What We Learned Helping College Students Become Substitute Teachers

by | Jun 6, 2017

Did you know that in California college students with 90 units students, who meet a basic skills requirement, qualify for a substitute teacher permit? There was a point when we didn’t either! It’s a little known fact here and in states with this option. As soon as we a learned this, we thought “Amazing! Why aren’t tons of college students subbing? It’s flexible, real world experience with relatively good pay.”

In December 2016, we initiated a program to recruit, train, and support UC Berkeley students to become substitute teachers, it was a truly amazing experience for us, the students and the school district.

Here’s what we learned:

Becoming a substitute teacher is expensive and might be out of reach for many college students.
Ok, I admit, we knew the expensive part already. In California, an aspiring substitute teacher can expect to pay anywhere between $200-$300 to get up and running, depending on their situation. And a CA college student pays an additional $52.50, if they want to work while waiting 50 business days for their permit. We anticipated this challenge and planned to pay for each student’s set-up costs. What we didn’t realize was that many students don’t have that kind of money at their fingertips. Instead of reimbursing students for expenditures after the fact, we needed to cover the costs upfront.

This could be a huge challenge for school districts looking to recruit college students to their sub pool. Here are three suggestions:

  1. Offer to cover costs on layaway, taking small reimbursements from the student’s first few paychecks.
  2. Sponsor all or a portion of college student set-up fees.
  3. Partner with a local foundation, businesses or community organizations to offer scholarships.

It takes a village.
Even though this permit has been available for 10 years, not many students apply, and many people aren’t familiar with the details of the process. Even with extensive online research, we still required assistance from: one very experienced district credential analyst, two County Offices of Education, a former State Superintendent of Education, and the CA Commission on Teacher Credentialing helpdesk (three calls, two emails). Now that we’ve successfully navigated the process once, we’ve learned how to help colleges and school districts make it much easier to facilitate these permits. We’re more than happy to share our directions and toolkits with anyone who’s interested!

District hiring processes aren’t designed with a college student in mind.
College students are an ideal resource for filling the shortage of substitute teachers, but their professional experience is limited and their free time is often concentrated on one or two days a week. Many school districts have streamlined hiring and onboarding processes to make it easier and more manageable for district staff, which makes total sense. The flipside is that the inflexible requirements could prevent college students from applying, and those who do, might not be able to attend interviews and onboardings held only once a week (or month! or quarter!).

Having restrictive hiring and onboarding processes can make it much more difficult for candidates who have fixed responsibilities—like college classes to attend. Here are two suggestions:

  1. Adjust the application requirements for college students to add video interviewing or essays to stand in for letters of reference.
  2. Offer a variety of interview and onboarding options including, self-scheduled 1:1, small group, online and virtual.

But most importantly, we confirmed what we had long suspected to be true:
College students are an amazing resource.

Our cohort of students came to us with amazingly positive attitudes and diverse experiences, interests, and majors. They’d worked as tutors, camp counselors, and community volunteers. What school district wouldn’t want to count them among their ranks? In a pinch, without lesson plans, these students stepped up to facilitate conversations about college—everything from how and why to pursue it, to their firsthand experiences, and current events on campus. The best part is that even in the face of system shortcomings, logistical hurdles, and some intense school situations, the students remained extremely grateful for the meaningful experience.

College is an environment rich with inquiry and investigation, learning and exploration (both inside and outside the classroom), and making meaning from endless new experiences; it’s no surprise that college students turn out to be resilient and passionate substitute teachers. Let’s help them get in the classroom!

For more on our college substitute program read our accompanying blog posts: Five Reasons Why Every College Student Should Try Substitute Teaching and The Benefits of College Student Substitute Teachers.

Substantial is currently incubating undergraduate substitute teaching programs at campuses across Northern California. Our goal is to create a simple, student-powered model that exists at every college and university to support their local school district with quality substitute teachers, and just maybe some new career teachers.

Interested in bringing this program to your campus? Send us an email college-partnerships@substantialclassrooms.org.