Teacher Evaluation: WHY It Matters and HOW We Can Do Better
An in-depth look...
Substitute shortages continue to be a top concern for school districts across the country, and there are plenty of theories why: teacher shortages make it easier for new educators to find full-time jobs, or wages are too low to make substitute teaching an attractive choice, or people have moved into other careers as the economy has recovered.
But data from the Frontline Research & Learning Institute suggests that the issue might not be simply a shortage of substitute teachers in the pool — instead, perhaps our current substitute teachers just aren’t working enough. Our annual report on national employee absence and substitute data shows during the 2016-17 school year, 46% of substitutes didn’t work at all, and those who did worked an average of 33.3 days. But fill rates that year averaged 84.3%, indicating that there’s still work to be done in finding enough substitutes to cover employee absences.
Our annual report on national employee absence and substitute data shows during the 2016-17 school year, 46% of substitutes didn’t work at all, and those who did worked an average of 33.3 days
So, what influences substitutes’ decision-making process when taking jobs? To find out, the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University used Frontline Education’s data to explore substitute teacher preparation and working patterns in greater depth.
The study’s data sources included:
First, let’s look at what correlates with taking more substitute teaching jobs:
It makes sense that having more available jobs means substitutes accept more work, and that those with shorter commute times take more jobs — after all, most people would prefer not to have a very long commute.
We also found that substitutes who teach as a primary source of income work more than those who teach to earn extra money on the side, and that substitutes with strong preferences for specific subjects were more selective and accepted fewer positions.
With many substitutes working in multiple school districts, you might be wondering what compels them to choose one district over another. When we asked substitutes and administrators about the values that made substitutes want to work for a particular district, both substitutes and administrators cited availability of work as a leading reason to work in a district.
But that’s the only top reason they agreed on.
In addition to availability of work, substitutes reported that district culture (48%), pay (33%), and administrative support (29%) were important in selecting a district. In contrast, a much higher percentage of administrators (62%) believed that pay was a top influencing factor for substitutes in selecting a district, and a lower percentage of administrators believed that district culture (38%) and administrative support (12%) were top factors for substitutes.
That begs the question: does every district leader fully recognize the importance of school culture and administrative support when it comes to recruiting and retaining substitutes?
Maybe not. Only 8% of organizations surveyed provided substitutes with ongoing feedback, and 10% offered professional development. Another 36% of organizations reported providing no support to substitutes.
If you have an employee absence management system that gives you access to your district’s absence data, you may have noticed that some schools have higher fill rates than others. That might not only be due to lower absence rates: substitutes tend to prefer specific schools based on certain characteristics.
As we’ve seen before, short commute times and locality are a major influence — substitutes prefer to work locally and in their own communities. But school culture also plays a role, coming in third on the list of reasons substitutes prefer certain schools. Welcoming substitutes into the school community can help encourage more substitutes to work in schools with low fill rates.
While substitutes and administrators alike agreed that training for substitutes is important, our findings suggest that substitute training and preparation has not been fully utilized in the vast majority of districts.
According to the survey, 45% of substitute teachers reported receiving no training at all, and only 7% reported participating in district orientation training. Moreover, the majority of administrators reported that the amount of job skills training was inadequate and that they were dissatisfied with the current format of the training.
A district which invests in its substitutes through professional development opportunities is likely one with a positive, supportive culture, which we have identified as a strong influence on substitute decision-making.
Administrators can encourage substitutes to take more jobs in order to raise fill rates in several ways.