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How to Solve Shortages and Increase Substitute Effectiveness

Human Capital Management

Substitutes aren’t babysitters; they’re educators. They often walk into unfamiliar environments, with unfamiliar people. They teach multiple subjects, save the day in emergency situations, and help prevent learning gaps. Many do so with grace and professionalism, and embrace the opportunity to impact student achievement in the process. There’s no question that substitutes are educators. And their ability to take the baton and lend continuity to the full-time teacher’s hard work is an art. Certainly, this is work worth doing. So why do so many schools struggle to maintain effective substitute programs? Why do low fill rates and substitute shortages plague administrators across the country?

The real problem: people don’t choose to substitute

Ask any group of kids what they want to be when they grow up. “A football player!” “A chef, because I like to eat!” “A veterinarian; I think my neighbor’s dog is cool!” But how many would say they want to be a substitute? With substitute teachers often saying they feel misunderstood or undervalued, it’s no surprise that the number may not be overwhelmingly high.

Unfortunately, substitute teaching can suffer from the misperception that the role is nothing more than school-sponsored babysitting. Consciously or unconsciously, this is the message often communicated — and so the dominos fall, leading to fewer people applying for substitute positions, lower engagement and plummeting fill rates. So what can districts do to overcome this issue to ensure teacher absences are quickly filled and student learning remains uninterrupted?

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Changing perceptions to re-engage substitutes

Substitute teaching is certainly not easy in many ways, and there are realities of the job we cannot change. We can, however, change the perceptions around substituting. We can help people see that it’s worth choosing. If substitute teaching is not seen as an educator-based role worthy of support, recognition and encouragement in your district — it’s time for a change. Be the one who embraces the humanity and capability of the substitute teacher and help others do the same. Here are five actionable tips to help re-engage substitutes in your district:

  • Lay the ground-work through community building and communication
  • Put the “substitute as educator” through strategic substitute management
  • Keep in touch with your former and retired teachers (they may just be up for re-engaging to substitute at your district
  • Make it easy for substitutes in your district to be prepared for leading instruction at your schools
  • Offer your substitutes a thoughtful, comprehensive, and connected experience from finding jobs, accepting jobs, and even all the way to flexible access to pay
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Fostering financial wellbeing for substitutes

Why is flexible access to pay such a critical step to re-engage substitutes? We see it every day: restaurants and retailers are offering same day pay to incentivize people to pick up jobs. You can’t drive down a main street or open social media without seeing an advertisement for “get paid as you earn.” And in order for districts to compete, they’ll have to ask their technology partners for innovations that support their mission to solve the substitute shortage.

Substitute teachers work hard for their money. However, due to district policies or pay cycles, subs can find themselves in a situation where they might work for weeks (or months) before getting access to their paycheck. An interruption in pay can be a roadblock for people to accept substitute teaching positions when they could either stay in their current role or seek employment with more flexible pay options.

If you’re stuck wondering how your district can provide flexible access to pay, Frontline Education’s exclusive partnership with Wagestream can help! This partnership offers substitutes access to their pay when they want it, as they earn it. Giving substitutes more control over their pay fosters financial wellbeing and minimizes stress, allowing them to bring their best selves into the classroom. Wagestream is not a loan and there is no interest: just simple, secure and reliable access to their earned money!

Ready to re-engage substitutes and revolutionize pay in your district? Learn more about the Wagestream offering

Nichelle Smith

Nichelle Smith is a Sr. Product Marketing Manager for Frontline Education. With her Master's degree in Education and being a former educator, Nichelle loves to explore all things "edtech"!