7 surprising facts you never knew about substitute teachers

Substitute teachers are paid a median wage of $13.79 an hour.

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Substitute teachers are paid a median wage of $13.79 an hour.
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  • Many students may not have the opportunity to get to know their substitute teachers, as they typically come in for only a day or two at a time.
  • Substitute teachers tend to get calls the morning of the day they work and have only a few hours to prepare lesson plans.
  • Some areas of the US are experiencing sub shortages, while others are overly reliant on long-term substitutes.
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As back-to-school season gets into full swing, substitute teachers will be gearing up for that early-morning call into work.

While many students may recall having subs cover for absent teachers, they don’t usually have a chance to get to know their temporary instructor in the brief time spent together.

Read more: 31 teachers across the US reveal their exact salary, and how much of it goes to paying for school supplies like chalk and pencils

Some may not know, for instance, that many states don’t require substitute teachers to have schooling past a high-school diploma to get certified. Or that some areas of the US are experiencing sub shortages, while others are overly reliant on long-term substitutes.

Here are seven facts you may not have known about what it’s like to be a substitute teacher.

Are you a substitute teacher with a story to share? Email aakhtar@businessinsider.com.


The median pay for substitute teachers in the US is $13.79 an hour.

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As of May 2018, more than 500,000 substitute teachers worked in the US, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Subs earned a median hourly wage of $13.79 and an average hourly wage of $15.56. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

According to BLS data, the vast majority of subs work in elementary and secondary schools, but those working in postgraduate vocational or trade schools earn the most overall. California, Texas, and New York employ the most subs.


Substitutes in Maryland earn the most of any state on average, while those in Alabama earn the least.

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Maryland subs on average make an hourly wage of $28.29, according to the May 2018 BLS data. Hawaii, Oregon, and Vermont are the next highest-paying states at $22.61, $21.89, and $20.39, respectively.

Alabama is the state where subs earn the least, at just $9.19 an hour on average. Tennessee, Mississippi, and Idaho are next in line at $9.74, $9.77, and $10.55, respectively.

Montgomery, Alabama, pays subs $8.33 an hour, the lowest of all US cities. Springfield, Massachusetts, pays the most, at $26.84.

Source: The Bureau of Labor Statistics


Schools call subs early in the morning to ask them to step in for a teacher.

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Subs are called into work at about 5 a.m., the education site ThoughtCo. reports – meaning the job works best for early birds.

After getting a gig and accepting it, subs may report to a different school from where they most recently subbed. They’ll read the lesson plan left behind by the regular teacher just before class starts, according to The Huffington Post.

Source: ThoughtCo., Huffington Post


Substitute teachers are more likely to find work immediately following spring break and during the years when there is a shortage of flu vaccines.

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Source: National Substitute Teachers Alliance


Not all substitute teachers are required to have a bachelor’s degree — even though full-time teachers need to have one.

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Requirements for substitute teacher certification vary by state.

Subs are certified by the state where they teach. While all full-time teachers must have a bachelor’s degree to become certified, some states do not require subs to have the same level of education before certification.

Vermont, for instance, requires only that subs be over 18 years old and hold a high-school diploma. Arizona does not even have clear guidelines governing substitute-teacher credentials, according to the National Education Association.

You can find a breakdown of all state requirements for substitute teachers here.

Source: National Education Association


The US is experiencing a shortage of substitute teachers.

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US schools were 64,000 teachers short in the 2015-2016 school year, according to the education nonprofit Hechinger Report. Subjects with the most shortages included special education, math, science, and bilingual studies.

High-poverty schools and schools with predominantly students of color suffered most from sub shortages, Hechinger reported. In southern Illinois, for instance, school districts could not find a substitute teacher for 26% of teacher absences each week.

“[The substitute teacher shortage] has really risen to a level of concern in the last year and a half. I’ve never seen it this dire,” Mark Laurrie, the superintendent of Niagara Falls City School District, told Hechinger’s Tara García Mathewson.

Source: Hechinger Report


On the flip side, some states are relying on long-term substitute teachers to replace full-time ones.

The use of long-term substitutes has increased tenfold in five years in Michigan, according to an investigation by the nonprofit Bridge.

In the 2018-2019 class year, 2,500 long-term substitute teachers led classrooms in the state – up from 200 a year from 2013 to 2015. Substitute teachers can get qualified with just 90 semester hours of college credit with a 2.0 grade-point average at a four-year college.

Las Vegas – which already ranks among the bottom-performing school districts in the US – has also relied on long-term substitutes and teachers with lesser qualifications, according to a 2016 report in The Atlantic. One of the subs reportedly played marathons of the movie “Grease” instead of teaching.

Source: Bridge, The Atlantic