Being a Substitute Teacher

Parent Q&A

  • Hello BPN, 

    I'm a new father and my family is transitioning to live in the Bay Area for the first time. I'm looking for some advice specifically about substitute teaching but also more generally about the teaching job market. I have eight years experience as a high school english teacher at a small public school in Brooklyn, two years experience teaching at a private school in Massachusetts, and have taught English Comp as an Adjunct at a small college. 

    I'm reaching out to the BPN community to find out if anyone could tell me about their experience with subbing (there is some older advice in the archives about this but wanted more recent reports) in the Berkeley/Oakland public school systems? And/or the private schools in the Easy Bay? How steady is the work, what is the pay like, what is the lifestyle like? How sustainable is it over a year long period? Does it lead to possible employment? 

    I have looked through school websites at job openings but applying cold hasn't produced results.

    Any advice or personal antidotes would be appreciated!

    - Chris

    Chris, you can make a decent living doing being a sub around here. In fact, I think if you sub in SF proper, committing to 4 days a week, you can even get health care. And there are tons of jobs that go begging for decent teachers because the pay is so terrible. I am hoping for my own sake that you'll also take a look at the West Contra Costa Unified School District. You sound like you've got a ton of great experience and I'd love for my kids to have you as a teacher. Good luck! 

    There are jobs for substitutes. In terms of long-term public school jobs it depends on whether your credential is transferable. You should be able to figure it out (or at least what questions to ask) on the Commission on Teacher Credentialing Website. You can't get a permanent job in the public schools without a credential. Cal State East Bay or SFSU offer courses you could use to fill in your credential. To teach as an adjunct in CA, you need a MA in the field. That said, there are very few jobs in English at the Community College level, and relatively few colleges here compared to the East Coast.

    The substitute pay in BUSD isn't much. It seems like something to do as a transition, rather than as a long-term job. In general CA teachers are paid less than those in NY or Mass, and there is a greater discrepancy between salaries and housing costs. On the positive side more jobs are opening up because many teachers are retiring now. Usually people with experience other places can get jobs if their credential is ok. I've heard of new hires getting their out-of-district years counted on the salary scale.

    If you are open to Charter schools, East Bay Innovation Academy is expanding each year and looking for dynamic teachers to join the team.  See here:

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Questions Related Pages

Help on becoming a teacher/substitute teaching

June 2013

hello, I am a current college graduate and I am looking to become a teacher in California. I plan on applying for a multiple subject teaching credential program next year and would like to begin substituting to gain teaching experience. Any advice or helpful tips for someone with little teaching experience with school age children? Thank you!

Substitute teaching is very challenging. A few survival ideas:

1. Develop a relationship with a few teachers or a school so that you are requested by people that you know are responsible and who will leave you with clear teaching plans/activities.

2. Think about volunteering at a school that you would like to substitute at so that you know the facility and have some relationships with teachers and students, rather than going into a place where you know no one. You need some volunteer experience to get into a program.

3. Getting a call at 5:30 AM to go work in a class/school you are not familiar with is stressful. I only accepted work from teachers I knew and they arranged it with me in advance so I did not have to be on the call line.

4. Perhaps you could do some career interviews to get an idea of what is involved in running a classroom for a day. Classroom management, i.e., discipline, is very challenging especially when one has no relationship with the students.

5. Develop a substitute survival kit with activities, handouts, lessons, fun energizers, etc., in case you get an assignment where there are no lesson plans or materials or you have extra time you need to fill.

6. Repeat: get some guidance re: positive classroom management especially in a substitute situation. Good Luck! anonymous

The two best ways to get your foot into the door to be hired as a teacher are being a substitute teacher or being a student teacher. So my first piece of advice to you is to choose your schools carefully. This is a really good shot to show that you are intelligent, competent, dependable, good at working with others, have excellent classroom management skills, and enjoy working with kids. You should try to do things that prove that as much as possible. There are basically three kinds of subs: people who are in transition, people who want to be teachers, and retired teachers. The people in transition often are lazy and read the newspaper while they sub, and don't talk to the regular teachers at lunch. The retired teachers are usually my go-to subs. I do choose the second kind (you!) but only if I feel absolutely confident they'll do the following things: 1. Actually follow the lesson plan, and get done what I asked them to get through with the kids. 2. Be professional with my colleagues. 3. Be creative and resourceful if something goes awry (sometimes the DVD just won't play that day, even though it did the day before) 4. Be respectful of my students. I care deeply about them, and teachers often feel a sense of protective worry about them and their well being. 5. Don't let any of my stuff get ruined, broken, or stolen. 6. Communicate with me VERY clearly what happened in each period or hour of class. Who was bad? Who was good? What did you get through with each set of kids?

Being a substitute teacher for a year gave me an enormous advantage when it came to becoming a ''real'' teacher. I knew what grades I wanted to teach, a million different ways to set up basic classroom systems, and it was the greatest practice imaginable for learning how to deal with classroom management. When I came into my first real classroom, I was totally confident in my ability to control and manage the room.

Substitute submission systems vary, but most districts allow teachers to request specific subs ahead of time, and great subs are rare and a hot commodity. What you want to be is on everyone's ''this is a great sub. You should use her/him'' list. The way you do that is by following the advice above, but once you have a relationship with a teacher, also offering to grade the quizzes you're giving while they're gone, cleaning up the room before you leave, and writing long notes. You should try to get as many pre-booked days as you possibly can (when people know they're absent, they'll ask you if you can sub for them on a particular date). Then you're not at the mercy of the 6am phone calls/emails. That's how I built up my core base, and there were only two days the entire school year when I was available to sub but I wasn't asked. Long-term subbing is an excellent way to prove you can do it for the long haul. My district has hired several long-term subs to be regular teachers in the last few years because they proved their mettle. Good luck! - Thinks good subs are worth their weight in gold

Substitute teacher/CBEST advice!

June 2013

Hello, I am a recent college graduate and have been considering becoming a substitute teacher for the upcoming school year and I was seeking any helpful advice or tips for someone who has little teaching experience. Also, any tips for passing the CBEST exam? Thank you all for your time!

CBEST is 8th grade level. I didn't know this when I took the test, so I brushed up on my algebra, and read the newspaper daily to increase my reading speed. Clearly, I overdid. But there are study guides that might give you more confidence, and test-taking techniques. anon
The CBEST is very easy to pass. It is like an SAT sort of test. There are only a few places you can substitute teach in the area without a teacher's credential. I know BUSD requires the credential. WCCUSD will take almost anyone who passes the CBEST, has a B.A. and looks like a reasonable adult and can pass fingerprinting. I subbed for them 20+ years ago and again about 4 years ago when I needed extra money. If you are good, you will build up a group of teachers at one or two schools who love you and ask for you all the time. I generally had at least 3 days of work per week at $100+ per day. When I first started subbing I landed a 3 month placement while a teacher went out for surgery (at which point you will need a long term substitute credential). The first credential is a 30 day emergency credential. Good luck!

Starting Career as Substitute Teacher

Dec 2008

I'm considering starting a career in teaching. I have some teaching experience as a private music teacher, but no classroom experience. My career before children was software development. I have a BA in Literature from a major university. My creative writing has been published in various anthologies and literary journals (not that it matters). I'm looking to teach in the East Bay, at any level. Before I take the CBEST, I would like to see if there is enough work out there, with all the layoffs and budget cuts. Will I be able to find work 3 days a week? I'm fairly flexible as to which days of the week I work, and can also work 5 days a week from time to time, if necessary.

Despite budget cuts, there are always needs for good substitute teachers. You can also apply to multiple districts and check what the rate of pay is for various districts as it varies quite a bit. Print up some inexpensive cards with your contact info., go to the new teacher orientation in the Fall and give them to the teachers during breaks. They will be so happy to contact someone pleasant whom they have actually seen. Your job will be following instructions left by the teacher and 85% management -- keeping the children in their seats and working actively on something. Good subs have a bag of tricks, like educational videos, word searches, etc. to whip out if the reg. teacher doesn't leave instructions or enough to do. Good Luck! kl
Good for you! I substitute taught full-time for 3 years, and it was the easiest and least stressful work I have ever done. Here is how you do it successfully, so that you work daily in sweet classrooms: Think of yourself as a freelance teacher who wants your own ''clients'' (teachers who request you personally). First of all, create cute business cards with something arty on them and print them on magnets (not regular business cards - teachers toss them in a drawer and forget about them). Convince teachers to call you at home and email you their lesson plans the night before. To succeed, remember that teachers want to return to their classrooms to see that you held down the fort. They do not want someone who disregarded their plans, or leaves lists of kids who misbehaved. They just want to be able to return to work and resume their routines, they don't have time to follow up on bad kids. Kids will behave best for you if you do everything you can to keep their routines as close to regular as possible, and teachers will appreciate it. You may have to get your feet wet and end up in some tricky environments at first, but try to see if you can get a teacher friend to let you sub for them until you get comfortable. Meg

Becoming a Substitute Teacher

April 2005

Hello, I've decided to start substitute teaching, in order to augment a meager part-time lecturer's salary, and am wondering what the procedure is after passing the CBEST. Also, could anyone tell me what the prospects are for getting fairly steady work in the bay area as a substitute teacher. I have teaching experience with all ages, like to teach, and expect to be able to do fairly well, after figuring out the initial road bumps. Thanks so much for any feedback. Teacher

I've substituted in West Contra Costa County school district for the past school year. They have a huge demand for substitutes and I could work every day of the week if I wanted to (I don't - am also doing other things). In WCCSD, you can designate where you are willing to work (I don't sub in the high schools; just elem and middle schools). The toughest schools - primarily in Richmond and some in San Pablo - have the biggest need. I had never taught before and have really enjoyed it. Once I got the hang of classroom management, I found it really rewarding for the most part, although sometime very challenging. It's very easy to sign up, and in WCCSD nothing is really required other than the CBEST and a college degree, plus a background check. I believe Berkeley Unified only will hire certified teachers as subs; each district has different requirements. Good luck! Anon
Believe it or not some districts will allow you to start sub. teaching with a CBSET waiver which is good for one year. However, once you've passed the CBEST and you submit all of the paperwork and are fingerprinted, etc. you're good to go. If you want to gaurantee yourself steady work try applying to more than one district in your area, that way when one district has nothing available the other might. I've been a sub. teacher now for 3 years and love it!!! GOOD LUCK! cebs
You can be a substitute teacher without a CBEST if you apply to private schools, such as Prospect Sierra, Black Pine Circle, Head Royce, CPS in the East Bay, and Live Oak School, Hamlin, SF Day in San Francisco, to name a few. Just call the school and say you are looking for a job as a regular sub. Most schools prefer to work with a teacher they already know, so you will be called back over and over if you do a good job the first time. Good luck! leela

Substitute teaching without a credential?

June 2004

I'm considering becoming a substitute teacher but don't have a teaching credential. I'd like to know what substitute teaching is like and whether or not substitutes without credentials can get work. I have an education related master's degree and 12 units toward a teaching credential from another state but no teaching credential. I've had over 15 years experience teaching mixed age groups of kids from toddlers though middle schoolers in non- academic settings. Has anybody tried substitute teaching without a teaching credential? How possible is it to get work? If I want to limit my work to certain days during the week (like Monday-Wednesday or Wednesday-Friday) is that workable? Are some school districts in the East Bay more receptive to substitutes without credentials than others? What makes an effective substitute teacher? To Sub or Not to Sub

In general the only requirements to apply to subsitute teach are the following:
1) You must have a bachelor's degree
2) You must have passed the CBEST
3) TB test (I am not postitive if this is a substitute requirement)

Once you have verified the above the school district will fingerprint you. If your fingerprints pass, you will be added to the substitute list. In most of the larger districts in the area that means your number is entered into an automated dialing program that will call you when there is a job available. If you want to take it, you simply ''press 1 now'' and have to show up at the school. If you don't want it, you ''press 2 now'' and the machine will call another sub. Sometimes you will get a call the day before, but frquently you will get a call the same day. Once you are subbing and teachers/schools get to know/like you they may make arrangements with you in advance, and you won't have to work on such short notice all the time. In some districts it is possble to get work almost daily... sometimes just by working at a few schools. If you limit the days, schools and/or grades you may get less calls, but will still find work.

What makes a good sub? Well that depends on the perspective. As a teacher I think a good sub is someone who follows the lesson plans, and makes sure that the kids are behaved and working. For some principals, a good sub is someone who manages to keep the kids in the room. To kids, well, my classes liked the subs who let them watch movies, talk and eat, but that usually meant I didn't ask the sub to come back. a teaching mom

Great that you want to substitute teach. You need to pass the CBEST exam, no credentials needed. You need to pass the exam and fill out all the paper work for the school district you would like to teach in. Then if they hire you they call you when they need a sub. You decide when you want to work. I recommend getting to know the schools that you want to teach in and connect with the staff and teachers. Knowing the layout of the schools, the principals, secretaries etc. will make your job easier. If you have any more questions please feel free to email me. Good Luck nicole
Most important skills as a sub:
Able to keep kids in classroom safe - this is the most important thing.
Tough skin - don't take anything personnally. AND if you can still teach the kids something once you have those two areas under control you will make a great sub!

It is fairly easy to get work as a sub without a credential. You will probably need:
to pass the CBEST
recent neg TB test
and probably a background check (usually livescan service at local PD, depends on the school)

If you have trouble with school districts (it took a long time for me to get Oakland to call me back - by the time they did I had a position through the end of the year at a charter school) try individual charter and private schools.

Feel free to email or call if you have questions or want more info re my experiences subbing and teaching w/o credential. Jessica

I have taught for five years in the Oakland Unified School District and know that we always need good substitute teachers. It is unnecessary to have a credential, but you must pass a test called the CBEST (name may have changed-they always do!). You must also have a TB test and experience with children.

To my knowledge, you can work any day of the week you'd like, or not at all. I believe that once you are in the system, you get calls for jobs at 5a.m. and you can decide wether or not to take the job.

Another option is to become familiar with a certain school and ask people to phone you personally. The advantage of this is getting to know the school, children, and staff, and no early morning calls. The disadvantage is that you'd probably get less work.

To be honest, as a classroom teacher, I think substitute teaching is very difficult. I am not tryoing to discourage you, but I feel I should be honest. Even the most organized teachers with well managed classrooms seem to fall apart when a sub arrives. Often there are no lesson plans, no keys to the bathroom, and no help from the rest of the staff. Of course, I can only speak for Oakland. Other districts may be different...

Please feel free to email me for more information. kris

You don't need a credential to sub--you need to pass the CBEST and get an emergency teaching credential. That involves fingerprinting, medical exam, other bureaocratic stuff. Sub Teaching in Oakland pays well, you can limit the days, select the schools, make teacher-friends at schools you like and ask them to request you. I've been a teacher for 10 years now and started out as a sub when I just needed some money. I loved it so much (imagine that--saying i LOVED subing!) that I got a credential, etc...There's plenty of work in Oakland. happy teacher
To substitute teach at public schools in CA, you need to pass the CBEST and then get an emergency credential. You'll need to get fingerprinted at some point, too, but let the districts tell you about that as they have different requirements. I don't think you will be allowed to sub without meeting those minimum requirements, but I could be wrong.

After that, you apply to individual districts, who put you on their sub lists. When the economy was booming, districts were desperate for subs. Now that the economy is not so great, that may have changed. You can definitely limit your work to certain schools, grades, days, etc, and you can always decline work. Different districts have different pay rates for subs, but it usually is somewhere around $100 a day.

In my opinion (I've been teaching 10 years and before that I was a sub myself) an effective substitute teacher has a sense of humor and good classroom management skills, and makes a real attempt to follow the lesson plans. Teachers don't like to come back and find their rooms out of order and their kids out of control. Coming back to corrected papers and lessons that have been completed is is really frustrating when subs decide that they're going to be ''cool'' in one way or another (playing games the whole time, show their own videos, or letting students have free time). Good luck! anon

If you are interested in subbing you should first think about what grade levels, there is a huge difference between the ages and grades.AS far as having/needing a credential, I think it depends on the district, I do know that you have to take the CBEST. Start by getting your resume together and contacting the HR departments in the district offices. I teach in Newark and I know they are one of the more lenient districts and are always looking for subs. Another suggestion is if you know anyone at any school, ask him/her about the district policies, we teachers love to help out, and knowing someone can't hurt.

You don't mention if you've ever subbed before...maybe you could sit in or help out at school to help you decide if it's really for you before you invest your time and money (CBEST). Good luck, feel free to contact me if you have any questions. ksschen