Substitute teachers are in short supply. What are districts doing to cope?

Administrators are turning to creative solutions to make substitute teaching more desirable. Most commonly, leaders are making efforts to boost pay, especially in high-needs areas.

Substitute teachers are among the latest education professionals who are in short supply in school districts across the country, for a variety of reasons. Like full-time K12 teachers, there’s a general consensus that the negatives outweigh the benefits. But central to their argument lies the fact that substituting isn’t a sustainable job. So how are district leaders adjusting to the dwindling pool of subs?

While social media shouldn’t be your first stop for insight into how you can solve your district’s problems, a popular subreddit, r/Teachers, is dedicated to open and honest discussion about “all things teaching,” including how to fix the substitute teachers shortage.

In one Reddit post earlier this year titled, “Why is nothing being done to fix the substitute shortage?,” you’ll find a wide assortment of responses from those who chose to give their two cents on the issue.

“Low pay. No benefits. No guarantees. No respect,” one commenter wrote. “Don’t forget—no pay during breaks, holidays or inclement weather days, thus no real stability,” another replied. “Schools are pleading for subs but doing nothing to make the job attractive.”

These comments mirror the findings from a recent analysis conducted by the National Council on Teacher Quality, which compared substitute teacher salaries to wages offered in the retail industry in 148 of the largest school districts in the U.S. What they found was that in 40% of districts, the starting hourly pay for subs is less than what one would make in retail, suggesting that potential applicants have better options.

On average, substitute teachers made around $18.40 per hour during the 2022-23 school year, the analysis suggests. But is it enough?

“We’re pulling stay-at-home moms,” Heather Clark, the school board chair for Epping, New Hampshire, told CBS News. “Would you babysit 30 people for 100 bucks for eight hours? Yeah, no, not in a million years. But you know, it is what it is. I don’t think we’re ever gonna get to pay them what they’re worth.”

One substitute teacher told CBS News that you can rely on substitute teaching for sustainability, though it shouldn’t be your primary source of revenue.

“Many of us actually do this as a full-time job,” Doris Zughoul, a substitute teacher in Chicago, told CBS News. “So it always bothers us when other people call us ‘just subs’. They don’t look at us as professionals who have licenses and educational degrees and all of that, which most of us do.”

Districts making change

In other areas across the U.S., administrators are meeting educators’ needs in an effort to maintain a healthy substitute teaching staff.

The Manitowoc Public School District in Wisconsin has raised its daily pay rate for substitute teachers with a college degree from $180 to $250 per day, according to the Herald Times Reporter. Applicants don’t need a degree in education, either. Anyone with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree is eligible to apply.

“The schedule is very flexible, and people can choose as few or as many hours as they want,” the district’s Human Resources Director Mike Nault said in a news release. “Our pay is very competitive and it is a rewarding experience. You get to help students in your community as they work through the lesson plans their teachers left behind for you.”

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In Nebraska’s Lincoln Public Schools, administrators are alleviating teacher shortages entirely by opening spots up to local college students. Substitute teaching positions are open to anyone with 60 or more credit hours in specific areas of study like core education and education specializations, the Daily Nebraskan reports. Students enrolled in other programs can also become paraeducator substitutes.

For those who are looking to become teachers, this gives them an opportunity to gain real-world experience before graduating.

“Students can experience what [grade] level they like,” Jenny Fundus, supervisor for special programs and substitutes for LPS, told the Daily Nebraskan. “It is a great opportunity for them to get their feet wet and know what they are getting into as an educator.”

Food for thought

Data from the National Council on Teacher Quality suggests that 80% of districts provide substitute teachers wages below the living wage. As a result, administrators are scrambling to find qualified educators as potential applicants take their credentials elsewhere.

However, several districts are working on some innovative strategies to mitigate this risk and increase their pool of applicants. Here are some model districts compiled by the NCTQ that you can look to for their strategies for combatting substitute teacher shortages:

  • San Francisco Unified School District (CA): The district offers cash bonuses for subs who work more than 60 days in a semester.
  • Henrico County Public Schools (VA)/Knox County Schools (TN): They provide higher pay rates for subs who choose to teach on Fridays.
  • Jefferson Couty Public Schools (KY)/North East Independent School District (TX): Subs are given extra pay for filling in special education teacher vacancies.
  • Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools (NC): Additional pay is awarded for subs in Title I schools.
Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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