What can your school district do about the sub shortage?

School Districts

April 10, 2024

With school districts from coast to coast scrambling to find enough subs, it makes sense to focus as much effort, energy, and resources on them as possible. Making sure substitute teachers have everything they need to be successful might take a little extra time. But it will be time well spent. 

For a recent webinar put on by the American Association of School Personnel Administrators, Edustaff District Sales Representative Eric Kallal asked three people – a classroom teacher, an administrator, and a substitute teacher – for some tips on how districts can break through the sub shortage.

Richelle Starnes, a substitute teacher in Florida, said one of the most important things district administrators can do is take time to build a relationship with subs.

“I know they’re busy, but when they can, just pop in and say ‘Hey, I wanted to check how your day is going,’”she said. When talking with a regular sub in the district, administrators should make sure to tell them they’re doing a good job, and find ways to make them feel like they’re part of the school community.

Starnes says there are schools she won’t go back to as a substitute – not because of the students, but because of how she was treated by the staff. In one school, she remembers everyone giving her the runaround about where she should put her lunch.

“If you’re that school, I’m not the only one who’s not going back there. Those experiences make me feel like, ‘Wow, I’m not appreciated here,’” she said. “There are so many things that are hard. That should be an easy thing.”

Sarah Lucas, a former elementary teacher now working for an educational software company, said an easy thing teachers can do for subs is to have a talk with their students about flexibility.

“Remind them that if a sub comes in, it’s not going to be exactly the same, and that’s OK,” she said.

She recommended having substitutes do an activity called “Ask Me About” to help them connect with the class. Students write down a question for every subject, and the substitute teacher asks them about it. The kids are excited to share their knowledge, and it helps the sub get to know the students and find out what they have been studying, she said.

Michael Carbenia, a former school administrator in Florida, said finding good subs and scheduling them to come in every day is a strategy that worked well for him.

“You build that relationship with them and just tell them ‘I need you to show up every day at 7:30 and we’ll find a spot for you,’” he said. “Then you sleep better because you know those groups of students are getting people that care and want to be there for them.”

If a district can reduce overall absenteeism of the regular staff, that will also help combat the substitute shortage. If the district has an educational foundation, Carbenia recommended checking with the foundation to see if they have some money available to create activities to motivate teachers and keep them engaged.

“They can create fun incentives, saying ‘Thank you for overcoming whatever adversity you have,’” he said.