How to Become a Substitute Teacher

Substitute teaching can be a challenging, yet highly rewarding job. Although it takes a lot of enthusiasm and hard work, you can build a set of skills that will help you become an expert substitute teacher. If you’re looking for job flexibility, days full of fun and variety, and enjoy investing in students—then substitute teaching may be for you!

You should plan on investing several hours in preparing to become a substitute teacher. School districts will often require trainings, orientation sessions, and tests to ensure that prospective substitute teachers are ready for the classroom. Also, keeping in mind that you may be asked to pay for background checkouts, medical tests, or training materials out of your own pocket. Although each district may have specific requirements, we will walk you through the most common requirements for substitute teachers.

To become an excellent substitute teacher, the most critical ability you can master is how to easily manage classroom behavior and teach effectively. To learn the research proven skills and techniques to help you become a substitute teacher that is requested by students and schools, check out the SubSkills™ Basic Online Training Course or the Substitute Teacher Handbook.

Are you in? Keep scrolling to learn how you can begin!

A Few Facts About Substitute Teaching








  • Students end up spending one full year of their K-12 education with a substitute teacher.
  • The #1 request by substitute teachers is training in how to successfully manage inappropriate behavior situations.
  • The #1 request by permanent teachers and school administrators request that substitute teachers conduct themselves as professional.
  • The #1 request by students is that substitute teachers present stimulating lessons and exciting fill-in activities.
  • The #1 reason substitute teachers love their job is flexibility. The #2 reason is they like working with students.
  • The number one reason people like to substitute teach is the flexibility. The second reason is they like working with students.

Is Substitute Teaching Right for You?

Those who enjoy substitute teaching usually have the following personality traits:

  • Desire to work with children ages 5-18
  • Able to relate to and appreciate students
  • Can inspire a love of learning
  • Has a good sense of humor
  • Can be flexible and adjusts quickly to unique and changing circumstances
  • Sets a good example for the students (model citizen)
  • Love to learn
  • Willing to try new things
  • Patient
  • Kind
  • Fair
  • Consistent

Also, try the following to get an idea of what substitute teaching will be like:

  • Volunteer in a classroom
  • Attend the school district orientation meeting or a job fair, talk to the Human Resource
  • department to get a feel for what it’s like to be in the classroom
  • Review the blog post Reasons it’s Great to be a Substitute Teacher
  • If you have a friend or neighbor that is a teacher, ask if you can observe him or her

What Are My State’s Minimum Requirements?

Require College Degrees
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Illinois
  • Iowa**
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Nebraska
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Washington**
  • Washington, DC
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
Require At Least Some College
  • Indiana
  • Michigan
  • Missouri
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey


Require High School Diploma or GED
  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Wyoming
Requirements Are Set By The District
  • Hawaii
  • Montana
  • New York
  • Oklahoma
  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Tennessee
  • Vermont


Links to the State Departments of Education can be found here.

*  Minimum requirements are current as of 2017, but are subject to change.  Check with your state Board of Education or School District for the most current requirements.

** Teaching Certificate Required

Which training is best for you?


How Do I Find My Local School District?

Asking a neighbor who has a child in the school system
Search online for school district offices
Check the local phone book

How Do I Apply to Substitute Teach?

The fastest way to find out what your local school district requires is to visit the school district’s web site. Generally it will outline the necessary steps and you may be able download the required paperwork. Substitute teaching jobs are usually listed under “Human Resources” or “Employment.”

What will it Cost to Start Substitute Teaching?

Depending on specific district requirements, applicants may be required to pay from $50 to $75 for background checks, tuberculosis or other medical tests. Other fees may also be added for orientation, training courses, or licensing, which can range from $40 to $100. You should also be prepared to pay small fees to obtain your diplomas, transcripts, or certifications that may need to be submitted with required paperwork.

STEDI Sole Source

What Grade Levels are Best?

Each grade level in K-12 education brings its own benefits and challenges. You may be asked to specify which grades and subjects you have experience in or feel most comfortable working with. However, understand that a substitute teacher who is flexible and willing to adapt can find success teaching students of all age levels. And remember that substitute teachers who get the most jobs:

  • Teach multiple subjects
  • Work in all grade levels
  • Work in special education classes
  • Work on Mondays and Fridays when the demand for substitute teachers is greater

What Skills Should Substitute Teachers Have?

Successful substitute teachers know how to:

  • Recognize and praise appropriate behavior
  • Which inappropriate behaviors to ignore and which to respond to
  • Set and teach clear expectations
  • Strategies for handling consequential student behavior
  • Model expectations
  • Present lesson material in an engaging way
  • Have filler activities when the lesson plans end early
  • Work with students who come from a wide variety of backgrounds

These skills can be identified, taught, and honed further in the Substitute Teacher Handbook or online SubSkills Training Course.