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My side hustle came about when my baby started school and left me with free time I didn’t want during the day. I was raised in a family where you work at least 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. every day during the week – no exceptions. I’m a photographer, which doesn’t follow that schedule at all!
Free time during the day wasn’t a problem to me when I had babies at home – I’d just kick into “stay at home mom” mode and justify my being at home at 2 in the afternoon as mom time. But when my baby went to school, I found myself sitting in my office at my studio wasting time instead of being at home when the work was all caught up.
I quickly decided I needed a flexible side-hustle to fill my downtime and substitute teaching jumped out at me as my best opportunity in my tiny town of less than 2,000 people.
How I Got Started
Our school district has one elementary school, one middle school and one high school. Substitutes, I discovered, were needed regularly in all three schools.
The school business manager took my application and sent me to the sheriff’s office for fingerprinting – my first time being printed. (So why was I sweating they’d find non-existent dirt on me?!?) The fingerprints and background check application were mailed to the state to perform all the necessary checks on my person to make sure I was qualified to spend time alone in a classroom with minors.
The entire process cost me $70 out of pocket which was not reimbursed by the school district. (Do you suppose that’s why they have a hard time finding substitutes?!?)
When the background check and fingerprints came back clean, I filled out a form at the school indicating which classes/grades I would or would not substitute. I checked them all, what the heck! I have a college degree: how hard could it be substituting for any of the Preschool-12th grade classes?
It didn’t take long before my phone was ringing off the hook for jobs. I’ve had the high school principal ask what he could do to persuade me to drop a elementary gig for one he needed filled in the high school and vice versa! (Seriously, subs are in short supply in our district.)
I’ve subbed junior high PE classes (the smell… the hormones! Not sure that job was worth the $$), kindergarten, special education, band, high school business classes and, most recently 5th grade, where one boy told me I reminded him of Danica Patrick. That was just minutes before a girl asked me if I was 55 years old. (I’m only 38, by the way!)
I like to think of my time there as like a grandma spending the day with the grandkids. If we have time, we play games. I often take treats to the school for bribes… err, I mean, breaks from the school work. I have learned that there are times when I am absolutely not smarter than a 5th grader (have you seen the math they are forced to do? Ouch!). But it’s not a bad gig – it’s actually an interesting way to earn a few $$.
What You Do As a Sub
Depending on the grade you are teaching, the job varies. In the elementary grades, the day starts with attendance, milk count and flag pledges (followed by young children telling you that the way *you* perform all of the above is NOT the way their teacher does it!).
From there you follow the syllabus the teacher was kind enough to leave for you. Some teachers aren’t as rigid with a sub’s schedule as others. Some want the sub to spend the day babysitting: keeping the kids busy with review work. Other teachers want the sub to continue the day with business as usual, introducing new topics and chapters.
Most teachers are very well organized. In the elementary grades, you can always find another teacher teaching the same grade who can answer quick questions about the class. And as soon as you identify the apple polishers and the trouble makers, you’re golden. These are key figures in any given classroom: The apple polisher comes in handy when the entire class (led by the class trouble maker and/or clown) declares “but we ALWAYS use calculators during math tests!” and you have to decide if this is a true or false statement…
I spend any free time grading papers or reviewing the next subject to teach. I do always take a book with me just in case the kids are in music class for an hour and I’m caught up. (I always assume the teacher would NOT like me to plan the next week’s lesson during their scheduled “planning time,” ha!)
During my subbing experience, I’ve had to give many quizzes and tests and I have been know to introduce new words just to keep the kids on their toes. Fourth graders freak out when you make them spell supercalafragalisticexpialadoshus on their spelling test (true story!).
Sometimes you take recess duty. Sometimes you venture into the teacher’s lounge over the lunch break. Sometimes you just sit in the room quietly with the lights off hoping the kids will forget to come back to the room after recess or their lunch break… just kidding! Maybe…
How Much I Make Subbing
The district I sub in pays $80 per day (8-3:30). Not a lot of cash, but when my schedule allows it, the job works out great. If my schedule doesn’t allow it, I reject the offer – easy, peasy! I do accept quite a few 1/2 day or hour-long subbing jobs too as my studio is located only two blocks from the school.
Since I spend a lot of my time in the photography studio working alone stuck behind a computer after the shoot, I love the interaction substituting gives me with the kids. Once the bell rings at 3:30, I’m out the door and able to easily put in 3-4 hours of work at my real job finishing up any orders I need to place, computer work that needs to be done, or just returning messages.
From January to the end of May this past year, I made $800 subbing – so while it’s not much, if you have a flexible schedule, it fits in perfectly!
- It’s a flexible side hustle where you call the shots on when you work.
- The time is perfect for those who don’t want an evening gig that can take away from family time.
- What a better way to earn a few bucks by helping mold the minds of tomorrow’s future!
- There’s nothing regular about the calls. I’ve had dry spells where I didn’t receive a call for months. And then there are times when there are too many jobs to take and still maintain my full time job.
- The job completely shuts down from June – September.
- The pay isn’t great at only $10 per hour (in my district). And then there’s the $70 investment just to get your name on the list.
- Some people might not like being in charge of 25 six, seven or 14 year olds! And sometimes the junior high and high school assignments are tough to “learn” on the spot and turn around and teach a few minutes later. That kind of pressure isn’t for everyone.
If you’re interested in this type of side hustle, check with your local school district business office or principal. Some districts, I believe, require substitutes to have a college education or some kind of post-secondary education, but not all. If you fit the bill, it might just be the side-hustle for you!
Stacey is a full-time family, children and senior photographer (www.tailfeatherphotography.com) located in the great state of South Dakota where she spends her free time shoveling snow, chasing her children’s busy schedules and reading personal finance blogs.
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(Photo by Leah Gregg)