Superintendent offers 4 strategies for hiring substitute teachers

When vetting potential candidates, Virginia district leader Thomas Taylor says it's important to ask the right questions.

Thomas Taylor is the deputy superintendent in Chesterfield County, Va., and oversees approximately 62,000 students and more than 60 schools.

The district features seven national blue ribbon winners and seven national Title I distinguished schools. It has a 90 percent on-time graduation rate and a 96 percent daily attendance rate. And it has about 5,000 teachers.

So when the district seeks out potential hires for its substitute teaching positions, it does its homework.

“With substitutes in particular, we want to get to know you and put our eyes on you, because of how critical it is for you to be able to build relationships and hit the ground running,” says Taylor, who started his career as a substitute teacher 20 years ago. “Substitute quality as a means of capturing student achievement is paramount. If we can’t attract really high quality people and vet them, the quality of our pool will also be weakened.”

Taylor says there are two approaches to hiring subs. The nontraditional might seek out potential employees and offer them incentives, such as helping them pursue further education through partnerships with colleges and universities to defray costs. The traditional might simply focus on what subs are looking for in a more direct position with the district.

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“If you’re interested in a benefits package, we should have this track or mechanism for you to pursue,” Taylor says. “If you are interested in only focusing on talking about U.S. history or world history to high school-age kids, we should have this opportunity for you. You only want to work Tuesdays and Thursdays? We have that pathway for you.”

Taylor says hiring and keeping top-tier substitutes engaged in a meaningful way is extremely important. But how do districts make those quality hires? He offered up strategies his team uses that identifies tiers of substitutes (and areas of interest) to better target potential hires:

TRADITIONAL: “Asking subs a series of questions. ‘Do you have a school preference? Is there a geographic zone that you’d like to work in?’ Almost creating a preferential pool for that, (such as subject-area pools) and trying to cross-coordinate those pools to have consistent work. You could even go a few layers deeper and say ‘days preferred to work versus anything else.’ So that when school buildings are seeking that substitute, they have access to a really laser-focused, triangulated pool of people that have a higher probability of accepting the job.”

DEEP INVESTMENT: “Asking subs, ‘would you be willing to be trained to be almost a go-to, top-tier, work-as-much-as-you-can, possibly-even-a-benefits-track substitute, where you’re working enough to receive benefits and you’re vested in the retirement system. This is your calling to be a fill-in substitute teacher, and we will invest in you with additional training, benefits and steady work.”

SUBSTITUTE TRACK: “The permanent track, where we know that every day there is going to be a job. Why on earth would we put someone there full-time if we know that every day there’s going to be a job? The reality is, in the 65 schools that we serve, there is a job every day, whether it’s at the elementary or middle school level. Every high school that we have has a vacancy every day for a substitute. Why not have a familiar face and a really well-trained person to do that?”

SEASONAL: “They are college students that are off for the semester or they’re seasonal from November to January. We struggle during that time period. That’s the perfect pool of people to recruit during cold and flu season because candidly, they are young, able-bodied substitutes that have strong immune systems, and they’re available when you need them most, at the end of the school year, and right in the middle of the school year. They can act as a replacement pool. It is a great opportunity to fill that gap in a temporary way.”

Chris Burt is a reporter and editor for District Administration. He can be reached at

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