It’s a story familiar to many school leaders: teachers are absent, and there aren’t enough substitute teachers to meet the need. Classes are combined, other teachers give up their planning periods, and paraprofessionals or administrators are compelled to fill in. In any case, student learning is derailed, and other staff lose valuable time to plan and complete their own work. It’s not sustainable. Before the pandemic further exacerbated the substitute shortage, over 4 million teacher absences went unfilled nationally. That means more than one in every five teacher absences had no substitute. This translates to about 250,000,000 days of individual student learning that were disrupted — in less than a single school year.
What can state education leaders do to ease the substitute teacher shortage burden? Some states have recently addressed their substitute teacher shortage with legislative changes, a modification to substitute teacher licensing requirements, and a partnership with Frontline.
That partnership has resulted in over 4,000 new substitutes who are eligible to work in the classroom. But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. Let’s dig into how we got here.
Barriers to Entry
To exacerbate the teacher shortage, many schools face a substitute shortage, too. While it’s crucial that substitutes are qualified to be in the classroom, aspiring substitutes face extensive state requirements, creating a significant barrier to entry. To apply for a substitute teaching license, state laws require an individual to complete anywhere from 24 to 60 semester hours (or more) of college-level credit. However, these requirements don’t always specify the type of coursework needed to fulfill credit hours, meaning there’s no guarantee that the substitutes meeting those state requirements have taken relevant coursework. In Illinois, the state requirement for a short-term substitute license is 60 credit hours. This requirement may serve as a barrier to entry for many individuals because according to a recent survey conducted by the Illinois Association of Regional School Superintendents (IARSS), 96% of school districts have cited a scarcity of substitute teachers and 90% reported the substitute shortage continues to get worse.
So how can school districts overcome these barriers to entry for future substitutes to ensure student learning goes uninterrupted?
Fast Fact: According to a recent EdWeek survey, 77% of school district leaders across the nation reported difficulties in hiring enough substitutes.
Enhancing Accessibility for Substitutes
For the states who chose to partner with Frontline to address this national problem, the first step was to make substitute certification more accessible. Some state leaders have passed an amendment and emergency rule to approve an alternative route to become a substitute teacher through completion of a training course.
To ensure the training was high-quality, these school boards developed a rubric to determine the criteria and then sought out a partner to provide the training content. Frontline Education is a partner that offers individuals the ability to obtain their certification to become a substitute teacher in select states through completing Frontline Substitute Teacher Training, as approved by the state departments.
The training consists of twelve comprehensive online courses specifically designed for substitute teachers. Each course aligns to teaching standards and covers topics such as classroom management, instructional strategies, and supporting students with special needs. Upon completion, individuals receive a Frontline Certificate of Completion demonstrating their readiness to obtain a substitute teacher license. Not only will substitutes have the confidence of knowing they’re prepared to enter the classroom, but districts will also have the assurance that the most qualified substitutes are filling teacher absences.
Frontline Substitute Teacher Training’s self-paced courses cover the following topics:
Working with At-Risk Students
Professionalism & Ethics
Working with Students with Special Needs
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In the first six months, over 4,000 individuals enrolled in the Frontline Substitute Teacher Training, adding 4,000 educators to the eligible substitute teacher pool. Performance scores for substitutes, determined by ratings from the classroom teacher, show no difference between the traditional and alternative certification pathways. Providing consistent training to all incoming substitute teachers ensures substitutes have the skills they need to be successful. In turn, school and district leaders have the confidence of knowing the individuals that staff their classrooms are qualified, and students have a prepared substitute teacher — so their learning continues uninterrupted even when their teacher is absent.
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How is your district navigating the teacher and substitute shortage? Check out these resources for more information on how you can take action.