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How Can I Prepare to be a Substitute Teacher?

It's useful to have a lesson plan ready in case a teacher becomes ill.
Some substitute teachers may be held to fewer requirements if they teach at private schools.
A substitute teacher may be called in to instruct students when their regular teacher is ill or on leave.
Fingerprinting is a mandatory procedure for teacher certification.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2014
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Often, substitute teachers don't have to have the same credentials as full time teachers. Substitute teachers usually must pass tests mandated by the school district, may need to hold a bachelor’s degree, and will almost certainly be fingerprinted. You can also expect a substitute teacher to submit to a health examination and a background check. Further, a substitute must register with all school districts in which he or she is looking for work in order to be considered for employment.

Some substitute teachers may be held to fewer requirements if they teach at private schools. A private school substitute teacher will very likely have to pass examinations required by the school and get fingerprinted. A four-year college degree, however, may not be required, and a teaching credential is often not a requirement.

In some states, you can substitute with as little as 60 college units or credits and a background check. Other states may require an emergency credential. An emergency credential can include requirements covering testing, backgorund checks, and medical examinations. Usually the state places limits on how many consecutive days a person can substitute for the same class. This could be anywhere from 10-30 days, not including weekends.

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In general, you can prepare to spend between 100-200 US dollars (USD) to pay for application fees, health exams, tests, and fingerprinting. You should therefore be prepared as a fledgling substitute teacher to dig deep into your pockets before getting your first job. Actual paperwork time may vary. Some school districts may provide emergency credentials within a few weeks. Others may take a month or more. If you would like to become a substitute teacher beginning in September, start paperwork and preparations by late May so you will be ready to work when school starts.

It can also help to know the teachers for whom you might work as a substitute teacher. For example, many parents become a substitute teacher for their children’s schools. Knowing the teachers can give you an inside edge, because they can request you to substitute, and may be able to prearrange substitute days with you for planned absences.

If you don’t know the teachers or the school district that you'll be working in, sending a brief cover letter to each teacher outlining your experience and enthusiasm can help produce requests. Depending upon the circumstances, a substitute teacher might be well known by a class at the end of the year. Being better known often translates to more comfortable and respectful students.

Once you have secured the appropriate licensing, you might want to do some research on schools. First, get and read behavior policies and guidelines for each school or district. Second, know the layouts of schools. Also, know emergency procedures that will allow you to protect yourself and students should it be required.

A substitute teacher should always come prepared to classes with a back up plan. Ideally, your job will be to follow the teacher’s schedule. If a teacher is really ill, a schedule may not have been made. Therefore you might also want to prepare for jobs by having back-up activities tailored to the subjects you plan to teach. It can also help to take more troublesome students and make them classroom experts on procedures or current things the class is studying. This often helps reduce behavioral problems.

You should expect some behavioral problems as a substitute teacher, especially from middle school and high school aged children. When these become significant, involve the administration. In a teacher’s absence, a principal or dean is often the best person to oversee children who fail to be respectful. Also work on commanding respect from your students by respecting them. A substitute teacher who is kind and consistent will most often have students who wish to behave.

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anon259180
Post 4

The schools are mandated to utilize furloughed teachers first for substitute assignments so we emergency teachers get what's left over that the certified teachers give a pass on. This means kindergarten, first grade, LS, ES, ISS Placement, etc., etc.

You can stay busy, but at what cost to your sanity and emotional well-being? As an emergency teacher, you will work many different assignments and never be in the same room long enough to get the higher pay rate that a long term substitute can get. This leads to a lot of running around and burning gas for the minimum rate.

Also remember the tax consequences, because each of these different assignments will not put you up enough for federal tax to be withheld and you will pay at tax time for your folly.

sunshine31
Post 3

@GreenWeaver - I think that it depends. I know a lot of retirees that work as substitute teachers and love it because they get to interact with the students and only work when the school needs help. I think that it also depends on the age group that you are teaching and the expectations that you have.

Teaching older students could be more challenging for some substitutes, while teaching younger students might prove harder for other substitutes because of the constant structure that is needed. You really have to know yourself and know what age group you prefer to teach.

I know teachers that would not think of teaching any grades lower than sixth and others that would not teach any grades above third. It is really hard to say which age group is best because it really depends on how well you can relate to these students that will determine which grades you should sub for.

GreenWeaver
Post 2

@Latte31 - I think that it is great that your friend is considering entering the teaching profession. I did want to say that I don’t think that I would want to be a substitute teacher because sometimes the children do not respect the substitute and can get a little out of hand.

I guess it depends on the school, but I have had friends that were involved in a substitute teacher program at various schools and they really did not like being a substitute. I think that if the students see you more often around the school then they might act differently, but that is just what I have heard.

I have no experience as a substitute teacher so I could be wrong in my assumptions, but that is what I have been told.

latte31
Post 1

I had a friend who was learning how to be a substitute teacher and she found out that the substitute teacher requirements involved taking a few courses in order to receive a certification as well as having at least an Associate’s degree.

She was thinking of becoming a substitute teacher because she was interested in the field of education but wanted to see what it was like to actually work with the students without a drawn out commitment.

She also told me that the substitute teachers salaries were anywhere from $85 to $100 a day. She said that the salary depended on the district that you work for and the larger the district the higher the pay for the substitute teacher.

She said that the only thing that she didn’t like was that she was on call all the time. She really wanted to be a more consistent substitute teacher but the substitute teacher job description states that this is an on call position which is why you can’t rely on the substitute teacher pay until you are more seasoned.

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