Common Questions About Substitute Teaching
Questions About Substitute Teaching

Substitute teaching is a profession that attracts many kinds of people for many different reasons. It can be an extremely flexible part time job, or it can be a full time career. It is also a great job for a transitional time in someone's life, but it can also serve well as a long term occupation. Beyond the inherent flexibility of substitute teaching as an income source, there are many other reasons that people choose substitute teaching as their occupation.

Community Involvement

Some substitute teachers enjoy substituting because of the involvement opportunities it gives them in their communities. Not only does substitute teaching allow people to contribute to their communities in a beneficial way, but it also is an excellent opportunity to work with youth and help make a positive difference in their lives.

In any community, its residents rely on their schools to teach their young to be prepared to face tomorrow as educated adults. Schools need to meet that challenge even when a regular classroom teacher is unavailable because of a conference, a coaching event, or illness. Substitute teachers make positive community contributions by helping to maintain consistency and provide professional services when schools need it most.

Parents of school age children sometimes choose to become substitute teachers so that they can become involved in their children's schools. Substituting is a great way to become involved in their children's education and have a positive impact on their children's schools. (Some substitutes, however, do decline assignments of classes that have their own children in them.)

Other substitute teachers find it very fulfilling to work with youth. These people have a gift and talent in working with students. As with any situation in which children and youth are involved, it can be challenging to work with this age group (just ask any parent!), and in a classroom setting, it is often one adult to thirty children. However, a desire to work with young people and to help contribute positively to their lives is a rewarding reason to become a substitute teacher.


Substitute teaching also offers excellent experience for individuals considering a career in teaching, looking to broaden their skills, or hoping to experience different kinds of employment. For people who are thinking about or working toward a career in education, substitute teaching can provide unparalleled hands-on experience in the classroom. Different classroom situations arise, and substitute teachers need to think and react quickly. For people planning to go into education full time, these are valuable opportunities to gain experience in finding a personal classroom management style, dealing with behavioral challenges, and organizing a day. That classroom experience looks good on a resume for people applying for teaching positions. Additionally, this experience can translate into speaking confidently in a job interview for a full time teaching position when the time comes.

Even for people who are between other jobs or careers can find substitute teaching useful and rewarding. The overall job market is more competitive in this economy, and substitute teaching can provide a flexible solution in the interim. Not only can a substitute teacher be able to decline a day's assignment to be available for a job interview elsewhere, but also the time spent substitute teaching fills what would otherwise be an employment gap in the resume. Experience in substitute teaching during an interim period shows a dedication to keep working and a confidence to work at something a little out of the ordinary (from the person's usual career path).


In general, the pay for substitute teaching is comparable to other part time jobs in the marketplace. When combined with the flexibility and professional schedule that substitute teachers have, this can be an appealing opportunity for people looking for part time work. However, some people may find that some of the educational and certification requirements that some states, municipalities, or school districts impose what may seem disproportionate to the pay that substitute teaching offers.

Pay rates for substitute teachers can vary greatly. The pay rate in a particular school can be based on several factors, including supply and demand, location of the school, available budget, type of assignment, and qualifications of the substitute teacher. In the United States, the lowest pay rates are $20 per day in some of the most rural areas, while in larger urban settings, like New York City or Los Angeles, substitutes could earn $150 per day or more. The average pay for a day's substituting in the United States is around $105, according to the National Substitute Teacher's Alliance. While most schools pay substitutes per day (or per half-day if needed), most substitute teachers work anywhere from six and one-half to seven and one-half hours per day.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online How To Be a Substitute Teacher course?

Schedule and Flexibility

Substitute teaching offers excellent flexibility within a professional schedule that is unavailable in most other occupations. This reason alone has attracted many people to substituting over the years.

First, the general schedule of substitute teachers involves no evenings, weekends, or holidays. In fact, the end of the workday is the end of the school day, so parents with school age children can work outside the home and still be home in time for their children. Substitute teaching has long appealed to people with active family lifestyles.

Another benefit in substitute teaching is the flexibility of assignments. If someone is only available to work Tuesdays and Thursdays, that is possible with substitute teaching. If someone is taking a winter skiing vacation, that is also possible to work with. Substitute teachers only accept the assignments that they want. If there is a schedule conflict on a given day, a substitute needs only to decline any requests that come in that day. Of course, the converse is true; there may not be assignments available on days that a substitute teacher is wishing to work.

Additionally, there is flexibility in the types of assignments to accept. Some substitutes prefer working with elementary age children while others enjoy older high school students. Perhaps some substitutes may wish to work in classrooms with a variety of subjects while others want math, science, and technology assignments. Again, the flexibility is there to accept or decline any assignment.

There are many reasons that people are attracted to and thrive in substitute teaching. From a flexible and a family appropriate schedule, to valuable experience in education, to giving back to the local schools and community, substitute teaching can be a rewarding and fulfilling occupation.
Characteristics of Effective Substitute Teachers

Teaching youth in a school setting requires certain skills and traits to do the job effectively. Teaching youth as a substitute teacher requires some different skills and traits as well. Not everyone may find him or herself cut out for substitute teaching, but several skills and traits can be honed to make a good substitute teacher great. If you are looking at a profession in substitute teaching, do you have some natural traits that make the job a good fit for you?

Enjoyment in Working with Youth

Obviously, it is understood that substitute teachers must enjoy working with children and youth. The greater the age range that someone is comfortable working with, the greater the opportunities will be for substituting jobs. (More availability and flexibility often results in more jobs.) However, that does not mean that you need to pretend to feel comfortable working with an age group that you are not. The more comfortable you are in a classroom, the more successful you will be. Perhaps you enjoy working with elementary age students, typically ages 5 to 11. Some substitute teachers like young minds and their inquisitive nature. Others may find this age group a little needy or may wish a little more growth and maturity. Other substitute teachers enjoy working with secondary students more, typically ages 12 to 18. This age group can be more mature and responsible, and it may be easier to talk with them. However, some may not like some of the challenges and rebellious nature found in this group. Some substitutes enjoy it all. It is important, though, to enjoy working with students and be comfortable with the age group(s) that you choose.


Good substitute teachers also have great patience. It takes time to find your "groove" as a substitute teacher, what techniques work for you, what do not, what classes and age groups you prefer, how you handle challenging situations, and more. No substitute teacher is perfect, and no substitute teacher does not improve with experience. There will be days that do not go well, but if you have patience to realize this and get through them, the good days lie ahead.

It is also important to remember that new substitute teachers often are called less frequently than experienced substitute teachers; schools tend to use the substitute teachers that they know perform well. However, when it does get to be your turn, if you make a good impression, it is more likely that you will be called again. Until you reach that point, it requires patience to hang in there and wait for your first assignment.


Flexibility is also crucial to success as a substitute teacher. Substitute teachers are often called to fill in for regular classroom teachers at the last minute, so it is important to be flexible and to jump in as needed. As a substitute teacher, you may be called to fill in for the music teacher at an elementary school. You arrive, and you are told that a third grade teacher had a flat tire on her way to work. You are asked to fill in for her class until she arrives and then fill in for the music teacher as planned.Perhaps the music teacher does not have a classroom, either, and he wheels around a cart with a keyboard on it from room to room. It may not be exactly what you had in mind when you accepted the job in the morning.

Perhaps you were called in to a high school to substitute for an English teacher who has taken one of her classes on a field trip. While you will need to teach the lessons for the rest of her classes, for the class period that has no students (because of the field trip), you have been asked to fill in for the physical education teacher, who is also out and the district could not find a substitute teacher for him or her.

These are the kinds of situations that require flexibility on the part of a substitute teacher. When you accept the assignment in the morning, rarely are you told of special circumstances that may be happening in the school like filling in for other teachers, an assembly that you need to take students to, fire drills, guest speakers, student teachers, teachers who have no classrooms of their own (and travel to other classrooms throughout the day), and more. The more flexible you are and willing to "go with the flow" during the day, the more successful you will be.


Though it may sound like it contradicts flexibility, having the trait of consistency is important to successful substitute teaching. Flexibility is important in succeeding with teaching assignments, but consistency is crucial in successfully handling students. Young people have a natural desire for consistency and fairness. They expect that if one person would be allowed to chew gum, they all should be allowed to chew gum. While they themselves may not treat others consistently or fairly, they certainly expect it of adults and particularly those adults with authority over them. As you enforce classroom rules as a substitute teacher, you should discipline students consistently. If one student receives a warning for talking out of turn, another student should not receive a lunch detention for the same infraction. If you apply rules and expectations consistently, you will gain the respect of students. If you do not, students will find it difficult to trust you, and your job becomes that much more challenging.

Sense of Humor

A good sense of humor is also a definite plus for any substitute teacher. While it is not an essential trait to be successful at substitute teaching, it just may be necessary to enjoy it.There will be so many students, classes, and situations in all sorts of combinations that no substitute (or regular teacher, for that matter) can predict accurately how any lesson will go. So many variables and unpredictable situations, not the least of which are the students themselves, will keep things lively, anywhere from difficult to entertaining. The ability to enjoy the funny moments and to not take yourself too seriously will help you be resilient and strong as a substitute teacher. You will make mistakes, and being able to laugh at yourself helps get through the day. Taking your work seriously does not require taking yourself too seriously.

Positive Role Model

Finally, it is crucial that an effective substitute acts in ways that model positive behaviors to students. Many young people yearn for examples of how to act and behave, and they look to adults to model that behavior.It is important that adults in roles of authority act with respect to other people, follow rules and regulations, and make wise decisions. For teachers, this not only means in the classroom but outside of it as well.Poor decisions can result in reputation damaging consequences, and you never know where students, or their parents, will be in public.

While these characteristics and traits are not an absolute requirement for all substitute teachers, they go a long way in helping bring success in the classroom.