Make your District a Top Destination for Substitute Teachers

School Districts

August 30, 2023

School districts everywhere are facing a shortage of substitute teachers, and your district is likely experiencing it too. The recent COVID-19 pandemic and the endless variety of new gig economy jobs have drawn away many people who might have once become subs.

Fixing the nationwide sub shortage is outside of your control, but there are things you can do to increase the likelihood of available substitute teachers choosing to work in your district.

Edustaff partnered with Hanover Research, a firm that specializes in K-12 market analyses and analytics, to survey substitute teachers regarding their motivations and frustrations about the profession.

Our survey revealed surprisingly simple things that substitute teachers wish districts would provide them when they arrive for an assignment:

  • Lunch schedules
  • The office phone number
  • Technology passcodes
  • Location of staff bathrooms
  • Rules for walking down hallways
  • Outline of how to handle discipline issues
  • Emergency procedures for fire, tornado, etc.

Organizing this information for every classroom is an easy thing your staff can do each fall to help make sure substitutes keep coming back all year.

Have a plan

Making sure there is a lesson plan was indicated on the survey as a top way to make a substitute’s day.

Substitute teachers know that emergencies arise, and teachers might not always have time to make a lesson plan.

But their day is likely to go better if there is at least an emergency backup plan to consult. Encouraging every teacher in your district to leave a generic lesson plan on their desk or in the office will go a long way toward helping substitutes have a successful day.

One important thing to include in the emergency lesson plan is the daily classroom schedule. If the substitute can follow the absent teacher’s typical routine and pace, students will be more likely to continue learning as normal.

A simple emergency lesson plan that can work for any subject is one that makes use of the KWL chart, which identifies what students Know, Want to Know, and Learned. If the classroom teacher leaves a list of things the class has recently been studying, the substitute can make a chart with students showing what they already know about the topic and what they want to know. Then the sub can give students time to spend learning about those things, either individually or in groups, and discuss them afterward as a class.

Give them a warm welcome

Our survey also found that substitute teachers are discouraged when the teaching staff does not interact with them. Reaching out to substitutes when they arrive will help them feel like they have people they can go to with questions.

Assigning veteran teachers to act as mentors for subs in the building gives them even more support. If subs know they will have a specific person to go to with any difficulties, they will be more likely to choose that building when looking at available subbing opportunities for the day.

Consider increasing pay rates

While it is not something that can be implemented immediately, districts struggling to fill absences should evaluate daily pay rates and strive to be competitive with neighboring school districts.  

Although there are substitute teachers who are not “working for the money,” many others rely on substitute teaching as their primary source of income. A difference of $15 per day might not seem like a big incentive, but over the course of time, it makes a large impact. Substitutes will choose higher paying districts when money is a concern for them.

Hire building subs

School districts also find success by hiring one or more building subs who arrive every morning and fill in wherever needed. There are many benefits to this concept for the school, the students, and the substitute. Students get comfortable and familiar with the sub. The sub gets a chance to learn the building routines, school culture, and students’ names. And the school secretaries can relax, knowing that at least one or two substitutes will be arriving every day.

With the current teacher shortage affecting so many districts, hiring building subs can also be a good way to gauge whether a substitute might be a good fit for a permanent position in your district.

Show your appreciation

You often hear the expression ‘it’s the thought that counts,’ and small kindnesses offered to substitutes can leave them with a good feeling about your schools.

A designated parking spot could be a cost-free way to brighten a substitute’s day. Some districts offer inexpensive gift bags filled with pens, notepads, chocolates, or other treats. Providing subs with a school lunch is also a nice perk.

These are all small ways of acknowledging the important and challenging work of being a substitute teacher.

Substitute teachers are motivated by a variety of factors. They like the flexibility of the job, the chance to explore the teaching profession, and the opportunity to serve their community in an emotionally rewarding way. Making sure they have a good experience in your school district is the best way to make sure they keep coming back.