5 ways to effectively utilize substitute teachers during COVID-19

These ways of using substitute teachers give districts more flexibility to address teacher shortages during the pandemic, and beyond.
By: | February 2, 2021
Mike Teng is the CEO and co-founder of Swing Education, a tech-enabled marketplace business that matches substitute teachers with schools in need.

Whether districts are operating in-person or remotely, there is arguably an even greater need for substitute teachers during this not-so-normal school year. Subs can be invaluable resources for districts as they navigate the complexities of operating during COVID-19 and, as findings reveal, many are ready and eager to teach in various capacities.

Below are five ways districts can effectively utilize subs during the pandemic (and beyond) to both fill teacher absences and meet the needs of students.

On-site. Prior to COVID-19, this was the traditional and most popular way subs were utilized – in-person in the classroom with students. Now, for districts that are back in person or moving that direction, this can still be an efficient way to utilize these educators, especially in a small group setting.

Small groups of typically 8 to 12 students allow districts to safely maintain social distancing for students while delivering in-person instruction, often to high-need and special education students who may benefit most from this instructional delivery. In some cases, districts are even able to use ‘Learning Loss Mitigation’ funding under the CARES Act to fund sub costs when using the on-site small group model.

Virtual. When delivering instruction remotely, districts can look into hiring a virtual credentialed sub or a virtual aide. A virtual credentialed sub will typically take on more responsibility, such as follow a lesson plan or be prepared to create their own. Whereas, a virtual aide sub usually helps out with 1:1 or small group support remotely. Aides can also help other teachers teach their students over Google Classroom or Zoom.

In the virtual format, districts can have a fully remote classroom with both the sub and students being remote or a hybrid classroom where the sub is remote and students are in the physical classroom. Other districts will ask the subs to come on-site to teach in the classroom while students learn from home. This allows the teacher to utilize district computer equipment and easier access to tech support. Districts should develop a plan to provide necessary equipment, log-ins and tech support to anyone who needs to cover for an absent teacher.  Even if a district is fully remote and has no current sub needs, it is still important to think ahead about coverage for professional development days or when a teacher is out sick.


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Roving. With roving, districts can secure a sub even if they are uncertain how they’ll specifically utilize the sub – whether in person or remote. Roving subs are beneficial for districts looking for both flexibility and consistency. For example, with a long-term roving sub, districts can have ongoing support from the same sub, which not only provides consistency, but also safety. These assignments are also not typically structured in advance, so in the case of a last-minute call out, a district can use its roving sub to secure that spot.

Long-term. When a teacher goes out on sick leave, retirement, long term leave or maternity leave, districts will often need a long-term sub to cover. It’s important to have a good sub for a long-term request, so districts should identify an individual who meets the needs of their schools and students, and conduct a thorough interview to vet the sub and ensure that person is the best fit.

During the interview process, it is also important to ask about the sub’s comfort level with switching between in-person and remote, depending on the district’s needs and reopening plans. Consider allowing long-term subs to shadow a teacher before the assignment begins, this can even be done virtually!

Co-Teaching. With the pandemic, there has been an increasing demand for utilizing subs in this capacity in hybrid and in-person environments. With co-teaching, the sub and students are in the classroom, but the teacher is remote.

When would this use case make the most sense? If a teacher starts to feel under the weather, but can still teach, or if they are quarantining, but don’t feel sick, they can still facilitate instruction and have the sub to help manage the classroom and keep students on task and engaged with their assignment.

In addition to providing extra support to the teacher, using subs in a co-teaching model provides extra safety for staff and students while allowing teachers to work remotely if they are uncomfortable or feeling unwell. It also reduces technology issues by having the sub act as a support person on site and provides a sense of normalcy for students by having them in their normal learning environment in school.

These five ways for managing subs will help districts maximize the use of these educators and, in some cases, think out of the box about how subs can contribute to their overall success. As districts continue to navigate COVID-19 this school year, and ultimately make plans for returning 100 percent back to in-person teaching, subs will continue to be an integral part of districts’ day-to-day operations.

Mike Teng is the CEO and co-founder of Swing Education (www.swingeducation.com), a tech-enabled marketplace business that matches substitute teachers with schools in need. Swing provides in-house professional development, dedicated distance learning tech support, and no-cost teacher shadowing to support districts with distance learning.

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