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Working as a substitute teacher

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Substitute teachers face many challenges: picking up a curriculum in mid-stream, learning 20 or 30 students' names in a flash, and fending off the occasional paper airplane. But the job has its rewards, too, whether you're a prospective teacher hoping to rack up valuable experience or just looking for flexible, part-time employment with plenty of intellectual stimulation. 

What they do:

Substitute teachers provide educational continuity for students when their teachers have to miss work for illness or any other reason. Some subs drop in for half a day; others are in the same classroom for extended periods. Depending on their backgrounds and areas of expertise, substitutes can teach a wide variety of subjects in grade levels from kindergarten through 12.

What they need:

The vast majority of substitute teaching jobs require a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university. Most states also require substitutes to be certified. The requirements vary by state, and sometimes include an application, a transcript, some form of background check and a small fee, according to information compiled by the National Education Association.

Beyond those basics, subs need to present themselves as attractive candidates to the school districts where they hope to work. Teaching experience, a passion for education and thorough knowledge of relevant subject matter are helpful. Flexibility is important, too, since school districts usually keep an active pool of substitutes on call who can fill in for teachers at a moment's notice.

What they earn:

Pay for substitute teachers is generally set by individual school districts and therefore can vary widely: $20 to $190 per full working day, with a national daily average of $105, according to the National Substitute Teachers Alliance. In general, the longer the assignment and the higher the cost of living in the area, the higher the sub's pay, the NSTA reports. Some subs get benefits or union representation, but generally these perks are reserved for permanently employed teachers. puts the national average for a substitute teacher's annual salary at $29,907, with the 25th and 75th percentiles at $23,490 and $42,114 respectively.

Job outlook:

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't track substitute teachers, but it does keep records on full-time kindergarten, elementary, middle and secondary school teachers. They numbered about 3.5 million in 2008. By 2018 that figure is expected to rise 13 percent, adding 468,600 new jobs. It's hard to predict exactly how much work that means for substitutes, but it may mean that they will see similar job growth.

Anyone seeking substitute teaching work should bear in mind that employment prospects vary widely by state, city and school district, with some areas reporting a glut of substitute teachers (especially during the recession) and others reporting difficulty finding and retaining qualified subs.

For those who hope to move from subbing to full-time teaching, the BLS holds out some hope. Its 2008-to-2018 projections note that in the near term schools may increasingly hire full-time teachers from the so-called "reserve pool": substitutes, career changers and graduates of alternative certification programs.

Last Updated: 03/04/2011 - 2:52 PM

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