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Substitute Teaching: Get Hired, Stay Hired

Updated on September 23, 2015
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A lifelong history buff, Jay holds a B.A. and M.Ed. He taught social studies over four years and has worked as a substitute teacher.

Why Consider Substitute Teaching?

Real preparation for a teaching career

Part-time or retirement income

Enjoy working with kids of particular age (Elementary/ Middle/ High)

Substitute Teaching

Substitute (or Guest) teaching can be a great way to make money and network within school districts to find a full-time job. Public school districts and private schools look for responsible, respectable people to carry out lesson plans when a regular teacher is unable to work.

General Qualifications: Normally, schools of any type want sub teachers to have at least a college degree. Someone with a education degree, a masters degree, and/or an active teaching license will make the most money. Pay ranges from about $60-$75 per day for private schools to $70-$85 per day for larger public school systems. You normally have to submit to having a background check, verification of U.S.employment and probably reference checks.

Registering: Public school systems normally have a designated Human Resources person to coordinate, qualify and train potential substitute teachers.They are the best to approach and with which to work since they are responsible for multiple schools and thus have more opportunities for teachers to be out.

If you are interested in private schools, you will have to call them to learn how they handle substitute teacher arrangements. Some private schools hire substitute teachers directly so you will get called by them. Others work separately or in groups with recruiting firms so you would get access to more opportunities. The recruiting firm handles the recruitment, paperwork and contacting of substitute teachers so the school just requests them and then directs them once on campus.

There are different factors which affect any person’s calls. For larger public school systems and private school networks, you may have a choice of selecting which schools at which to work. Location matters – some people only wish to work near their homes. Others wish to work limited work weeks while others try to fill the entire week. Of course, the coordinators want to get all jobs filled.

Fortunately, technology helps to show jobs available – through internet sites and smart phones. In many cases, automated phone call systems may call substitute teachers about available jobs. Internet sites are also able to show the same. In either case, the worker has options about whether to choose an available job and as importantly, look for them proactively.

Schedules for substitutes: To be a substitute, one must have a flexible schedule. Some calls come days before the job; more come the afternoon/ evening before the day; many/most come EARLY (5:00-6:00) in the morning of the job. Normal call times extend from 5:00 AM to 9:00 PM. As a good substitute, your duty is to make it as easy as possible for the school to fill absences. The more of the following tips you do, the more likely you will build your reputation positively and get more requests to work.

Remember: You are an employee at a school – act like a professional.

On Time: Be on-time to your assignment: Research all the schools for your district(s) and know generally where they are. If you are not in class on time or earlier, the school MUST find someone to cover the class (watch the kids) until YOU arrive or class ends. That person is probably losing a planning period and will not be happy. You are also making the school secretary do more work. If you are expected at the beginning of the day and realize you will be late, call the school and let them know when you expect to get there so they know what is going on. If you take a job after school has started, you need to arrive within the hour or again call the school to alert them.

If possible, be early in order to review and prepare for lesson plans. Know what material is planned for each class and be able to provide general, basic expectations and instructions to the students. Also, meet the neighboring teachers who can be invaluable during the day. Walk around to see where restrooms and workroom are. Basically, get your bearings on where you are in the school.

Be flexible and take initiative Most jobs are easy with good lesson plans and other information ready at hand. Other days, one must deal with locked classroom doors, minimal lesson plans and/or school schedule changes.

Check with Office before leaving campus: You are being paid to be there and watch classes. If you leave during the day and something happens to delay or prevent your return, it is YOUR fault. The school has to cover classes it thought were covered. Stay on campus during free time and network or make personal calls as needed. Alert office when you leave for the day. Many schools have substitute badges to identify you, and you will need to return them to the office at day's end anyway. And now with changing benefits plans, a district may require one to clock in and out simply to prove you are not eligible for benefits.

Lesson Plans: Follow teacher’s lesson plans. If students finish early, then have emergency activities prepared to fill time. Make sure that the activities are appropriate for the students.

Organize Student Work: If work is completed in class, leave plans and work in organized fashion for the teacher. Be aware of whether to leave work in the room or take it to office to be held.

Tobacco Usage: Most likely the school smoking policy is to have no tobacco on school grounds. Check with the office and don’t violate the current policy.

Do NOT Communicate with Students outside the class unless you already have a relationship with them or the school approves of your intentions to communicate. The school should have systems in place to protect you as teacher and the child as a student. If there is a reason to communicate with a child, go through the school so everything is open and approved. Remember, you are at the school as an employee with privacy protections in place.

Personal Business: Do NOT use school computers for personal business – only for school-related tasks.

Personal Electronics: Do NOT use personal electronics like cell phones, iPads, iPods, etc. during class. Your duty is to focus on students work, effort and being on-task. It is likely that you could read some reading material in limited amounts. Making personal calls and listening to music should be done during planning/ free periods and lunch.

Professional Dress: Be sure to dress in a professional manner - business casual is a good barometer now for public school. In 2004 when I began substitute teaching in both private and public schools, I wore good dress shirts and ties. But since 2011, there has been a tsunami of change in public schools, and I rarely see males teachers with ties. So now I still wear dress or casual pants and a nice button down shirt. I have seen plenty of other male substitute teachers with jeans and short sleeve polos or even more casual.

If you are embarking on the substitute teacher journey, best wishes.

Areas of Subbing

* Classroom (core subjects)

* Related Arts - Theatre, Band, Art, Music, Physical Education, etc

* Special Education - helping in classes or assisting/ following specific student

* Floating teachers who teach in different rooms per period

Interesting Stats about Substitute Teaching

* 82% of Subs plan to stay in teaching

* 70% work at least 2 jobs

* 40% have permanent teaching licenses

* in K-12 public education, a student will have a total of a full year with Subs

* #1 Request by teachers/ administrators is that Subs act professionally

* #1 Request by Sub is for training to handle difficult situations

* States that require a college degree for Sub Teaching: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Washington, Wyoming, Wisconsin


Top Metro Areas & Sub Teacher Wages

Metro Area
# of Subs
Annual Mean Wage
New York-White Plains-Wayne
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale
Riverside-San Bernadino-Ontario
Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta
San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos
Source: Bureau Labor Statistics, U.S.

Keys to Success

Dress nice

Be on time and dependable

Smile and be firm

Use humor appropriately

Follow lesson plans as closely as possible

Leave a note for teacher about day


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