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Substitute Certification

How to Become a Substitute Teacher

Guides & Resources / March 16, 2024
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It takes a whole host of staff to keep a school functioning. From custodians to administrative staff, cafeteria workers to content specialists–it truly takes a village to ensure that all students are getting the services and support they need. If you are looking to get into the classroom as a substitute teacher, it’s essential that you know the role that substitute teachers play and the prerequisites for substitute certification.

What is a substitute teacher? 

Substitute teachers serve as an invaluable resource for the education system. Often, elementary schools are modeled with one primary teacher of record in charge of a standard group of students for the entire school year. Students may be with other teachers for different rotations like PE and art (often called specials). However, the school structure is dependent on the classroom teacher being present for the entire school year. Additionally, in secondary schools, one teacher may have over 100 students on their roster that they see throughout the day. Teachers being out of the classroom can impact their students if a quality substitute teacher is not there to continue supporting their learning. 

When a teacher takes time off or is out sick, substitute teachers fill the teacher’s role. Having a strong pool of substitutes allows a school to be more accommodating to their teacher’s needs while also retaining the high-quality academic experience for their students. 

Role of a substitute teacher 

The primary responsibility is to keep students safe. Without keeping students safe, learning can’t happen. While leading a lesson or helping students with an assignment is ideal, it is secondary; the core purpose of a substitute is to ensure a trustworthy adult is caring for the class. Additional responsibilities might include: taking attendance, assigning homework, monitoring the distribution of a quiz, or leading a lesson. The teacher of record will not assume you are an expert in the content area. So, if you substitute teach for an engineering course, they won’t expect you to know all the details of the subject. However, if you do have specific content knowledge you want to utilize in the classroom, a career technical substitute might be a good fit for you

Would I make a good substitute? 

Substitute certification is an asset, but, it’s not a good fit for everyone. Consider the following parameters when thinking about pursuing your substitute certification. 

      • Enjoy working with kids – While this is a straightforward point, it can be overlooked. Some adults find some age groups more or less enjoyable to work with, and each person finds different ages challenging. If you are going to be around students all day, it’s essential that you truly enjoy working with that population. 
      • Adaptability – Being a substitute teacher involves being comfortable with change. While you may have more notice for long-term substitute coverage, you might not be notified in advance for shorter-term coverage. One day might be covering for a math class, and the next day a debate class. Being able to adapt to the changing dynamic and quickly orient yourself to the needs of the day is essential. 
      • Management of self & others – The teacher of record will outline what should be covered during your class and then it is up to you to ensure that the lesson is followed. This requires accountability of yourself, and management of others to ensure the class stays completes their assignments. 

How to obtain substitute certification

If substitute teaching sounds like a good fit, then you will need to obtain your substitute certification. Each state has a department of education that oversees the credential process for substitute teachers. The state of Missouri has a minimum number of required hours of undergraduate hours and/or training requirements. Learn more about how to apply for Missouri DESE substitute certification. 


Grow your education skills 

If you are looking for support in your growth as an educator, The Educator Academy has many resources available to you. Check out our annual conference The Summit for resources and community. In addition, we have many guides and resources on our blog you can utilize in the classroom.