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How to Attract First-rate Substitutes by Recognizing Them as Educators

Teacher Absences & Subs

Why do people do what they do?
Don’t gloss over that question — it’s one every district should be asking, especially when you’re struggling to find enough substitute teachers.

It would be easy to think that money is the reason why people go into any given job. To be sure, pay level matters! But that’s only one piece of the puzzle — just ask the myriads of talented people working with the homeless or serving in nonprofit organizations, who could be making much more money in a different field.

You’re probably well aware that people choose to be teachers for reasons far beyond the compensation package.  People choose to teach because they care about students. Or maybe because they’re passionate about a subject area, or they want to use their gifts and skills or because they want to contribute to the greater good. People choose to teach because their identity is more concerned with these things than with a higher paycheck. People choose to teach because they see themselves as educators.

The same is true for people who make excellent substitute teachers.

So if your district has a shortage of substitutes, ask the question: do you view your substitutes as educators — not babysitters? If not, it’s worth making the effort to structure the job so that people who identify as educators will be drawn to it. Here are a few ideas:

Recognize the role substitutes play in education.

Great substitutes don’t just want to punch a clock; they want to teach. While “Substitute of the Month” programs and giveaways are all good things, bringing substitutes into celebrations of student success is even better. Let your substitutes share in the broad goals of your school and help them — and others — to see how they are partners in accomplishing those goals.

Reward great work with pay incentives.

As mentioned above, pay level does matter. In many districts, substitutes make a flat fee per day with no opportunity to earn more than that. Sure, some long-term assignments may differ, but in general, the day rate doesn’t change. And most people don’t grow up saying, “I want to make $30,000 a year for the rest of my life with no opportunity to earn more.”

What if you set up a pay schedule that recognizes substitute quality and excellence? Some districts have tiered structures that account for certification, experience, performance and length of time substituting, with higher pay for a retired teacher or someone with in-state certification, for example.

Reward great work with choice.

If substitute teachers do well, reward them with more control over where and when they work — perhaps with appropriate long-term assignments in their chosen subject area which would give them the chance to see how their work impacts students.

Reward great work with recognition.

Implement a mentoring program, where high-performing substitutes can serve as mentors to those who are just beginning. Or ask an especially good substitute to serve as a point person for all other subs in the building. Both options recognize excellent work as well as help others in the building.

Provide professional growth opportunities for your substitutes.

You recognize the importance of professional growth for your teachers. As substitutes invest in students alongside the rest of your staff, take the time to invest in them in return. Make sure your substitutes are trained in technology advances and curriculum changes. Help them continually adapt to this changing world so they can serve your students well.

Some schools provide paid training for substitute teachers at the beginning of each school year. There are also online resources specifically available to help districts train substitutes. Courses in classroom management, instructional strategies, special education and certain courses work to help substitutes stay informed and do their jobs with excellence.

By helping to increase their skills as educators, you’ll not only provide a benefit to your substitutes, you’ll be serving your students as well.

As your district seeks to provide excellent education to your students, don’t overlook the crucial role that substitutes play. The more you recognize substitutes as partners in education, the more you’ll attract people who are invested in your mission — and that can only be a good thing for your school.

Cydney Miller

Cydney is a Solutions Consulting Manager for Frontline Education, a leading provider of K-12 employee management software. Cydney most recently served as the HR Director at Clarksville-Montgomery County School System in Tennessee. She is committed to supporting school districts with their strategic human capital managementn needs, including staffing, HR and substitute fulfillment.