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Guest Teacher vs. Substitute Teacher: What's the Difference?

Guest Teacher vs. Substitute Teacher: What's the Difference?

“Teaching is only demonstrating that it is possible. Learning is making it possible for yourself.” ~ Paulo Coelho

Substitute and guest teachers play an essential role in student learning by being there to provide leadership and guidance when teachers can’t be in the classroom. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a critical shortage of substitute teachers, particularly in rural areas, low-income districts, and specialized subjects. The situation has worsened since then and school districts and assistant superintendents are struggling to find solutions.

At Alludo, we create online learning communities that can be used to provide substitute and guest teacher orientation, serving as an onramp to prepare them for their time in the classroom. We know that proper training improves both teacher effectiveness and teacher retention

Many of the school districts who use the Alludo platform hire both guest and substitute teachers to fill in for an absent teacher. Here’s our guide to understand guest teacher vs substitute teacher.

Table of Contents

  1. What Are the Different Levels of Teachers?
  2. What Is a Guest Teacher?
  3. What Does a Guest Teacher Do?
  4. What Is a Substitute Teacher?
  5. What Are the Main Duties of a Substitute Teacher?
  6. Alludo's Take
  7. Provide Substitue and Guest Teachers in Your District with the Training They Need

What Are the Different Levels of Teachers?

In any school district, there are different types and levels of teaching. All teachers play a part in educating students and delivering the best possible outcomes:

  • Teaching Assistant. A teaching assistant or teacher’s aide supports a teacher in the classroom by performing routine tasks such as taking attendance, preparing classroom materials, setting up presentations, and providing instructional support as needed.
  • Guest Teacher. A guest teacher fills in for a teacher during an extended absence from the classroom, such as maternity leave or medical leave. They may also teach alongside another instructor to provide specialized knowledge.
  • Substitute Teacher. A substitute teacher is typically a last-minute replacement for a teacher due to an unexpected absence.
  • Special Education Teacher. A special education teacher is someone who works with students who may need extra attention due to diagnosed conditions such as autism and ADHD and has special training to help them connect with these students.
  • Early Childhood Education. Teachers who specialize in early childhood education may work in preschools or elementary schools. They understand how to connect and engage the youngest students and give them a solid foundation for later learning.
  • Secondary Education. Secondary education teachers work with older students, typically in middle school or high school, and teach advanced subjects to help students prepare for life after high school, whether that means going to college or getting a full-time job.

Every teacher at every level works directly with students, helping them to understand the material being taught and master it.

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What Is a Guest Teacher?

A guest teacher is a teacher who is hired on a part-time basis. Unlike a substitute teacher, who may be called in at the last minute to fill in for an absent teacher, a guest teacher is a contractual worker who may fill in for months at a time. They are often hired on a semester basis but may also be contracted for shorter periods of time as needed.

Most guest teachers specialize in a topic or area. Like full-time teachers, they must have a bachelor’s degree and a teaching certificate because they share many of the same responsibilities as teachers. 

When a teacher must take an extended leave of absence, such as might be the case with maternity leave, Family and Medical Leave, or an illness or surgery, a guest teacher can provide a sense of stability and normalcy in the classroom. Students know what to expect because they see the same face at the front of the classroom every day.

Unlike permanent teachers, guest teachers may not be tenured. They are not permanent employees of a school district, but are still valued and necessary.

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What Does a Guest Teacher Do?

Guest teachers are most commonly called upon to fill in for a teacher who must be away from the classroom for an extended period. As we mentioned above, examples might include an illness or maternity leave.

When they are in the classroom, guest teachers perform the same tasks as year-round teachers. These tasks include the following things:

  • Creating lesson plans to introduce students to new material.
  • Teaching the content in the lesson plans.
  • Providing group and one-on-one support to students.
  • Facilitating classroom discussions and activities.
  • Grading papers and exams.
  • Monitoring student progress.


In some cases, a guest teacher may be hired to present alongside another teacher in an area of their expertise. For example, a biology teacher might bring in a teacher with special experience in evolutionary biology to give students an opportunity to learn about that topic in depth.

Some guest teachers have certifications in multiple topics, making them flexible in where they can be of use within a school district. For example, a teacher who had experience teaching geometry, algebra, and trigonometry might be able to step in for multiple teachers over the course of a year.

One of the biggest differences between substitute teachers and guest teachers is in the consistency of their appearances in the classroom. Guest teachers must be certified and can provide stability and consistency for weeks or even months at a time, performing every task that a full-time teacher would perform. Substitute teachers are typically called in for short-term absences that range from a day to a week and usually work with materials prepared by the absent teacher.

What Is a Substitute Teacher?

A substitute teacher may be called upon to fill in for an absent teacher, often with very little advance notice. While planned absences may be filled in advance, it’s common for substitute teachers to receive last-minute calls just hours before they are expected to appear in the classroom.

One of the biggest differences between substitute teachers and guest teachers is that the qualifications to be a substitute teacher change from state to state and district to district. There are some districts where substitute teachers do not have to meet any educational requirements. There are others where approved substitute teachers must have a bachelor’s degree and be licensed as a substitute.

To give you an idea of how widely the requirements to act as a substitute teacher may vary, here are a few state guidelines:

  • Alaska: No educational requirements, no certification.
  • Connecticut: Bachelor’s degree (may be waived by request from a school) and certification is required if a teacher will be subbing for more than 40 days.
  • Kansas: Bachelor’s degree, certification, and completion of a teacher prep program.
  • Wyoming: HS diploma or GED; equivalent paths include classroom training plus passing a state exam or earning 60 college credits and passing a state exam.


Many school districts have an application and approval process for substitute teachers. After approval, teachers earn a spot on an approved list and may be called in to sub for a regular teacher at any time.

What Are the Main Duties of a Substitute Teacher?

The duties of a substitute teacher overlap with those of a guest teacher but they are typically less involved in certain aspects of education. 

In most cases, full-time teachers have daily lesson plans that they have created and these are made available to substitute teachers to use in the classroom. The primary duties of substitute teaching are as follows:

  • Review and interpret existing lesson plans quickly and prepare to present the day’s lesson to students.
  • Provide students with in-class and at-home assignments.
  • Manage students’ behavior in the classroom.
  • Monitor students in the classroom and/or in the halls or on the playground.
  • Prepare status reports to inform teachers of student progress and behavior.


Long-term substitutes may also be responsible for preparing lesson plans, creating assignments, grading students’ work, and meeting with parents to provide feedback on student progress.

Substitutes may stay in the same classroom for multiple days and in some cases, may end up being contracted as guest teachers if they meet the qualifications. Most short-term substitutes are not responsible for creating lesson plans.

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Alludo’s Take

At Alludo, we recognize the importance of effective onboarding for substitute and guest teachers. With proper training, these teachers can be made to feel that they are part of the school community and know that they are valued for their contributions.

We have included topics that are useful for substitute and guest teacher onboarding in the Alludo Professional Development Catalog. These include activities related to classroom management and classroom technology. You can use one of our prepared modules for onboarding or create your own using our vast selection of curated learning activities.

The Yucaipa Calimesa JUSD is a case in point. They used the Alludo platform to onboard new substitute teachers and get them up to speed, so they could be most effective in the classroom. The program was so successful that the substitute teacher onboarding eventually turned into an onramp for new teacher hiring.

With proper training, substitute teachers may eventually get on track to be hired in your school district, helping to minimize the impact of the ongoing shortage of teachers and substitute teachers.

Provide Substitute and Guest Teachers in Your District with the Training They Need

Hiring and training substitute and guest teachers is essential if you want to provide students in your district with the learning and stability they need to get to the best outcomes. We hope that this guide to guest teacher vs substitute teacher will help you understand the roles of each and prepare you to hire the best possible teachers for your district.

Do you need assistance with guest teacher and substitute teacher onboarding? Alludo is here to help! Click here to get your free trial of Madagascar, our learning platform.

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“It would take us years to roll out all the PD that we can on Alludo." - Kathy Jackson, Director of Teaching and Learning for K-12, YCJUSD

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