Becoming a Substitute

The process for becoming a substitute teacher is different for every school district.

My school district is unique in that it is HUGE. While many districts have around 3 to 15 schools, mine has around 120 schools with over 82,000 students spread out over an entire county. What this means for substituting is that the county must have a huge reservoir of sub teachers across the district to meet their needs.

That also means that substitutes are in demand at almost every school. It also means that the county is motivated to move the process as quickly as possible.


In my district, you do not need a college degree or any sort of teacher certification to substitute. This is not the case everywhere. In Pennsylvania, for example, even substitutes must hold a Bachelor’s degree as well as a valid teaching certificate. Where I live, you must have 48+ college credit hours, but no degree or certification is needed. There is a higher pay for teachers with Bachelor’s or higher level degrees, but the only thing you must have a Bachelor’s or higher for is long-term substituting.

Other than that, you have to pass all the background tests and go through legal processing. That’s pretty much it.


The only “training” my district offered was a 2+ hour long YouTube video. Training is not grade-level specific, meaning that it was meant to cover all of teaching in K-12. It covered classroom management basics; however, even within an elementary school setting these things can vary considerably! What works well with a group of second graders who have a primary teacher might be very different than a 5th grade class that has departmentalization (where 3-4 teachers separate curriculum) where you are only with each group for 1-2 hours.

Things which vary from school-to-school, are completely ignored. These things include important aspects of the day, such as attendance taking, lunch counts, following a teacher schedule, etc. In one elementary school, for example, a designated student or staff member might visit each classroom to collect attendance sheets or lunch counts. In another school, students take these down to the front office at a specific time in the morning.

Each teacher also has their own classroom structure and requirements that it is impossible to prepare for. Does Jimmy go to the nurse after lunch? Is Nadiya allowed to eat in class? What plans does the teacher have for the day? If the schedule says Music 10:15-10:45, what time should you line up to leave?

Getting to Know the School

Luckily, for me, the schools I plan to sub at are ones I am VERY familiar with. That means I already know most of the staff, the layout of the school, the basics of how fire drills work, and some of the students.

This is essential for any substitute. Fortunately, even if you have never been in a school before, these can be learned. Eat in the teacher’s lounge to meet the other teachers. If someone is already in there eating, sit with them and ask what grade they teach.

The first time in a school substituting, even if you have been there in another capacity (parent/volunteer/visitor) is the hardest. It gets easier!

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