A substitute teacher is an individual who fills in for a primary or secondary educator when he or she is unavailable to work due to personal leave or illness. Some school districts term substitute teachers “guest teachers,” though regional variants are to be expected. Supply teacher, relief teacher, casual teacher, and teacher on call (T.O.C.) are all accepted terms for the same line of work.

It is no easy task to enter an unfamiliar classroom and assume the role of another teacher, often for only a short period of time. It is for this reason that substitute teachers are expected to have a high degree of professionalism, lest students mistakenly believe their classroom responsibilities have altered with the arrival of another teacher.

Degree Path for Substitute Teachers

The degree path for substitute teaching may vary depending on the state in which one is practicing. In most cases, substitute teachers are expected to have a bachelor’s degree. In many cases, candidates are expected to complete a competency test prior to entering the classroom.

Education Required for Substitute Teachers

As previously noted, the education required for a substitute teacher is not standardized. In most cases, standards vary on the degree of time one is expected to substitute teach. A substitute teacher working for only a few days will not be expected to have the same level of competency as a teacher asked to fill in for the rest of a semester or quarter.

Some school boards hire substitute teachers with no background or training in the subject to be taught, in which case the “sub” (a common abbreviation for substitute teaching) is required only to supervise students as they work independently on pre-assigned homework and projects. Schools also hire experienced teachers, who may be classified differently, receiving a higher rate of pay for substitute teaching than their inexperienced counterparts.

It is not uncommon for retired teachers to assume the role of substitute teachers. School districts forced to lay off teachers may also hire furloughed teachers to substitute in positions they had previous held full-time.

Licensing for Substitute Teachers

In almost all cases, substitute teachers are not required to have a license or certification. A notable exception is when a “sub” must replace a teacher for the remainder of the quarter, semester, or school year, in which case he or she is often required to have the same level of certification as the previous teacher.

Salary and Schedule for Substitute Teachers

A substitute teacher’s salary varies from school district to school district. Rate of pay also depends on the length of assignment and one’s teaching qualifications. Substitute teachers work during school hours, which vary depending on the school district. Additionally, most substitute teachers’ schedules are based around the ten-month school year with a two-month summer break. In some cases, substitute teachers may only teach a few classes during the school day.

Core Skills Needed for Substitute Teachers

According to the National Education Association, substitute teachers “perform a vital function in the maintenance and continuity of daily education.” Substitute teachers are required to have a number of core skills, including but not limited to:

Flexibility. Teachers working in this capacity are often called in on short notice and have very little time to adapt to a new classroom and group of students. It is for this reason that flexibility is perhaps the most important skill required of a substitute teacher.
Communication skills. Many substitute teachers are expected to teach new material to their students. Communication skills are essential for the transition process to go smoothly for all parties involved.
Instructional skills. In some cases, substitute teachers must learn the material along with their students. The ability to instruct both oneself and then others is invaluable in a line of work that expects this kind of rapid turnaround.
Patience. It is not uncommon for students to use the arrival of a new substitute teacher as an excuse to act out or to no longer pay attention. Substitute teachers must have the patience to handle inattentive and difficult students, as well as the patience to work with students who struggle to understand their coursework and lesson plans.

Working Environment for Substitute Teacher

Substitute teachers primarily work in classrooms. Though classrooms may vary depending on the school district, it is not uncommon for teacher to work with groups of twenty or more students. Individuals in this position may also be expected to lead students on field trips or to school assemblies, as well as monitor student behavior during student lunch hours.