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DESE substitute certification

Guide to Substitute Teacher Certification

Guides & Resources / March 16, 2024
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Whether you are looking to become a teacher, or you are already in the classroom, The Educator Academy provides support and services to educators. We exist to sustain empowered educators in creating equitable classroom experiences for all students. Send us a message to receive more support for your next step in education! 

If you are thinking about getting your Missouri Department of Elementary & Secondary of Education (DESE) substitute certification, this is the right space for you. This blog covers the benefits of substitute teaching and ideas for determining the pathway to earn your substitute teacher certification. Plus, we have resources to help you determine if substitute teaching is the right fit for you


Benefits of Substitute Teaching 

Whether you are looking to start your career, find a new career, or looking for a short-term commitment, getting your Missouri DESE substitute certification comes with a lot of benefits! 



Getting your substitute certification through DESE allows you the flexibility to be in the classroom when it works for you. If there are certain days of the week you do or don’t want to work, you can choose your schedule.  If you are looking for a part-time way to work in education, but are not wanting to commit to a certain grade or content area, substitute teaching allows you that flexibility. 


Impact Students

Substitute teachers are crucial to the success of a school system, serving a vital role in the overall school ecosystem. Students need to have teachers, but teachers also have needs that take them out of the classroom. In order to continue to support student learning, substitutes fill a major role. Without substitute teachers, school administrators face difficulties in meeting the needs of students. In the 2022-2023 school year, Kansas City metro schools saw approximately 2,000 teacher absences each day. Without a strong substitute teacher pool, schools can’t do their best work.


Exploration in education 

If you are considering eventually becoming a teacher of record, it can be helpful to first gain experience in the classroom. Serving as a substitute teacher allows you to learn about the school, content areas, and grades you most connect with. This also allows you to meet people across the education landscape and grow your network. Beyond leading a classroom, serving as a substitute gives you exposure to the education industry at large and prepares you for your next step in education


Advancement in Skills 

Even if you are not intending to be a teacher of record, obtaining your Missouri DESE substitute certification allows you to hone your professional skills. A few essential career skills that you would likely utilize in the classroom include: 

  • Time management: Substitutes are asked to take attendance, manage the class, and work through a lesson plan all within a discrete amount of time. Mastering time management sets you up for success in your career and also supports your work-life balance outside of the workplace. 
  • Communication: From communicating with the teacher of record to the school administration to the students and their families, being a substitute teacher allows you to grow in your communication skills. Communication skills are essential to workplace success, regardless of setting. 
  • Problem-solving skills: Being in a new environment gives you the chance to adapt to ongoing needs. Substitutes are sure to utilize creative thinking when it comes to addressing problems that arise in the classroom.  


Limited scope of responsibilities

Substitutes do not have the full weight of responsibility that a teacher of record does. While you may still need to grade assignments or make adjustments to a lesson plan, the teacher of record will be the one conducting most of the preparation on your behalf. If you are looking to be in the classroom, but are not ready to take on the responsibility of leading a class full-time, getting your DESE substitute certification might be a good next step for you! 


Know your certification options 

There are different types of teacher Missouri DESE substitute certifications and pathways to meet those certification requirements. 

    1. Content Substitute (Tradition pathway) – This certification is for anyone intending to substitute teach in a K-12 setting. This certification covers content areas like elementary, middle & high school content coursework, (ex: SPED, art, music, PE, etc.). To be eligible for this credential, individuals must have completed at least 36 hours of credit from an eligible university. Note: This is a decrease in required credit hours. Previously 60 hours were required. This change came about via Governor Parson’s desire to boost the education workforce
    2. Content Substitute (Alternative pathway) – If you would like to be a substitute teacher for general content, but do not have the required higher education hours, there are still other options. Within Missouri, there are approved coursework alternatives. Frontline education is one pathway that is approved by the state along with several Institutes for Higher Education training programs. Frontline involves 20 hours (meaning 20 clock hours; not 20 credit hours) of self-paced online coursework directly related to substitute teaching fundamentals. Additionally, several colleges offer a variety of formats including online and in-person training. 
    3. Career technical substitute – This certification pathway is for substitute teaching in a vocational setting. This covers content areas like construction, welding, etc. The certificate is granted based on the individual’s experience with the content area. To be eligible applicants have to meet one of the following, as outlined by the Missouri Department of Education
      • A bachelor’s degree in an area appropriate for the career/technical area sought and four thousand (4,000) hours of locally approved, related occupational experience; or
      • An associate’s degree in an area appropriate for the career/technical area sought and five thousand (5,000) hours of locally approved, related experience; or
      • Six thousand (6,000) hours of locally approved, related occupational experience
    4. Teacher certification – If you hold an active teacher certificate, you no longer need to obtain a substitute teacher certificate within Missouri. With your teacher certification, you can serve as a substitute teacher. 


Steps to becoming Missouri DESE certified substitute teacher 

Complete online certification Application 

  1. On the DESE website, create an account or if you already have an existing account, log in. 
  2. Click Educator Certification System. This may prompt you to verify your Social Security number and date of birth. 
  3. Click on application > Substitute Certification to complete the prompts and pay the processing fee.


Complete a background check. 

  1. Pre-register via the Missouri Automated Criminal History System (MACHS)
  2. Click “Click here to Register with the Fingerprint Portal” 
  3. Enter the appropriate registration code. If you are not yet hired by a school, you will use the code 2301. Refer to this DESE document to know which code to use. 


Submit Documents for Application 

All information must be submitted to DESE via the mail to Educator Certification, P.O. Box 480, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0480. With your mailed documents include your name and Educator ID number or Social Securtiy Number. The documents you are required to submit vary depending on your education level and what type of substitute certification you are pursuing as outlined below. Refer to the DESE checklist for further details. . 

  • If you have completed at least 36 hours of college credit you will submit:  
    • Official transcript showing completion of at least 36 completed credit hours 
  • If you have NOT completed at least 36 hours of college credit you will submit:
    • Certificate of DESE-approved substitute teacher training program 
    • High school diploma or GED
  • Additionally, if you are applying for a career substitute position, you will need to submit an additional form.  


Find a position 

After you have applied for your substitute certification, you can look online for openings near you. You will often find a mix of positions from various employers. You might be hired by a school district, a specific school building, or a staffing agency. Many school districts will hire a full-time substitute. In this setup, the substitute works every school day, but the assigned school and classrooms can vary. Another format is to work in one building. Some schools hire a substitute teacher to cover the outages for their particular school. This gives the opportunity to get to know the students and teachers on a deeper level. Additionally, various staffing agencies work directly with school districts to fill absences.  By working with a staffing agency, you could be sent to a variety of buildings and classrooms over the week. 

As you determine what position is the best fit, consider the following:

Job Benefits  
    • Substitute teacher pay can vary depending on the role. Teacher substitute pay is typically paid on a per-day basis and varies across school districts. In the Kansas City metropolitan area, you can expect anywhere from $75-150 per day as of data from 2023. Consider the pay and potential eligibility for benefits. Some full-time substitute teachers are eligible for healthcare benefits, while others and part-time substitute teachers may not be eligible for benefits. In addition, different types of substitute roles have varying levels of flexibility. Whether you want to work part-time or full-time, knowing your preferences can help you prioritize which position would be the best fit.


    • Consider the physical location of the role. If the role is through an agency, be sure to ask which school districts you might be assigned to. If commuting is a concern, be sure to confirm how far the furthest assignment might be. If eventually becoming a teacher of record at a specific school is your desire, consider substituting at that building or in that district to support your career ambitions.


Role responsibilities
  • While some may find a limited scope beneficial, it is important for you to understand what is expected as a substitute and assess whether or not it aligns with your desired workday. If you want to be with one classroom the entire year, then consider long-term substitute teaching positions. Knowing what kind of responsibilities you are hoping to have in your work will help you determine whether or not pursuing Missouri DESE substitute certification is the right next step. 


career goals  
    • If you enjoy working with kids and thrive in a school environment, then substitute teaching might be a good fit for you.  However, if you already know that you want to be in the classroom, a teaching certificate might better serve you. Getting a teaching certificate allows you more flexibility in terms of potential role growth, more stability in terms of pay, and more support in terms of being a part of a school team. Once you are aware of how your DESE substitute certification fits within your larger goals, you can assess how each open position might fit vs. another. 


Determine if Substitute Teaching is right for you 

Now that you understand the benefits, types of certifications, and the steps needed to obtain a DESE substitute certification, you can assess whether or not being a substitute is the right fit for you! There are several factors to consider when thinking about if you should take this next step. 

Our residency program suits individuals who aspire to become full-time teachers of record. If you’re already lead teacher or long-term substitute, our fellows program could be a good match for you.


Looking for support in the classroom? 

Looking to become a certified teacher? Whether you are looking to become a teacher, or are already in the classroom, The Educator Academy can help you. Furthermore, we exist to sustain empowered educators in creating equitable classroom experiences for all students. Send us a message to receive more supports for your next step in education!