What Are the Duties of a Substitute Teacher?

Research what it takes to become a substitute teacher. Learn about the educational requirements, job outlook and potential earnings to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Teaching & Learning degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Substitute Teacher?

Substitute teachers help alleviate school staffing problems. They are assigned when regular teachers can't be in their classrooms. They may cover classrooms for a short period of time, such as a day or so for teachers who are ill, or longer periods of times, such as a couple of months for teachers on maternity leave. While in the classroom, they hold the same responsibilities as a teacher, typically following a lesson plan that the regular teacher provided. Substitute teachers enforce classroom rules, teach lessons and usually will leave a progress report for the regular teacher. Substitute teachers may work at elementary, middle and high schools and fill-in for a variety of subjects. The following table provides detailed information for this career.

Education Required Requirements vary by location: high school diploma (minimum), bachelor's degree (recommended), orientation or training seminar
Education Field of Study Education
Key Skills Flexibility, communication, organization
Licensure Requirements vary: state teaching license (recommended)
Job Growth (2014-24) 6% (preschool, primary, secondary, & special education school teachers)*/ 7% (education, training, & library occupations)*
Median Salary (2015) $26,830*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Will I Do as a Substitute Teacher?

Your role as a substitute teacher is to serve as a placeholder for regular, full-time teachers when they have to be away from their job due to illness, family emergency or other disruptions. Before class, you'll meet with the school principal or another educator to review plans and schedules. During an assigned class session, your duties include taking attendance, beginning or continuing a designated lesson, collecting any previously assigned homework, supervising the classroom to prevent misbehavior and dismissing students to their next class or activity. At the end of the day, you'll complete and file a class report.

Where Could I Work?

There are employment opportunities for substitute teachers in both public and private school settings. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported that your potential employers included 13,588 public school districts in 2011 and 33,366 private elementary and secondary schools as of 2010 (nces.ed.gov).

Although figures for substitute teachers weren't available, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that employment of preschool, primary, secondary, and special education school teachers was expected to increase 6% from 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). Teacher retirements and population growth were predicted to be the driving factors behind most job openings. Opportunities in rural and inner city school districts were expected to be best, according to the BLS.

What Could I Earn?

Your salary as a substitute teacher will vary by location and how often you work. According to BLS, the median salary for substitute teachers was $26,830 in 2015.

What Education Do I Need?

State requirements vary for substitute teachers, ranging from a high school diploma to a full teaching license. Some states allow you to teach as a substitute if you've monitored a class or classes under the supervision of a teacher for a specified number of hours. You could be required to have some formal education or have completed a bachelor's degree with educational training. You can verify the academic and licensure requirements with your state's board of education.

Most school districts require that you complete an orientation or training seminar. Topics in these sessions acquaint you with school district's policies, your expected job duties as a substitute teacher, and resources available to help you in the classroom. College courses in education can teach you classroom management, student discipline, lesson plans and teaching strategies.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Childcare workers are similar positions that require a high school diploma or equivalent. These workers are responsible for feeding and caring for children when their families are unavailable. Middle school and special education teachers are also related careers, but require a bachelor's degree. Middle school teachers typically educate kids in the 6th to 8th grades and prepare them for high school in different subjects. Special education teachers may work in elementary, middle or high schools with children who have learning, mental, emotional or physical disabilities. They help these kids learn basic skills and often adapt lesson plans to meet their needs.

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