How school leaders are getting innovative in search for substitute teachers

Online training sessions and students' recommendations are helping speed up the process of filling open slots.

K-12 labor pressures have inspired one principal to turn to an unconventional source for substitute teachers: her students. Mary Fulp, principal of Colony High School in Palmer, Alaska, has been handing her business cards out to students in hopes they help recruit potential subs.

“I tell them to give the business cards to people who they think would be a good person to work in our schools,” says Fulp, Alaska’s 2022 principal of the year. “We have to do things differently to get people into our classrooms.”

Fulp will of course vet and interview the substitutes suggested. But her effort is about more than filling vacant positions as schools everywhere need additional staff to support students as they rebound from COVID’s emotional and academic disruptions. “Even if we’re fully staffed, we’re not fully staffed based on the needs we’re seeing,” says Fulp, whose school is part of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District near Anchorage.

And finding new subs is another way to get community members invested in her school. “These are helpful connections for what we’re going through, with the public perception that schools can’t be trusted or that we’re indoctrinating kids,” she says. “When we reach out and partner with them, it’s powerful. We want them to be a part of the solution.” 

New tech trains substitute teachers

Other district leaders are turning to technology to speed up the process of onboarding and training substitutes. Bossier Parish Schools in Louisiana now gives substitutes access to an online training session when they get fingerprinted, says Connie Miller, the district’s technology staff development facilitator.

The video-based training is focused on classroom management but doesn’t require subs to pass any kind of quiz. “We want them to know there’s an avenue for them,” Miller says.

FETC 2023

The Future of Education Technology® Conference takes place live and in-person Jan. 23-26, 2023, in New Orleans. Register now!

The process, along with a raise in pay for substitutes, has enabled Bossier Parish to keep more subs in the systems to cover classrooms this school year. That means full-time teachers have regained lesson planning and collaboration time because they aren’t having to fill in for absent colleagues, Miller says. “We want teachers working together on their off time, not covering a class,” she adds. “We don’t want them to have to take their lesson planning home.”

Custodians, transportation staff and other district personnel are using the same training platform, which was developed by Vector Solutions. “We’re doing way better than the last two years,” Miller says. “Our subs are coming in, teachers are leaving plans and the students know what to do when they go in the learning management system.”

Pay raises and new laws

Many other districts are also raising substitute teacher pay to keep classrooms covered. Dorchester School District Two in South Carolina just raised daily pay for substitutes who are certified teachers to $150 from $125. Non-certified substitutes will earn $125, up from $90, WCSC reported.

Strongsville City Schools in Ohio has hired a group of substitutes for the entire 2022-23 school year. The subs are not covered by the district’s collective bargaining agreement with teachers but are guaranteed work every day of the school year, reported.

And it will soon be easier to work as a substitute in California. Subs will no longer have to take a proficiency test or complete any coursework to prove they have basic teaching skills under a law that takes effect on Jan. 1, 2023, EdSource reports. A bachelor’s degree and a background check are still required to get the state’s emergency 30-day substitute permit.

More from DA: Active shooter hoaxes are spreading panic. Here’s how to fight back

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

Most Popular