How To Become a Substitute Teacher in California 

How To Become a Substitute Teacher in California
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In a world where people are taking up 2 or 3 more jobs at a time, the job of a substitute teacher has become one of the desirable options. This is because it offers the benefit of having a job and also time to attend to any other job you may have. 

In this article, we will explore substitute teaching in California and what it takes to become a substitute teacher. We will also delve into other important areas of the topic. Let’s get to it.

Who is a Substitute Teacher?

A substitute teacher is an individual, preferably an expert in a field, who fills in for the regular teacher in their absence when they are on sick leave, maternity leave, or due to unavoidable reasons. This individual is not employed as a regular teacher and their pay scale or frequency of payment are not the same. This is primarily because their responsibilities are not the same. 

The Field of Substitute Teaching in California 

Substitute teaching is one of the fields of employment that job seekers and education retirees venture into. According to an article published on the California School Boards Association website, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing issued 67,000 permits each year pre-pandemic. However, there was a sharp decline post-pandemic leading to a need for more substitute teachers in California.

This need for more substitute teachers led to an increase in the pay or other benefits offered by employers to attract the available ones in the market. While it is a benefit on the part of the substitute teacher, it raised a concern. This concern is primarily around skill and knowledge base. It implies that employers will employ almost anyone who shows interest in the field, has the basic education requirement, and has a basic knowledge of teaching. Thereby reducing the quality of education the students receive. 

Part of the means used to combat this was by creating training programs for substitute teachers. These programs were aimed at teaching the potential substitute teacher classroom management (a core function of substitute teachers) and grooming them in specific areas where they will become experts. Schools that do programs like this end up having a pool of substitute teachers to choose from and a reduced knowledge gap.

In addition to schools running programs, the government has also put in place certain permits that one has to obtain before becoming a substitute teacher. These permits serve as a way of regulating the quality of substitute teachers in the country and also, regulating the quality of education the students receive. We will learn about some of these permits in the next section.

Substitute Teacher Permits 

To be a substitute teacher in California, certain permits authorize the holder. These permits give the holder the right to serve as a sub for either 30 days for any one teacher or 60 days for any one teacher. The permits are:

  • Emergency 30-Day Substitute Teaching Permit 
  • Emergency Substitute Teaching Permit for Prospective Teachers 
  • Emergency Career Substitute Permit 
  • Emergency Designated Subjects Career Technical Education Permit for 30-Day Substitute Teaching Service 

Emergency 30-Day Substitute Teaching Permit 

This type of permit gives the holder the right to teach or substitute for a teacher on a day-to-day basis. Just as the name implies, the holder can only serve as a sub for no more than 30 consecutive days. The holder also has the right to be a substitute teacher for beginner classes down to grade 12 and for adult education. 

This permit has a validity of 1 year and is renewable. Its renewal can be done both offline and online. Those who apply offline are those who are outside California or the United States and the fees they pay are different from those who apply online. This is because they have to submit a fingerprint card and the fingerprint processing costs differently from the application fee.

Generally, the requirements for applying for the Emergency 30-Day Substitute Teaching Permit are:

  • School Transcripts: this is to verify the authenticity of the bachelor’s or degree certificate that you are to submit.
  • Completed Application: the application form is called Form 41-4 and can be submitted offline or online. 
  • Fingerprint verification: Live fingerprint must be attached to the online application and can be done by any live scan operator. The offline applicants must submit a live scan receipt (form 41- LS) or 2 fingerprint cards (FD-258). 
  • Basic Skills Requirements: the applicant has to pass the basic skills requirements before being granted the permit.
  • Background checks: these checks are run to ensure the safety of other people around the applicant.
  • Application processing fee: this is a non-refundable fee paid for the application process. 


  • Every online transaction costs an additional $2.65.
  • Only California residents can apply online and only those outside the state can do the paper application.
  • The application processing fee is $100 
  • The extra cost for the 2 fingerprint cards is $49 (1 fingerprint card is what is charged although the request is for 2)

This permit type can be applied for by the prospective substitute teacher or the prospective employer.

Emergency Substitute Teaching Permit for Prospective Teachers

The Emergency Substitute Teaching Permit for Prospective Teachers is a type of permit issued to people who are still studying to acquire their teaching degree. The permit is valid for one year and is renewable.

The request process can be done online or offline through an employment agency. The requirements for the permit application are:

  • Completed application (Form 41-4)
  • Official transcript showing a minimum of 90 semester units of coursework from a regionally accredited university. This can also serve as a means of verifying that you are a student and the university you are enrolled in.
  • Fingerprint verification: this can either be the live scan fingerprint (Form 41- LS) or 2 fingerprint cards (FD-258).
  • Basic Skills Requirements like 
  • Application fee 

The charges are the same as that of the Emergency 30-Day Substitute Teaching Permit.

Emergency Career Substitute Permit 

An Emergency Career Substitute Permit is a permit that authorizes the holder to be a substitute teacher for no more than 60 days for a teacher. This permit is obtained after you have held the Emergency 30-day Substitute Teaching Permit for 3 years and have substituted for a cumulative of 90 days per year. The permit is renewable and is valid for 1 year.

Requirements for Initial Issuance 

  • Official transcripts (sealed) as proof of your degree.
  • Basic Skills Requirement: this can be either by scoring high in CBET. 
  • Verification by your employer that you worked as a substitute teacher for at least 90 days per year as a day-to-day substitute.
  • Statement of endorsement signed either by the superintendent of the employing school district or the county office of the district.
  • Proof that the same benefits enjoyed by regular teachers are to be enjoyed by the substitute teacher.
  • Completed application form (Form 41-4)
  • Application Processing Fee

Requirements for Renewal 

Renewal of the Emergency Career Substitute Permit is done by the employers. This is mostly because they have to prove that their substitute teachers are being treated well. The requirements are: 

  • Application fees 
  • Completed application 
  • Continuous endorsement Statement by the superintendent.
  • Proof that substitute teachers enjoy the same benefits as regular teachers.

Emergency Designated Subjects Career Technical Education Permit for 30-Day Substitute Teaching Service 

This type of permit authorizes the holder to be a substitute teacher in any county where the permit is registered provided the employing agency has a completed Statement of Need. Just like most of the substitute permits available, the holder cannot be a substitute for any one teacher for more than 30 days. This kind of permit serves for any vocational, trade, or technical education 

Requirements for Issuance

All of the requirements listed below must be met. They are:

  • Completed application form
  • Application processing fees
  • Verification from employer(s) of 3 years of work experience directly related to an industry.
  • Satisfy any of the following requirements
    • Possess a high school diploma
    • Possess a diploma
    • Possess the foreign equivalent of a high school diploma

Requirements for Renewal

  • Completed application
  • Application processing fees

These can be submitted by the individual to the commission or through his/her employer. You can read more about this permit here

How To Become a Substitute Teacher in California

In this section, we will look at how to become a Substitute Teacher in California. Becoming a substitute teacher in California requires you to possess a permit and to obtain any of the permit types, there are requirements. We will look at how to obtain these requirements.

Get a Degree or Diploma

One of the requirements to become a substitute teacher is to get a degree or diploma or at least be in the process of getting one. You can choose a line of study like psychology, education, etc to pursue. These can be a 4-year course or more depending on the type of program you choose to study.

Meet the Basic Skill Requirements

Meeting the basic skill requirements is one of the criteria for applying for a substitute teacher permit. These are in the form of tests like the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST). CBEST is developed to meet the requirements of laws relating to credentialing and employment and is used to test basic reading, math, and writing skills (which are the core skills an educator needs). There are other tests like 

  • Career Technical Education (CTE)
  • California Subject Examination for Teachers (CSET)
  • Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT)

The Assembly Bill, passed by the California Government, authorized options where two or more pathways (tests) can be mixed and matched for the individual to meet the Basic Skill Requirements. The guide for the approved programs can be found here

Fingerprint Clearance 

A fingerprint clearance is for determining an applicant’s background. It is to check whether the applicant has a clean background or not. The California Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) carry out all the background checks for teachers, hence the need for fingerprints. They run it against their database to ensure the applicant does not have a criminal record and that teachers or substitutes are clean and do not put the students in harm’s way.

Tuberculosis Test

A tuberculosis test is one of the requirements for determining the health status of the applicant. This is to ensure that the individual when he/she becomes a substitute teacher, does not infect the students with it. It is recommended the test be taken a maximum of 60 days before applying to be a substitute teacher.

Source for Application Fees

Having secured all the listed requirements above, the next thing is to source for the application fees. It costs about $100, plus other small charges. 

Apply for a Substitute Teacher Permit 

The substitute teacher permits that authorize the holder to substitute have been discussed above. Before applying, determine what kind of permit you want as each permit has a slight variation to the other in their requirements for issuance and renewal.

Source for a Substitute Teaching Job 

With your permit, you can look for a job as a substitute teacher. You can tell the people around you, go to the district office and register, search online, or register with an employment agency. 

Having learned about how you can become a substitute teacher, let’s talk about how much a substitute teacher earns in California.

Frequently Asked Questions 

How much does a substitute teacher make in Nigeria?

The average pay for a substitute teacher is between $19 per hour to $21.52. This is based on variations from different employers and cities in California.

Do you need a degree to be a Substitute Teacher in California?

Yes, you need a degree or a diploma. Also, you can be a student and be a substitute teacher. 

Can I make a career as a Substitute Teacher?

Yes, you can make a career out of substitute teaching. However, the permit that you use will vary down the line. In this case, an Emergency Career Substitute Permit will be the best option but that is after you have met the conditions for obtaining it.

Benefits of Being a Substitute Teacher 

The following are some of the benefits a substitute teacher enjoys:

Flexibility: substitute teachers have the flexibility of time. They can choose the job which they want to take at a time. If they have something occupying their time during the period a substitute job comes, they can pass up the offer. This is a privilege a regular teacher doesn’t have.

Less Responsibilities: A substitute teacher does not have the responsibility of creating lesson notes and some other things that a regular teacher is required to do. The substitute teacher just teaches what the regular teacher has made and follows the guidelines laid down by the teacher. Hence, less responsibility for the substitute teacher.

Determining if you want to teach as a career: some substitute teachers are testing the waters. Individuals who would like to make a career change or retirees who still want to be active can apply to be substitute teachers. Being a substitute teacher helps them decide if they want to continue on that path or look for something else.

Builds your teaching skills: students who are undergoing their studies to be teachers can apply to be substitutes. That way, they hone their teaching skills and rapport with students. 

Non-Benefits of Being a Substitute Teacher 

Less pay: substitute teachers are paid less than regular teachers. Fewer responsibilities mean less hourly pay.

Competitive field: as more people venture into the field of substitute teaching, the openings available per time may or may not cater to them all. This will in turn make the substitute teacher out of a job.

Lack of respect from students: students can be mischievous and may want to disrespect their substitute teacher because the sub only stays a short time with them. 

Tips on How to Excel at Substitute Teaching 

  • Be a fast learner: a substitute teacher uses the notes developed by the regular teacher. Therefore, he or she needs to learn fast to pick up where the regular teacher stopped.
  • Be a good communicator: teaching is done through communication. You have to be good at communicating to impart the knowledge you know to another.
  • Take control of the class early and establish rules: rules help in providing order. A good substitute teacher establishes rules early and takes control of the class, thereby keeping the class together for the regular teacher.
  • Be an expert in your chosen field: one of the best ways to deliver anything is to be an expert in your chosen field. If you have chosen to be a substitute teacher, choose a subject area to specialize in. This helps you pick up very fast and prevents knowledge gaps. 


A substitute teacher is an individual who covers for a teacher when he or she is on sick leave, maternity leave, or any leave. To be a substitute teacher, there are certain permits available. These permits differ based on purpose and their requirements. These have been discussed above. Choose the one that suits you best and kick-start your substitute teaching journey.

Happy Substituting!

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