Five Things Schools and Districts Can Do Today to Improve the Substitute Experience

November 18 is the final day of American Education Week, and today we appreciate the contribution of Substitute teachers across the country. In honor of their critical role in schools, here are 5 practical ideas you can implement to improve the substitute teaching experience, starting today:

  1. Send thank you notes. Yup, your mom was right: thank you notes are important.  Substitutes often feel isolated and under appreciated; let them know they are an important part of your school community. This simple gesture helps build a relationship, making subs more likely to return to your school. Thank yous can come from anyone or everyone: students, teachers, school secretaries, principals.
  1.  Invite subs to school events and in-service trainings.  It’s great if you can pay folks for these things, but even if you can’t, inviting substitutes to school events is an important gesture of inclusion.  If you have an online system or resource for professional development, think about making the platform available to substitutes too.
  1. Standardize the sub folder. Consider walking into a brand new school or classroom every day and having to wade through a different set of instructions. We can acknowledge the reality of a substitute teacher by trying to make this part of their day a little bit easier and a lot more consistent. Building a common folder for use across classrooms in your school, or schools in your district helps subs know that you care about them and their daily experience. We recommend folders live in the front office, so they can be regularly checked, updated and supplemented—by anyone on staff—especially if a teacher has to call out sick.
  1. Solicit feedback, every time. Taking substitute teachers’ experience and advice seriously will help you build a stronger, more welcoming school community.  You can do this by creating a survey for subs that you include in the sub folder, or a link to an online survey they can take when they get home. Whether you use a survey tool or not, make sure you ask subs how their day went and share what you learn.
  1. Finally, encourage subs to do activities that build trust and rapport with students, and remember that these activities take time.  Two things that we often forget to mention to subs before we send them into the classroom are: first, spending time with students can and should be fun; and second, teaching is much harder if you haven’t established trust with students. Give subs permission to get to know students—and for students to get to know the subs. Games, going outside, art, music, and experiential learning activities engage students and set the sub up to succeed.

However you decide to convey your appreciation, take this day to say thanks to substitute teachers. They play a critical role in our schools but often don’t feel included or appreciated.  Without them, it would be more difficult for our nation’s educators to step out of the classroom when they need to care for themselves, care for their families, get married, have children, and, of course, grow professionally.  


Photo Credit: Thank You! By Carol VanHook (CC BY 2.0)

Substantial Bright Spots

bright-spotsBright Spots is a bi-weekly post, highlighting schools, districts, organizations and cities across the country taking proactive steps to improve the substitute teaching experience. Do you know of a bright spot we should highlight? We’d love to hear from you.

November 1 – 15, 2016

Collective Training
The folks at Pennsylvania Midwestern Intermediate Unit IV are rallying to serve their local counties with a training designed to bring more available substitute teachers to the region. Offering a three-day training, they’ll be helping substitute teacher feel prepared and confident to enter the classroom.

Candidate in the Classroom
It’s not often you hear political candidates embedding themselves at the ground level to learn how things really work, but that’s exactly what Michael Saba, candidate for South Dakota’s District 9 did over the course of the past year. After teacher pay became a major issue in the spring, he signed up to be a substitute teacher and worked over a month in schools across his district. He didn’t win on election night, but his heart was in the right place — trying to really understand the needs and experiences of his constituents.

Substitute Teaching Leads to Great Things
An amazingly uplifting story this week about a teacher in Stockbridge Schools, who finally made it into the classroom full time! Life threw her some curve balls, and it took a while to get there, but ultimately substitute teaching was the entry point that put Lori Knoespel on a path to being a full time classroom teacher. Currently teaching under a provisional license, she’s just one class away from her certification. Three cheers for Superintendent Dave Moscinski who recognized and rewarded her contributions and abilities, helping her find a supportive alternative path to her credential.

It Takes a Village
And sometimes a few good policemen! When a teacher was rushed to the hospital for an emergency, officers responding to the scene stuck around to continue teaching the children at the Daycare until parents could arrive to take students home about 2 hours later.

Do you know of a bright spot we should highlight? We’d love to hear from you.

BrightSpots photo courtesy of Seasonal Spots by RonEskins (CC BY).

Substantial Bright Spots

bright-spotsBright Spots is a bi-weekly post, highlighting schools, districts, organizations and cities across the country taking proactive steps to improve the substitute teaching experience. Do you know of a bright spot we should highlight? We’d love to hear from you.

October 16 – 31, 2016

Finding Success with Full Time Substitute Teachers
Who says that substitute teachers have to be on-call? Central Falls School District in Rhode Island is challenging that notion with so far, great success. They’ve hired 15 full-time substitute teachers and assigned each to an individual school, where they work every day — substitute needed or not. Th substitutes are supported as members of the “Warriors Fellowship Program” and as full-time staff of their schools. The best part? The program is budget neutral.

Proactive Recruiting
Many school districts feeling the pinch with not enough substitute teachers to fill their classrooms are getting proactive! They’re hosting public job fairs to recruit substitute teachers and taking to the media to publicize the events. And these aren’t just your basic job fairs — districts are marketing themselves! In Sarasota, FL they are specifically alerting potential substitutes (for both teaching and support staff positions) that “many of our full-time employees have started as subs.” In Gwinnett County, they’re talking up the $2 per day raise that was put in place just this year.

Grow Your Own
Mark Twain Union Elementary School District in Copperopolis, CA is bringing back their elementary school alums into the classroom as substitute teachers. Copperopolis Elementary School has former students moving through a teacher pipeline, starting as substitute classroom aide, to substitute teacher, and onto fully credentialed teachers. Having a supporting place to work, as they navigate this path is extremely helpful.

Recognizing the Potential of Substitute Teachers
In Kansas, they’re getting creative to keep career and technical educators. Abilene Public Schools is keeping their woodworking program, by supporting a substitute teacher to step into the role. The former substitute has an impressive background in construction and is eligible to teach full time in the classroom, while pursuing alternative licensure under a new provision by the Kansas Department of Education.

Developing Sub Specific Supports
It’s important to recognize that the substitute teacher skill set is (and must be) different. In the majority of cases, they are not fully trained teachers, who can draw on established relationships with students. Helping address the substitute teacher shortage in CA, the team at Fox and Elliot Educational Associates have teamed up and created free youtube videos to help train substitutes and assuage fears that might keep great folks from signing up. You can view the videos on their website.

Do you know of a bright spot we should highlight? We’d love to hear from you.

BrightSpots photo courtesy of Seasonal Spots by RonEskins (CC BY).