A Missouri teacher works with students at Garfield Elementary
Fourth grade teacher Noelle Kirkman works with a small group of students Oct. 13 at Garfield Elementary in Kansas City. (Zach Bauman/The Beacon)

Editor’s note: This story was updated July 20, 2023, with more current data and application instructions.

On an average day in the Kansas City metro area, schools need thousands of substitute teachers. 

More substitute teachers are qualified to enter classrooms thanks to local and statewide recruitment efforts, and some experienced substitutes kept away by pandemic fears have returned. 

But there’s still demand for more substitute teachers in Missouri.

Keith Elliott, a spokesperson for staffing company Kelly Education, said near the end of the 2022-23 school year that there are 1,500 to 2,000 teacher absences each day in the nine Kansas City-area districts the company serves. 

They include the Shawnee Mission School District in Kansas and eight Missouri districts: Kansas City Public Schools, North Kansas City Public Schools, Lee’s Summit R-7, Liberty Public Schools, Center School District, Hickman Mills, Grandview and Kearney. North Kansas City announced plans to instead work with Penmac Staffing during the 2023-24 school year. 

In January 2022, Kelly Staffing could send substitute teachers to fill about 60% to 70% of vacancies each day, Elliott said. Now, it’s normally filling 90%, even with more teacher absences. 

But the company, which typically provides all of the substitute teachers for the districts it serves, is still hiring and would like to increase the percentage to at least 95%, Elliott said. Substitute teachers can work every school day or choose a flexible part-time schedule.

Last year, Missouri lawmakers reduced the number of college credit hours needed for one pathway to substitute teacher certification. There’s also an option that doesn’t require any history of college coursework. 

The number of applications for substitute teacher certificates jumped to 18,000 in 2022 after averaging 12,000 during the three previous years, said Paul Katnik, assistant commissioner in the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Office of Educator Quality. This year is on track to have around 18,000 applications again. 

But the department is still seeking new applicants because those who have certificates don’t necessarily take substitute jobs often enough to fill the demand, Katnik said. 

“We can issue the certificates, but we can’t make them select a job for the day,” he said. 

“If you haven’t done it yet, it’s a lot of fun. Give it a try. We sure could use your help.”

If you’re interested in answering that call in Missouri, here’s how. Visit The Wichita Beacon to learn how to become a substitute teacher in Kansas

Do I need a license to be a substitute teacher in Missouri? 

Yes, you do need a substitute certificate. Certificates are good for four years.

Who can become a substitute teacher? 

If you have 36 college credits — or a high school diploma plus a 20-hour substitute teacher course — can pass a criminal background check, and can afford the fees to go through the process, you have a good shot at becoming certified as a substitute teacher. 

How much does it cost to become a substitute teacher in Missouri?

There’s a fee of $50 to apply for a certificate. There’s also a separate background check fee of $41.75.

If you don’t have 36 college credits, you’ll also need to take a training course. The one offered through Frontline Education costs $180. 

Who would be good candidates for substitute teaching?

If you enjoy working with children, you might be a good fit. You might also find the job appealing if you prefer a flexible schedule.

What will my schedule be like?

Elliott said a major perk of substitute teaching is that you have a lot of options when it comes to your schedule. 

You can decide if you want to limit your hours, avoid certain weekdays or take time off. 

For example, Kelly Education has an online platform where substitute teachers pick out assignments or indicate they are open to requests to work on specific days. Staff members also field requests for help finding specific types of assignments. 

You can also work full time because there are more vacancies each day than schools can fill. 

Elliott said that substitute teachers who work a lot of hours through Kelly Education can become eligible for health insurance. 

If you’re a former full-time teacher or have a lot of experience substitute teaching, you can work as a long-term substitute, covering for a teacher who is on maternity leave or who quit during the school year. 

But even if you’re just getting started and want a series of short assignments where you don’t have to worry about grading or lesson plans, you could still work full-time hours. 

Elliott said a lack of experience shouldn’t deter people who might be interested in the job. 

“If you’re willing to help support the community, we can certainly train you up and teach you to get into those roles,” he said. 

How much does a substitute teacher make?

Each district sets its own rates. 

Recent statewide survey data from substitute teachers show that more than three-quarters of them earn between $75 and $125 per day, Katnik said. 

Elliott said pay starts at $115 per day. for a substitute teacher in the Kansas City area districts Kelly Education works with.

Long-term substitutes can make more, as much as $170 per day, in recognition that they will be doing some planning and grading outside of school hours. Each district decides how many days an assignment has to be to qualify as long-term. 

What are the requirements to be a substitute teacher in Missouri? 

There are several main steps to apply:

  • Fill out an online application with basic personal information.  
  • Complete a background check and fingerprinting.  
  • Prove you have the required education or training. 

You have options to fulfill the last requirement. 

If you take the traditional path, you must have at least 36 college credits — usually the equivalent of two or three semesters of full-time school — and submit all of your higher education transcripts to prove it. The credits don’t have to be related to education. 

Under a new method DESE pioneered and then made permanent during the pandemic, anyone with a high school diploma can take a 20-hour substitute teacher course through Frontline Education or some Missouri colleges and universities.

McGowin said the course has been successful because it focuses on skills substitute teachers actually need for the classroom, whereas college credits may not prepare people to teach. 

About 6,000 people have taken the course so far and just over 3,000 have gone on to complete their Missouri substitute teacher certification, she said.  

The above requirements count for most substitute teachers, from elementary through high school, but there’s also a separate set of requirements for those who want to substitute in a career or vocational program. 

In that case, substitutes need either:

  • A bachelor’s degree in an appropriate area plus 4,000 hours of approved and relevant job experience;
  • An associate degree in an appropriate area plus 5,000 hours of approved and relevant job experience; or
  • 6,000 hours of approved and relevant job experience.

How long does it take to become a substitute teacher?

After receiving a prospective teacher’s complete application, including background check results, DESE can usually process it within a few days. 

However, you might have to allow several weeks for your background check to return, as well as allowing for any time needed to send transcripts by mail or electronically through the National Student Clearinghouse. (You can’t scan, fax, photocopy or email your transcripts.)

What if I already have a valid Missouri teaching certificate? 

If you already have a different kind of teaching certificate, and it isn’t expired, you can start substitute teaching without applying for a separate substitute license. 

How do I renew my Missouri substitute teacher license? 

If you want to renew a substitute certificate that is expired or near expiring, you must complete the application again, pay the $50 fee and verify that you have the correct transcripts on file.

If you haven’t worked as a substitute during the past school year, you’ll need a new background check. If you have, there’s a process for the school to verify your experience. 

Why might my substitute teacher application be denied? 

Your application could be denied if you have felonies or crimes of moral turpitude on your record. 

McGowin said the facts and circumstances of the case can be taken into consideration.

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Maria Benevento is the education reporter at The Kansas City Beacon. She is a Report for America corps member. Follow her on Twitter @MariaFBenevento.