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How To Become a Substitute Teacher

Drexel University School of Education

A substitute teacher is usually summoned by a school when a full-time teacher is unavailable. Substitute teaching is a good alternative for teachers who are unable to work in a full-time capacity or want more flexible in their work schedule. In this article, we will review what a substitute teacher does and the requirements necessary to obtain a substitute teaching position.

What Does a Substitute Teacher Do?

A substitute teacher carries out the responsibilities of a teacher who is unable to teach. A substitute is usually notified as soon as a school receives word that the full-time teacher will be out of work and needs coverage. A substitute can fill in for as a little as one day or on a long-term basis. Substitute teachers cover a variety of classes. Depending on state requirements, substitute teachers may be certified to teach certain subjects. New teachers looking for full-time positions, teachers unable to work full-time schedules, and even retired teachers may choose to work as in a substitute role. While their time in the position may be short, a substitute teacher is expected to carry out the curriculum and facilitate learning in the classroom.

What Degree Do You Need to be a Substitute Teacher?

Requirements for substitute teaching vary by state and school district. Those interested in becoming a substitute teacher should contact the districts they are interested in working at to find out the specific requirements. Generally, a substitute teacher should have a bachelor’s degree, although, in some states, only a high school diploma or GED is required. Certain states, including Pennsylvania require a valid teaching certificate. Other states may require a substitute teaching license.

How to Become a Substitute Teacher in 5 Steps: Qualifications and Requirements

Again, the requirements of how to become a substitute teacher can vary from state to state, or even from school district to school district. Below is a typical path one may take to become a substitute teacher.

Earn a bachelor’s degree

For most students coming out of high school who want to become teachers, they may choose a four-year college or university with a bachelor’s degree program in teacher education. The courses cover various subjects to help them prepare for a career as an educator. However, a bachelor’s degree in education is not required to become a substitute teacher. Career changers and others may earn a bachelor’s degree in another subject and enroll in a post-bachelor’s teacher certification program.

Review Your State's Requirements

In addition to a bachelors’ degree, states may require clearances to ensure that the substitute teacher can be in a classroom environment with children. This may require criminal background checks, child abuse clearance, health screening and immunizations. Some districts may require prior teaching experience or event safety training in CPR and First Aid. It is a good idea to visit the websites of state departments of education and school districts to review their requirements before applying for a position.

Apply for a Substitute Teaching License or Certification, if needed

Certain states may require substitute teachers to obtain a substitute teaching license or teaching certification.

Take the Required Tests

For states that require licensure to teach, aspiring substitute teachers may need to sit for exams to assess their knowledge and ability to teach a certain subject.

Apply to Substitute Jobs

Once all the requirements have been met, those looking to obtain a substitute teaching position may apply for jobs. School districts may have a “pool” of substitute teachers that they will contact when openings become available. Openings may become available on short notice, either the night before or the morning of a school day, so a school may keep a long list of substitute teachers that they will call to quickly find coverage.

Substitute Teaching Requirements in Pennsylvania

Teachers who have a valid PA or out-of-state teaching certificate may be eligible for substitute teaching assignments assuming they meet the requirements of the district they are applying to. If a substitute teacher has a bachelor’s degree, but not a teaching license, a school can apply to grant the teacher and emergency permit that is valid for one school year.

Other requirements include:

  • Background clearances
  • U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien status (green card)

More information about substitute teaching in Pennsylvania may be found on the PA Department of Education website.

How Much Do Substitute Teachers Make?

Substitute teachers are usually paid a daily or hourly rate depending on the school district. Rates can vary between districts and depend on multiple factors including positions, certification status, and experience. In Philadelphia, where Drexel University is located, certified substitute teachers are paid $160.10 (as of 7/19/2022). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean hourly wage for substitute teachers was $17.35 nationally in 2020.

Pursuing a Career in Education at Drexel

Drexel University’s School of Education offers a variety of programs to help aspiring teachers gain the skills and certifications they need to become excellent teachers. Teacher certification is offered through bachelor’s, and master’s degree programs, as well as a post-bachelor’s teacher certification program. Drexel also offers the Philadelphia Teacher Residency program for those looking to become teachers in Philadelphia and already have a bachelor’s degree. Browse our programs or contact us to request more information.