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How to Become a Substitute Teacher in California: Guide to Credentials, Benefits, and More

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Published on: 01/25/2024
Last Updated: 01/26/2024
9 minute read

Variety, flexibility, exhilaration, fun—there are many potential reasons to serve as a substitute teacher. 

Yet, the nation is suffering from a severe shortage of educators, particularly in California. 1,2  In 2022 alone, the Golden State grappled with 10,000-plus teacher vacancies—a gap that continues to disproportionately affect lower-income students.3

If you’re exploring the idea of filling this void and doing so in the sunny state of California, the first question is: What will be required of me?

Fortunately, you’re in the right place. Here’s how to become a substitute teacher in California—and the benefits that may arrive with the job. 

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What Does a Substitute Teacher Do?

Substitute teachers replace full-time, regular instructors who may be out due to an illness, a vacation, a sabbatical, or any other type of time off.4 Typically, a substitute teacher will helm a classroom for a short time during teacher absences; that said, they may also find roles for a half or full academic year—if, say, a teacher goes on maternity or paternity leave.

While a substitute teacher might be in a classroom for only a brief time period, their tasks mirror that of a permanent teacher, with duties that include:5

  • Supervising the classroom and the behavior of students
  • Monitoring attendance
  • Offering instruction in specific subjects
  • Adhering to the regular teacher’s lesson plan 
  • Supplying educational support to students
  • Dispensing quizzes, tests, and homework
  • Maintaining the order and cleanliness of the classroom

As you can imagine, these are all vital to education. Accordingly, substitute teachers are expected to be well-versed in taking over a classroom on short notice—just as they’re expected to adjust swiftly, think fast on their feet, and exude confidence and authority. 

What are the Requirements to Be a Substitute Teacher in California?

The requirements to become a substitute teacher are rigorous but arguably well worth it. In addition to completing your undergraduate education—which we’ll delve into below—you’ll also be asked to hold an Emergency 30-day Substitute Permit or, for longer assignments, an Emergency Career Substitute Permit or a Teaching Permit for Statutory Leave.6

These permits are issued by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. They require an application, a $100 fee, and the following documents:7

  • Transcripts – A copy of your official transcripts from an accredited university or college is needed to demonstrate successful completion of a bachelor’s degree program.
  • Personal details and fingerprints – Permanent and substitute teachers in California must submit fingerprints to LiveScan, which conducts a background check.
  • Basic skills proficiency coursework and exam – After July 1, 2024, these are necessary to certify that you have a handle on the essential skills (and knowledge) needed in the classroom.

If you haven’t earned your bachelor’s degree yet, don’t despair: the California Commission on Teaching Credentialing also administers an Emergency Permit for Prospective Teachers, which enables students working toward a diploma to sub. That said, to obtain this particular substitute teaching permit, you must have completed a minimum of 90 academic units. An application, fee, background check, and basic skills exam are also required.

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What are the Steps to Becoming a Substitute Teacher in California?

Whether you’re looking for a side hustle, a serious profession, or simply want to test the waters before committing to a “permanent” teaching position, these are the specific steps to jumpstarting a substitute teaching career in California:

Earn Your Bachelor’s Degree

Unless you apply for the Emergency Permit for Prospective Students described above, you must possess a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. A bachelor’s degree in education may be a terrific choice, but substitute teachers have a broad range of educational backgrounds with degrees in:

  • Psychology
  • Early childhood education
  • Counseling
  • English
  • Sociology
  • Mathematics
  • Biology
  • Art history

Your best bet is to examine your long-term professional goals and passions—two issues an admissions counselor can help you navigate.

Take Additional Qualification Tests

After completing your bachelor’s degree, you’ll be required to earn a minimum score of 123 on the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST), which assesses your math, reading, and writing knowledge.

To stand out from your peers (and to potentially attract attention from top employers and school districts), you may also consider additional tests, such as the California Subject Examination for Teachers (CSET)—an exam designed to verify your knowledge in a single subject, like sociology or English.8

Pass a Background Check 

Child safety is paramount in public and private schools; as such, all teachers—including substitutes—must pass a background check through the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). This ensures that candidates don’t have a criminal record involving children. Fortunately, through LiveScan, these results are usually available within three days to a week.

Get a Tuberculosis Test

Child health is equally imperative. To this end, the state of California requires teachers to get a TB test 60 days prior to applying as a substitute instructor.

Building a Substitute Teaching Toolkit

A degree and admissible test scores are a surefire start, but additional work should be done before you step into a classroom to sub—namely, assembling a toolkit to help you breeze through your workday and make a difference. This might include:9

  • Gaining knowledge on the latest education technology – Familiarizing yourself with the most up-to-date technologies used in schools—such as interactive whiteboards, educational games like Socrative, and video platforms like Animoto—will not only help you stay relevant but may also give your students a dynamic, immersive learning experience.10
  • Putting together a physical toolkit – Sure, classrooms are often equipped with the basics, but you may feel better prepared (and more assured) if you have a go-to kit that contains pens, pencils, a timer, and other classroom essentials. 
  • Creating a visual reminder of student expectations – One of your biggest responsibilities as a substitute teacher is maintaining order and positive, proper behavior in the classroom. With this in mind, you might consider creating a poster you can take from school to school (and class to class) that outlines your rules and expectations.

Furthermore, you may want to consistently brush up on your knowledge of lesson planning and create inviting, fun activities appropriate for multiple grades and ages.

Exploring Substitute Teaching Opportunities in California

With more than 39 million residents and 939 school districts, California has many teaching opportunities.11 Private and public schools aren’t your only options, either. You might also want to think about investigating:12

  • Summer school programs
  • Childcare facilities
  • Camps
  • Private tutoring positions
  • Testing centers
  • Libraries

Further, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing advises inquiring about the school district—or districts—that interest you.13 Bear in mind that rural areas in the state may especially be in need of substitute teachers.14

Applying to Be a Substitute Teacher

There are several resources to aid in your search for a substitute teaching job, such as:

  • EdJoin.org
  • California County Superintendents
  • Online job boards, such as Indeed and LinkedIn

To entice employers, you may want to highlight what sets you apart, whether that’s an English as a Second Language (ESL) certification or Bilingual Authorization, on your curricula vitae. 

Benefits of Becoming a Substitute Teacher

Substitute teachers can relish plenty of perks inside and outside of the classroom. These include: 

  • Autonomy – Serving as a substitute teacher, as opposed to a regular teacher, gives you the capacity to set your own schedule. This may be especially appealing if you’re an entrepreneur, artist, or small business owner. It’s also a great match for retirees, students in master’s and doctoral programs, and stay-at-home parents who want to bring in additional income.
  • Diversity – One of the greatest thrills of becoming a substitute teacher in California (and beyond) is the sheer range of experiences you’ll acquire. You might teach high school seniors Spanish one day and fill in as a second-grade English teacher the next. This can help stave off monotony and ensure that every workday is exhilarating. 
  • Experience — There are few professions that allow you to explore what an average day looks like before you make a commitment. Substitute teaching is one of them. It can help you answer the questions “Is being a teacher worth it,” and “Should I be a teacher.” If yes, this experience may pave the way to a full-time teaching role.

Above all, you’ll be in the perfect place to make a powerful impact on a child’s life and supply them with the knowledge they need to thrive.

Grow Your Career in Education with Additional Credentials

Are you Intrigued by becoming a substitute teacher and hoping to work in California? While California distributed 67,000 substitute teaching credential permits per year prior to COVID, it’s since seen a radical reduction in applicants.16 Filling this gap may reward you and your community.

Perhaps you’re interested in learning about full-time teaching. Alliant International University has a handful of programs that can help you prepare for work as a teacher in California, such as a credential in multiple-subject teaching, a credential in single-subject teaching, and a credential in education specialist instruction, which will permit you to work with children with learning disabilities.

Learning how to become a substitute teacher in California starts with Alliant. Request more information today to launch your career. 


Sources: 

  1. Ordway, Denise-Marie. “The Substitute Teacher Shortage: Research Reveals Why It Warrants More News Coverage.” The Journalist’s Resource, January 30, 2023. https://journalistsresource.org/education/substitute-teacher-pay-studen…;
  2. Allyson Aleksey | Examiner staff writer |. “Substitute Teaching in San Francisco in Dire Need of Resuscitation.” San Francisco Examiner, April 25, 2023. https://www.sfexaminer.com/news/education/the-dire-state-of-substitute-…;
  3. Hong, Joe. “Substitute Teacher Shortage Hits California’s Low-Income Students Harder.” CalMatters, May 12, 2022. https://calmatters.org/education/2022/05/substitute-teacher-shortage-ca…;
  4. Pavlou, Christina. “Substitute Teacher Job Description.” Recruiting Resources: How to Recruit and Hire Better, April 26, 2022. https://resources.workable.com/substitute-teacher-job-description. 
  5. Substitute teacher job description [updated for 2023] - indeed. Accessed December 16, 2023. https://www.indeed.com/hire/job-description/substitute-teacher. 
  6. “Substitute Teaching Certification Options.” Substitute teaching certification options, August 28, 2023. https://www.ctc.ca.gov/credentials/roadmap-to-teaching/substitute-teach…;
  7. Lambert, Diana. “What You Need to Become a Substitute Teacher in California: Quick Guide.” EdSource, March 3, 2023. https://edsource.org/2023/what-you-need-to-become-a-substitute-teacher-…;
  8. “Cset Test Info: 2023-24 Dates, Fees, Testing Locations & Prep Resources.” CSET Test Info | 2023-24 Dates, Fees, Testing Locations & Prep Resources. Accessed December 16, 2023. https://www.teacherstestprep.com/CSET_exam. 
  9. Post, Denver. “Essential Tips and Strategies for Substitute Teaching Success.” Denver Post Content, September 27, 2023. https://native.denverpost.com/essential-tips-and-strategies-for-substit…;
  10. Chauhan, Ashutosh. “11 Digital Education Tools for Teachers and Students.” eLearning Industry, May 12, 2021. https://elearningindustry.com/digital-education-tools-teachers-students…;

  11. Person, Hans Johnson, Eric McGhee, and Marisol Cuellar Mejia. “California’s Population.” Public Policy Institute of California, November 2, 2023. https://www.ppic.org/publication/californias-population/.

  12. Johnes, Simona, Simona JohnesSimona Johnes is the visionary being the creation of our project. Johnes spent much of her career in the classroom working with students. And, Yakob, Scienceadmin, and Cin J Sheppard. “What Do Substitute Teachers Do in the Summer - 19 Jobs.” What Do Substitute Teachers Do in The Summer - 19 Jobs, September 13, 2022. https://scienceandliteracy.org/what-do-substitute-teachers-do-in-the-su…;

  13. Substitute Employment Opportunities. Accessed December 16, 2023. https://www.ctc.ca.gov/credentials/roadmap-to-teaching/substitute-emplo…;

  14. “‘No One Is Coming to Our Rescue’: Inside Rural California’s Alarming Teacher Shortage.” Los Angeles Times, August 1, 2023. https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2023-08-01/rural-california-sc…;

  15. fpm3.com, ip-172-17-0-124, and Samantha Shaw. “Top Ten Reasons to Become a Substitute Teacher.” ESS, August 31, 2023. https://ess.com/blog/top-ten-reasons-to-become-a-substitute-teacher/.&n…;

  16. Von Moos, Amanda. “Strengthening Substitute Teaching in California.” California School Boards Association, June 7, 2022. https://publications.csba.org/issue/spring-2022/strengthening-substitut…;

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