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Substitute Teacher Staffing Shortage and a New Solution

There is a new education staffing crisis intensifying coast to coast, and it’s one with a massive impact on districts, teachers, and ultimately students. Recruitment, engagement, and retention of substitute teachers is a challenge being felt with more and more sting across the country. In some school districts, recruitment efforts have been successful in getting names onto the “sub roster,” but substitutes don’t necessarily engage and accept the substitute days, locations, or classes that need coverage. This leaves unfilled positions daily causing interruption to instruction and affecting student learning. Full-time teachers feel the impact of this staffing crisis when planning ahead for absences and when returning as well. When a substitute is not available, teachers often have to pause large or interactive learning units or provide asynchronous activities for students to complete independently.  

What’s worse is that substitute staffing shortages have the most significant impact on already-challenged schools with high-needs and/or low-income learners. According to a study done by Cal Matters, California schools with the most high-needs students were only able to fill 42% of the daily positions (compared to 63% with the fewest high-need students) (Cal Matters, Jan 2022). These disparities can vary across districts, but the most vulnerable districts, schools, and students are the most impacted. 

Many of the districts we’ve spoken to have asked substitute teachers why they don’t take open substitute positions (engagement) and why they may not return after experiencing substitute teaching (retention). Substitutes often cite a lack of support and training. In some districts, substitute teacher orientation is held one time per year in the fall. Substitutes hired midyear may not have any training at all before entering the classroom. Sometimes these substitutes are parents and/or community members with limited teaching experience. Typically, substitute teachers do not have access to professional learning for capacity and confidence building. Without substitute training on behavior, for example, building administrators and other teachers are called to assist with classroom management challenges substitute teachers face. Often, there is no network of communication or support to assist substitute teachers with a proactive, preventive strategy to address even basic daily challenges.  

School districts are doing what they can to combat the substitute teacher shortage. For example, substitute teachers who complete district-level training can be paid at a higher daily rate than their untrained counterparts. In some places, bonuses are being paid based on the number of assignments accepted in a month. Districts have also started hiring full-time floating substitute teachers. These teachers report to the district office daily to find out their assignment and may teach in a different classroom each hour depending on teacher absences and building needs. Even with these efforts, the challenge continues, and the solutions don’t necessarily address the need for ongoing support to retain highly trained substitute teachers. 

The educators at Teaching Channel have put on their thinking caps to partner with districts to jump this nationwide hurdle. The Substitute Teacher Entry Program (“STEP”) provides substitute teachers 24/7 access to training, customizable tools, district-specific procedures, resources, and support in one place. As districts opt in, they will work with a dedicated Engagement Manager to customize a Teaching Channel Plus site for their substitute teachers. By combining district resources with Teaching Channel video, professional development courses, and networking opportunities, each district’s customized website can function as a one-stop resource center for substitute teachers. Districts can upload their own expectations, policies, videos, forms, etc. Substitutes will have access to 1400+ videos and video playlists to see models of instruction and classroom strategies in action. Administrators have the option to lead discussions with substitute teachers and support them through common challenges. Substitute teachers can build community with each other. The possibilities for training and support with the Substitute Teacher Entry Program are unlimited and will have a positive impact on substitute teacher recruitment, engagement, and retention. We all know what that means – student success!  

To learn more, check out the Substitute Teacher Entry Program today. We encourage you to share the solutions recommended in this blog with building administrators, district leaders, human resources, and others who may be problem solving the substitute staffing shortage. We are committed to helping substitute teachers be successful because of the powerful educational benefits for districts, teachers, and students. We are confident that training and support is an essential part of the solution. 

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