Substitute Teacher Shortage: How to Keep Your Classrooms Staffed

Substitute Teacher in Classroom

Right now, there is a shortage of substitute teachers across the country.  As schools grow, so does the need for substitute teachers, but it is getting harder for schools to find qualified candidates. It varies by state, and sometimes by the school, but generally, schools require candidates to be able to assume all of the teacher’s responsibilities for however long the main teacher is absent.

Ranging from a single sick day to as long as maternity leave or sabbatical, school days conducted by a substitute teacher are expected to run as smoothly as any normal school day. As long as the candidate is qualified and cleared legally to lead a class, they can act as a substitute. That means there are several options for hiring candidates. Whether it be a young teacher waiting for their first full-time teaching job, or retired teachers looking to better secure their family financially, there are a lot of options for schools.

The importance of Managing the Shortage

In the US, teachers are absent, on average, 11 days every 186 day school year. Some days are not planned, as teachers take sick days for themselves or sometimes to take care of their own children. A substitute is needed immediately and must be able to dive right into whatever content the class needs, at whatever grade level the school needs. Kids lose class time without subs. With no one ready to teach the class, the students have limited ability to continue their work. The exception is if they have online assignments or an ongoing project, but that doesn’t guarantee the students will voluntarily do any of it.

Without an available substitute, a class might get free time while a teacher with a prep period or lunch steps in or maybe even partial supervision. If there isn’t a staff member who is free, that means another teacher has to sacrifice class time and divide their attention between classes, making productivity almost impossible. When the time has to be made up because of lost time, music, the arts, gym, and health are cut from the student’s schedule. All of this can be avoided by having your pool of substitute teachers handy, so nothing has to be sacrificed from the students’ education.

How to Keep Classrooms Staffed

For school districts, charters, and private schools, there are a bundle of challenges for maintaining enough staff. School districts have more classrooms to cover, but private schools might find it hard to hold onto substitute teachers and provide continuity for the students. The most pressing issue for any type of school is being prepared for an urgent need for substitutes.

Solutions for School Districts

School districts have plenty of resources but a larger number of schools to keep staffed with teachers. Having more than one school means there can be a greater need for substitutes, but this can make dividing your candidate pool easier. You will have the option to see which candidates fit with what age groups based on qualifications and experience. Here are some ways school districts can grow and maintain an abundant staff with a sufficient team of substitutes.

  • Find permanent substitutes for each school in the district. Your substitutes will know other staff, students and the building well enough to step in anywhere, anytime. An ongoing relationship with your substitute teachers also promotes accountability.
  • Depending on the state, retired teachers may be eligible to work part-time as a substitute teacher while still collecting their pensions. You get to have experienced substitutes while providing some more stability for the teachers that have already dedicated years of service to the schools.
  • Find graduating college kids for your district. These young teachers are looking for work in their field as soon as they can get it. They need teaching experience for their resumes and are eager to take substitute teaching positions.
  • Provide substitute teachers with competitive wages, so your district is their priority. You can offer incentives as well, like a sign-on bonus, monthly awards, free lunches or travel reimbursements to increase the area of your district’s search.
  • Make sure you understand your state’s requirements and your candidate qualifications for substitute teaching – The National Education Association (NEA) lists all state and federal school requirements for educational staff.


Solutions for Individual Schools

When schools operate independently, they have a smaller staff to maintain, but individual schools have their own set of challenges. These schools are often exclusive or tightly knit, which can limit their resources for finding new candidates. A lot of substitutes are graduating education majors gaining experience wherever they can find it. Without any experiences outside of their own schooling, these candidates may be less likely to find individual schools. Private schools should use these tips to ensure every class stays covered throughout the school year.

  • Schedule professional development days when you can expect the most attendance from your staff. This means avoiding flu season, so no one falls behind from sick days. During the week, Monday’s and Friday’s have the most call-outs, so try to keep professional workdays in the middle of the week.
  • For larger seminars and workshops during professional development, utilize summer hours. Teachers are already in the building breaking their classroom down or preparing for the next school year. Plus, no time gets taken from the students.
  • Be vigilant addressing absentee problems with your staff. Meet with any individual with excessive absences to find out what is going wrong, and strategize how to resolve any underlying problem.
  • Keep a physical or digital list of reliable substitute teachers for your staff to have readily available.
  • If a class cannot be covered, instead of dividing a teacher’s time by tasking them with two classes to supervise, divide the class up and send small groups to different classes.
  • Offer to compensate any teacher who volunteers to cover a class during their lunch break with a stipend.
  • In case of emergency, make a plan for last-minute or multiple absences in the same day. Factoring in all staff including co-teachers, aides, coaches and even administrators with assigned responsibilities, so if there is an emergency, your staff will know how to handle it.


Hiring Out Substitute Staffing

All of these problems for schools can be addressed by outsourcing staffing to a team whose only goal is to hire and train job candidates. The benefits to using this service help your current staff and keep you prepared for emergency staff situations.

Using recruiting services can help:

  • Save time for administrators and anyone else involved in the hiring process. Hiring new candidates means searching through resumes, checking clearances, conducting waves of interviews and training new hires. Using a staffing service eliminates that burden for school administration.
  • Lower costs for the school by providing the best, affordable candidates. Because there are so many candidates to choose from, schools can search for qualified candidates that are also affordable.
  • Reduce strain on your current staff, since they will not need to train new substitutes. All training is completed before the candidate starts their position, so the transition is smooth for themselves and their new co-workers.
  • Give you a large pool of qualified substitute teachers on a moment’s notice to prevent delays to the school day. Especially during flu season, your school needs a back-up plan and enough staff to execute it. Staffing services have enough resources to keep schools operational.


Be Prepared for Teacher Absences

Most absences need to be handled the same day the school hears about it. Just like with teaching a lesson, improvising is vital, but there needs to be a solid plan in place for administrators to begin with. By the time a staff member calls out of work, the school needs to already have options ready, so they can find which qualified substitutes can take the teacher’s place before the first bell rings.

Planning for absences includes making your list of possible substitute teachers and making sure the staff is familiar with them. This way, if a teacher calls out, they can at least offer a suggestion for which candidate is the best fit for the teacher’s lesson. Even if the substitute does not have a teaching degree, states typically require a Bachelor’s degree in a teachable subject. Knowing which subject areas your substitutes excel in makes the deciding process much easier. You can also factor distance from the school into your list. Last-minute call-outs can be stressful on all of the staff left to take care of the missing teacher’s responsibilities, but if you have a substitute that can get to the building in a short enough time, you might be able to avoid putting extra pressure on current staff.

Lastly, if specific substitute teachers are listed in your school’s emergency staffing plan, that makes them a part of your community. This lets them build a rapport with the students and teachers, so they can leave an impact. Additionally, it will give your substitutes more influence over students. They will understand that the substitute teacher is an established member of their school community and not a symbol for a free day in class. The relationships with the people in the school make teachers and staff much more effective, but knowing the building well also means more competence from your substitutes.

Need help staffing your organization? Call Aspire ES today. (267) 388-0670

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