Substitute Teacher Requirements | Salary & Certification for Substitute Teachers

Written By Jonathan Moody

What Does a Substitute Teacher Do?

The role of a teacher is to cultivate growth and educational advancement in their students by working with them over a semester, school year, or even longer. Yet, teachers are human and need to take time off work to manage major life events. The learning process does not stop for students and the school must find a replacement when the primary classroom teacher cannot attend class. Substitute teachers play a vital role in ensuring the continuity of education for students and allowing teachers the flexibility to manage life outside of the classroom.

Job Details

The job of a substitute teacher can vary. Some subs are on call the evening before a school day or the morning of a school day and wait to see where they are needed. Other substitute teachers cover teacher vacancies for longer periods of time. Life events such as maternity or paternity leave require teachers to take extended periods of time off of school. In these cases, substitute teachers may be required to cover a single class for weeks or even months.


The type of class covered by a substitute teacher can differ as well. Some substitute teachers may have specialties, but often, subs cover whichever class needs to be covered. This could entail covering a music or art class one day and a math or science class the next. Furthermore, the role of a substitute in class can change as well. Some teachers will leave extensive instructions for subs to follow. In this case, the substitute continues with class instruction and aids in teaching class material and assigning homework. Other teachers may want to personally present course material to students, or the substitute may be lacking the specific skills to adequately teach the class (e.g., language or technical classes) and thus may provide substitute teachers with an alternative lesson plan or activity for the time they must cover the class.

Who works as a substitute teacher?

Substitute teachers come from different backgrounds as well. Some subs are retired teachers still interested in being in the classroom. Others are members of the community attracted to education and working part-time in schools. Some are interested in entering the education field and are building classroom experience to prepare or decide if this is the field for them.

How to Become a Substitute Teacher: Requirements

Much like teaching licenses, there is no national standard for substitute teacher certification or requirements in the United States. Substitute teacher standards are left to individual states and, at times, individual school districts within states. In general, those hoping to become substitute teachers must apply with a state's department of education, receive a background check, pay a fee, and provide educational transcripts.

Below are a few examples from individual states.

Colorado: The State of Colorado offers one, three, and five-year substitute teacher certifications. Candidates must provide their fingerprints to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for a background check and then apply for a license within 30 days. They must also have a valid form of identification and provide official transcripts from their highest level of education from an accredited school. Substitute candidates must also provide a list of their previous employers and a self-disclosure of any previous criminal offenses, instances of disciplinary action, and issues with employment or obtaining a license. License fees range from $60 to $90, depending on the duration of the license.

Florida: Although teachers are required to pass the FTCE Exam, the State of Florida has no set state standards for substitute teachers, and individual school districts can have their own process for finding subs. Seminole County, for example, requires substitutes to be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma. Upon presenting education credentials, identification, and the $81.25 fee, a substitute teaching candidate can receive a Seminole County Substitute Teacher Certificate.

Illinois: Illinois has a five-year and one-year substitute license. Each can be applied via an online portal and have a reimbursable application fee after the teaching candidate has taught for 10 days ($50 fee for the five-year certificate and $25 for the one-year). The one-year certificate can also be issued in the case of a public health emergency. Candidates must present their educational transcripts and will receive a license after the transcripts have been verified. After a substitute teaching license has been issued, candidates must register their certificate with the state's license database.

Michigan: The State of Michigan has four different substitute teaching certifications depending on the frequency, duration, and specialty of the potential substitute, which are obtained in conjunction with a school. Except for a daily substitute permit, all permits are valid for one year. To use substitute teachers, schools must show no teachers are available to cover the class, obtain a background check for the substitute candidate, submit the substitute teacher's academic credentials, and pay the $45 fee.

Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania also hires substitute teachers through individual school districts. Philadelphia, for example, consults with a private recruitment service to find substitutes. Becoming a substitute teacher requires an online application, filling out relevant employment documentation, a background check, and a validation of individual educational credentials.

As the examples above demonstrate, each state will have its own system for finding and certifying substitute teachers. The most effective way to become a substitute teacher is to consult with either a state's department of education or an individual district. These resources will guide a candidate through receiving the proper certification and finding open positions.

Substitute Teacher Education

Since there are no national standards for educational requirements for substitute teachers, this section of the article will cover a few general standards and then look at a few more specific examples.

Generally speaking, most states require at least a high school diploma or a GED to work as a substitute. Some states will make exceptions to this rule in the case of emergencies or overwhelming need. Many states require at least some college-level coursework and a full bachelor's degree. Additionally, some states prefer substitute teachers to have some education training or previous classroom experience. All education levels are not usually treated equally though. Oftentimes, substitute teachers with higher education, more qualifications, and/or previous experience will receive higher salaries and be given preference for classroom assignments. Sometimes, different levels of education will merit a different license duration, often with longer licenses being issued to those with higher educational credentials.

Below are a few examples from individual states:

Maine: The State of Maine's individual school districts are responsible for finding substitute teachers and setting employment standards. For example, the Brunswick, Maine school district requires substitute teachers to have two years of education in an accredited college. Exceptions can be made by the superintendent for candidates with equivalent educational experience.

Hawaii: In general, the State of Hawai'i requires a bachelor's degree to work as a substitute. Exceptions can be made for those with anything between a high school diploma and a bachelor's, but a bachelor's degree with merit more pay, and higher priority.

New Mexico: New Mexico only requires a high school diploma to become a substitute teacher. Interested candidates must be at least 18 years old and able to show their high school credentials to gain an initial license.

Mississippi: The State of Mississippi relies on individual districts to set substitute teacher standards and uses the services of a private company to fill some vacancies. McComb School District requires at least a GED or high school diploma to be a substitute teacher but offers different certification levels based on education. Additionally, daily pay is higher for substitute teachers with more qualifications.

Washington D.C.: Washington D.C. accepts substitute teachers with at least 60 college-level credit hours. Subs must also have at least one year of experience in a classroom or be a retired teacher.

The most effective way to ensure a candidate has met the correct requirements is to visit either a state's department of education website or check with the school district that may be a potential spot for future employment.

Substitute Teacher Certification

In addition to the requirements for substitute teachers, some states mandate that substitute teachers have either additional qualifications or specific experience.

Below is a list of potential requirements for substitute teachers.

  • Experience: Some areas of the country, like previously mentioned with Washington D.C., prefer to have candidates with experience in a classroom setting. The definition of experience will vary by state, but the most valued type of experience is previous work as a certified teacher. Aside from this, schools have classroom aids, paraprofessionals, or tutors. This type of experience may be able to fill state requirements for experience, depending on state regulations.
  • Substitute teacher training: Some states, like Colorado and Hawaii, have training programs that may be required for some substitute teachers. Again, programs will vary across the country, but a training program could have content on school policies, classroom practices, or even job expectations. Some candidates with more experience may be exempt from these programs, but it will depend on state or district requirements.
  • Background checks: This was touched on earlier, but many states require anyone working in a school to have a background check. This generally entails providing fingerprints to either local police or state investigative bureaus and having one's background checked for previous criminal activity, especially involving minors. Schools around the country tend to have strict policies on who can enter and work in a school, so it is a safe assumption that a background check will be required.
  • Employment through a school or district: Some states, like Michigan, rely on schools to facilitate the substitute teacher application process. In these cases, prospective subs may be required to first find a position with a school district and then pursue a certificate. This will require subs to locate a district they would like to work in and meet any potential district requirements before undergoing the state's license requirements.
  • Specialized training: Many schools offer a range of vocational courses and courses that require teachers to have a specific skill set. Teachers who run specialized classes may need a substitute with the same or specialized skill set. For example, a long-term substitute for an auto class may want a background in auto mechanics to teach the class.

Substitute Teacher Salary

After educational and special district or state requirements, an important part of a substitute teacher's job is the salary. Substitute teaching can offer an independent work schedule with the ability to pick and choose the amount of work one would like to undertake. In most cases, subs can choose whether or not to work on a certain day or accept a certain classroom assignment. But, the disadvantage of this line of work is that substitute teacher job placements may also be unreliable in availability, have the challenge of difficult classes, or require traveling to distant work locations. Thus, substitute teachers need to ensure the compensation they receive will be adequate to live on and be worth pursuing this line of work.

Generally speaking, most states pay substitute teachers at a daily rate. Rates vary by location and, in most cases, by the qualifications a substitute teacher has. For example, a sub with teacher credentials will likely earn a higher rate than one with no teaching credentials or bachelor's degree. The length of teaching days may vary depending on the assignment, so knowing an hourly rate is useful.

Below is a list of the top five states based on substitute teacher salaries, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

As a point of reference, the national mean hourly rate as of May 2021 was $18.47 an hour, with a mean salary of $38,410 per year.

State Hourly Mean Salary Annual Mean Salary
Oregon $25.09 $52,180
Alaska $24.13 $50, 200
Hawai'i $23.05 $47,940
Connecticut $22.49 $46,770
California $21.45 $44,610

Aside from salary, some districts or companies also offer additional benefits to substitute teachers. It's not uncommon to find private companies that will contract with multiple districts and treat substitute teachers as company employees. Some of these companies provide benefits like insurance and retirement. Some schools, districts, companies, and states will also offer bonuses. During times of high turnover with education staff, these groups will pay extra money to cover emergency vacancies. The best way to learn about earning potential and benefits for a specific state or school district is to check the relevant sources. In most cases, salary and benefits will be clearly posted online and/or in a hiring contract.

Substitute Jobs Outlook

The next important aspect of becoming a substitute teacher is finding a job. Like most aspects of working as a substitute teacher, employment rates will vary by state and district. States and cities with more schools and a larger population will probably need more substitute teachers.

Below is a list of the states with the highest number of substitute teachers as reported by the BLS:

State Number of Substitute Teachers
California 59,270
Texas 54,170
New York 34,650
Illinois 18,780
North Carolina 18,780

The above-mentioned are some of the largest states by population in the United States; thus, it is not surprising that there would be large numbers of substitute teachers. Yet, demand for substitutes doesn't always follow the population. Some areas of the country have a higher portion of the working population employed as substitute teachers.

Below are the top five states by percentage of the working population employed as substitute teachers, as reported by the BLS. Note that the national average for the location quotient is one, so any number over one is higher than the national average.

State Employment per thousand jobs Location quotient
Wyoming 9.42 3.54
Alaska 7.00 2.63
Kansas 4.76 1.79
Hawaii 4.56 1.71
Texas 4.43 1.67

The above table indicates that while larger states have numerically more substitute teachers, the job of substitute teachers is more common in different parts of the country. This data suggests there could be a higher demand for substitute teachers in these areas, but there could be other reasons for these numbers as well. The higher-than-average number of subs could also indicate a limited number of non-education jobs in the labor market.

Next, the job market is not uniform across states. Some areas, especially large metropolitan areas, have higher populations, more schools, and more substitute teaching opportunities.

The following table is the top five metropolitan areas by the number of substitute teachers as reported by the BLS:

Metropolitan area Employment Employment per thousand jobs Location quotient
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA 31,010 3.57 1.34
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 22,190 3.88 1.46
Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI 14,230 3.36 1.26
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX 13,700 4.73 1.78
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 11,840 3.30 1.24

Like the first two tables, a higher population may not signify a higher demand. The following table shows the top five areas of the country with the highest percentage of substitute teachers as a percentage of the labor force, as reported by the BLS.

Metropolitan area Employment Employment per thousand jobs Location quotient
Staunton-Waynesboro, VA 490 10.61 3.99
Merced, CA 750 10.49 3.94
Daphne-Fairhope-Foley, AL 780 10.48 3.94
Wichita Falls, TX 530 9.75 3.67
Tyler, TX 990 9.65 3.63

As can be determined from the preceding four tables, the demand for substitute teachers can differ depending on the location. Large states and metropolitan areas understandably have larger numbers of substitute teachers. Higher populations tend to mean a high student population, meaning more jobs in education. Yet, as a percentage of the labor force, substitute teaching jobs can be found outside of large population areas. The most effective way to find a substitute teaching job and determine potential vacancies is to explore areas one would like to work, see what local districts are looking for, and inquire how often subs are expected to be called on.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What do substitute teachers do?

    Substitute teachers are on call to cover teaching vacancies. These can be short term vacancies for a few days or long term for several weeks or even months.

  • How much is the salary of a substitute teacher?

    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean national salary for substitute teachers, as of 2021, was $18.47 an hour and $38,410 a year. This is only a national mean and salaries will differ depending on location, teaching credentials, and experience of individual substitute teachers.