classroom

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    Sign a unionized contract. Like permanent teachers, substitute teachers are unionized. You should sign a contract for subbing and be aware of who your union representative is. It is your responsibility as a sub to know your rights under the union and to read your contract carefully.[11]
    • Each state will have their own teacher's union and the union will have their own contracts. You should check with your union representative about the details of your contract so you are aware of your rights.
    • You should check that your pay rate is on par with what subs are paid in your state. You should also note if your pay rate is different due to your lack of teaching certification, as you may be paid less if you do not have a teaching certification.
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    Select grade levels for subbing. Once you have a substitute-teaching license, you should consider which grade levels you are interested in subbing for. Some licenses only allow you to teach K-6th grade. You may be able to sub for other grade levels if you take additional training programs or classes.[12]
    • In a pinch, some schools may bend the rules and allow you to sub for different grade levels. It can be useful to determine which grade levels you are comfortable with, as you are more likely to do a better job if you know what to expect of the students.
    • Pre-K to 2nd grade classes tend to require more hands on care and attention while students in grades 3-5 may be more challenging to your authority but also eager to learn academic subjects in detail. Many older grades, grade 5 and over, can be more challenging and require a thick skin. It can be especially hard for substitute teachers to connect to older students, as you do not have the luxury of building a relationship with them over a long period of time.
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    Prepare for your first day as a sub. It’s a good idea to be prepared ahead of time, before your first subbing assignment, as you will need to rely on your own expertise in the classroom to do well as a sub. Having a few assignments and activities on hand can really make your subbing experience a lot smoother. Though some full time teachers will leave a lesson plan or an outline for the class, you should not depend on this always being the case.[13]
    • This means gathering school supplies, such as grade level workbooks, that you can then use as part of your lesson plan for a class. You can also keep a list of books that are appropriate for certain grade levels and copies of these books in the event you need them for a class. Look up fun educational activities online that you can use to fill time in a class and keep them on hand.
    • You should use any materials left for you by the full time teacher, as you want to try to integrate her lesson plans into the class. Deliver what the full time teacher wants you to during class time and if there is any available time, deliver a little of your own lesson plans.
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    Take your first subbing job. This is done through a phone call one day before the subbing date or on the morning of the subbing date. You will be notified of the grade you are teaching, the teacher’s name, the subject you are teaching, and the school where you are subbing.[14]
    • Try to arrive 45 minutes early for the subbing assignment and take a walk around the school. Note where certain areas are located in the school, such as the gym, the cafeteria, the computer lab, and the library. This will ensure you feel comfortable in the school and appear confident to the students when you walk into the classroom as the sub.
    • You should also review any lesson plans left for you by the full time teacher and note any supplies you may need, such as photocopies or school supplies. Ideally, you will also have access to an attendance sheet so you can note any students who are absent and get a general sense of the names of students in the classroom. This will make it easier for you to connect to students by name.
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    Set the tone for the class by introducing yourself and laying out classroom rules. The first ten minutes of the class are crucial for setting the tone for the class and maintaining control over your students. Start by introducing yourself by writing your name on the board and telling the students your name and one to two short details about yourself. Then, note that you are subbing for the regular teacher and though you are not the regular teacher, you still have ground rules for the class. [15]
    • You can create your own rules for the class but it would be a good idea to set at least two key rules: No talking when you are talking and be respectful towards other students as well as towards you as the sub. You can then add more rules as needed, but setting these two rules upfront can help to set a respectful and productive tone for the class.
    • You should also keep the energy up in the room by asking students to lead discussions or take the lead on certain assignments or activities in class. Make sure you follow any lesson plans left for you by the regular teacher and keep student participation high so the students are focused and engaged.

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Categories: Teaching