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Side Hustle Series: I’m a Substitute Teacher

by J. Money on Thursday, June 6, 2013

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(Guest Post by Stacey Williams Dunse, as part of our Side Hustle Series)

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!

Benefits

  1. It’s a flexible side hustle where you call the shots on when you work.
  2. The time is perfect for those who don’t want an evening gig that can take away from family time.
  3. What a better way to earn a few bucks by helping mold the minds of tomorrow’s future!

Drawbacks

  1. 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.
  2. The job completely shuts down from June – September.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!

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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.

*Have a hustle YOU’d like to share with us? Let us know!

(Photo by Leah Gregg)


{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Brian June 6, 2013 at 7:03 am

My dad tried to be a substitute teacher to help a friend out while he took a bit of a sabatical. The class was some sort of high school math. The district did not hire him because they said he didn’t meet their math requirement. Just so you know my dad has his masters in Mechanical Engineering, so I’m pretty sure he is ok at math.

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2 Stacey June 6, 2013 at 9:34 am

I could have used his help teaching fractions to fifth graders a few weeks ago!

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3 J. Money June 6, 2013 at 11:12 am

HAH! Weird?

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4 Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies June 6, 2013 at 7:16 am

GOOD substitutes were tough to find when I was a teacher. There was a huge difference in how far behind a class could get with a warm body sub as compared to one that could actually keep students focused on their tasks. And subs should totally be paid more. Seriously. $10/hr? Babysitters make more than that these days for 1-2 kids!

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5 Stacey June 6, 2013 at 9:36 am

I never do a long-term sub job. One day is about tops for me to be away from my real job!
Yes, I agree: the pay needs to increase! But when you consider where I live (very rural SoDak) it’s actually a high-paying, flexible side hustle! Ready to move here yet?!?

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6 J. Money June 6, 2013 at 11:13 am

That’s funny about the baby sitting comparison, haha… never thought about that :)

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7 Free Money Minute June 6, 2013 at 7:17 am

This seems like the perfect part time gig to me. Other than pay, the flexibility and extra money would be great. The stress is probably relatively low, so you can leave your work at work.

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8 Stacey June 6, 2013 at 9:37 am

Absolutely. The only stress I’ve encountered during this side hustle has been in the gym class. Let 20 teenagers run wild in a gym and things can get out of hand quick!

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9 Greg@ClubThrifty June 6, 2013 at 7:59 am

I’m not sure I could do it for $80 :) I know that most of the subs when I was growing up were put through hell during the day. However, I’m not sure that they ever bribed us either! Sounds like a good flexible gig for you.

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10 Stacey June 6, 2013 at 9:39 am

I think it helps that I know 99% of the kids in the school. I shoot their school pictures in the fall. My children are in the class next door. I teach Awana at our church to a lot of these kids and my husband coaches their baseball and little league football team. These kids know me and treat me with respect.

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11 Stacey June 6, 2013 at 9:40 am

Oh, I should add that I did pull that card once: A few 4th grade boys were getting out of hand and I told them I would make sure football practice would be tough that evening! They settled down :)
(I love living in a small town!)

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12 John S @ Frugal Rules June 6, 2013 at 9:07 am

Beyond the drawback of it not being predictable I think subbing could be a nice little side gig. I would imagine that the upfront fee does hold some people back, but it gets paid back after the first gig so at least it does not take long to recoup the funds. They pay about $110 in Nebraska, so it’s interesting to see how it varies by state.

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13 Sarah June 6, 2013 at 9:37 am

The lack of predictability was what frustrated me… also, not being able to make money during the numerous school breaks.

Pay varies quite a bit in our state, but here in Western NYS, $85 or $90 per day is standard for most districts. If you get a long-term assignment (20+ consecutive days) the rate is usually higher.

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14 Stacey June 6, 2013 at 9:43 am

True, if you need a consistent gig, this might not be for you. But I have heard from family living in large cities that you can sub every day in larger districts.

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15 Stacey June 6, 2013 at 9:42 am

SoDak needs to follow Nebraska’s lead!

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16 Your Daily Finance June 6, 2013 at 9:18 am

I’m with Greg on this one. When I was growing up the sub got it handed to them. The only ones that got it easy where the ones who let us do what we wanted but then again that wasn’t what was best for the students. But if you like it and the money is worth it go for it. I am looking at other side hustles myself.

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17 Stacey June 6, 2013 at 9:47 am

I learned fast that if you give them an inch, they take a mile! The money plus the interaction (especially during the cold, dark months of winter) make it worth it to me! And I need flexibility in a side-hustle in my line of work!

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18 Sarah June 6, 2013 at 9:33 am

Ah, subbing…

I substitute taught for a few years out of college. (My degree is in music education.) If you think $70 for fingerprinting is bad, try teaching in New York. Fingerprinting costs $99 and most districts require you to be state certified to even be a substitute. The certification process requires a degree, three state tests at $90 apiece, and the certificate itself which is $100 and only good for 5 years.

The reason they can get away with this is that our state currently has far too many education graduates, and almost no new jobs due to budget cuts. Sub lists are flooded with qualified teachers in just about every subject area, so districts can be as picky as they want.

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19 Stacey June 6, 2013 at 9:44 am

Send those people to the midwest where there is a teacher shortage ;)

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20 Michelle June 6, 2013 at 9:48 am

Very interesting! I don’t think I could do this, mainly because I don’t have patience for children ;)

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21 Stacey June 6, 2013 at 11:08 am

I sometimes leave a sub job with a good understanding why teachers burn out :(

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22 Jake @ Common Cents Wealth June 6, 2013 at 9:50 am

Sounds like a good gig for you. There are actually quite a few subs in our area. I have a friend who is trying to sub for his full-time job until he gets an actual teaching job and he’s only able to get a few days a week. It seems perfect for a mom with kids in school.

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23 Stacey June 6, 2013 at 11:09 am

Yes, the amount of work available really does seem to vary by the state/district

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24 Erica June 6, 2013 at 10:10 am

It must be very different in the states to be a sub/supply/occasional teacher. In Canada; in my city it is extremely difficult just to get onto the list and there are several school board around me. I also find it very annoying to have sub teachers come in for the day and find that they aren’t interested in a full teaching career or that they have retired. They are taking the spot of someone actually interested.

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25 Stacey June 6, 2013 at 11:10 am

Very different! In the district I sub in, I would say most of the subs are retired teachers or older members of the community looking for something on the side.

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26 Kyle @ Debt Free Diaries June 6, 2013 at 10:30 am

It would be so much fun to substitute for different classes. I’d love the variety of opportunities within subbing. Most of the school districts around here may not require a full college degree, but they do ask for a minimum number of credit hours. Maybe I’ll go back to school and take a couple “fun” classes in the future so I can try the substitute teacher adventure.

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27 Stacey June 6, 2013 at 11:12 am

It is a different adventure every day! Now that school is out for the summer, I’m finding myself missing that small part of my week – the interaction with the kids.

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28 J. Money June 6, 2013 at 11:16 am

I think it would be fun too :) But probably only for a day for me – I wouldn’t be able to control all those kids I’m too nice, haha…

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29 Mike@WeOnlyDoThisOnce June 6, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Teaching also gives you the chance to learn quite a bit about your own learning habits, and helps to hone your understanding of the basics. Enjoy!

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30 Sean @ One Smart Dollar June 6, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Since I work from home I have thought about doing this. It would get me out of the house a little. It really would depend on what the Denver school system pays.

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31 Andrew@LivingRichCheaply June 6, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Interesting, I think my wife can do that too as a side hustle. She teaches preschool and has a masters in early elementary education but will be leaving when she has the baby. Substitute teaching can be doable at some point…maybe have the grandparents babysit on those days. Do they call that morning or give you more of an advanced notice? I don’t know if she would want to sub for middle or high schools here…kinda rough in some of the schools around me.

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32 Stacey June 7, 2013 at 10:49 am

If it’s a planned teacher absence, I will know about a week or so in advance. Most of the time its a 7:30 a.m. phone call from the principal because a teacher is calling in sick. I have also been called during the day to fill in for a teacher who goes home sick during the day or has a child go home sick… so it’s really variable!

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33 Christine @ ThePursuitofGreen June 6, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Sounds like a great side gig for you! I’m glad you’re able to handle so many different kids at once, I’m sure having your own makes a big difference. I have yet to start a family so I cannot imagine subbing with that many kids.

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34 Stacey June 7, 2013 at 10:50 am

It has given me a new perspective on what my kids’ teachers go through on a daily basis!

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35 Martin June 6, 2013 at 5:01 pm

That’s an awesome idea. It must be fun to meet all sorts of young folks ready to take on the world!

When I was a kid, man we were rough on the subs. Everything from lying about our names to throwing out the lecture plan.

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36 Daisy @ Young Finances June 6, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Wow, a substitute teacher – that’s quite the side hustle! It sounds like a fun one, though, so that’s good. I do NOT envy you, subbing that gym class. I can only imagine, hahah!

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37 Stacey June 7, 2013 at 10:51 am

I used to think gym teachers had a slack job: not so much anymore! Actually, I feel more sorry for the teacher who has to have those kids in the class following gym because I know not all of them showered afterwards even though they were supposed to!

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38 Cat Alford (@BudgetBlonde) June 6, 2013 at 7:28 pm

Sounds like a great side gig! I didn’t realize you had to teach the lesson in some instances. I don’t know if I’d be very good at that, haha.

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39 Stacey June 7, 2013 at 10:53 am

Especially when you don’t know how much of the lesson the kids have already learned – it’s a balance between over-teaching something they know and not giving enough information for something completely new to them. I prefer the review assignments ;)

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40 Shafi June 6, 2013 at 8:04 pm

One of my family members was a substitute teacher for 6 months but last September she was told the city didn’t have enough money and let her go. Many towns and cities have budget problems. I reckon they rather have students take the day or even the week off than pay substitute teacher.

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41 Stacey June 7, 2013 at 10:54 am

That is crazy! I know in our state the students have to be in school a set number of hours per year – so I don’t think this would be an option? But our district has gone to a 4 day week (no school on Fridays!) in order to save transportation costs (very rural district.)

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42 Carla June 7, 2013 at 9:04 am

Thanks for the post, Stacy! I think you just found me my new job. I’ve been looking from something flexible with decent pay to fill some time between now and grad school. Thanks!

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43 Stacey June 7, 2013 at 10:56 am

Good luck! If you like kids, you will enjoy it :)
(buy suckers in bulk… and tootsie rolls!)

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44 jim June 10, 2013 at 10:24 pm

I find it quite disturbing that a teacher has to bribe the students with sweets in order to control the class. What if a child is diabetic or on a special diet? A couple of decades ago when I did some substitute teaching, teachers with twenty, thirty, and forty years experience were showing the high school students popular (at that time in theatres) x-rated movies on a VCR during study periods as an incentive for the students to attend school so that they would not dropout. Ironically, these students who liked x-rated movies could barely read and write. Yes, this is true; I am not capable of making this stuff up. Schools have really gone to hell, haven’t they?

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45 Mary Anne @ BillGuard June 7, 2013 at 1:44 pm

I laughed out loud — literally — at the line in which you wrote: “That was just minutes before a girl asked me if I was 55 years old. (I’m only 38, by the way!)”

I once volunteered to visit a 6th-grade classroom to do a presentation on Australia. (The students were learning about that country, and the teacher, a friend of mine, knew that I had visited there. She thought the students would enjoy meeting someone who had actually been there, and seeing my vacation photos, hearing stories, etc.)

One of my photos depicted an Australian person who was about 40 years old. I asked the kids, “How old do you think this man is?” They ALL shouted out answers (rather than raising their hands), and they shouted everything ranging from 15 to 100.

Moral of the story: don’t worry about what age the kids think you are. Many kids have a tough time estimating the age of adults. In their eyes, we all look “generally old.” :-)

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46 Stacey June 7, 2013 at 10:14 pm

Having kids guess my age is a really funny way to pass the time! Their perspectives are all so different… At 38, I could actually be close in age to some of their grandparents!

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