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  • Writer's pictureDr. Lisa Gonzales

Deepening Your Pool of Substitute Teachers

Substitute teachers - do they make a difference!

Before I go any further, I should probably note my bias here.

I was drawn into public education by starting as a substitute teacher (how was I to know that first day in a 2nd grade classroom and a little girl bringing me an apple would pull me in hook, line and sinker).

And then there was that dissertation I wrote on the attractors and detractors of substitute teachers that can be maximized and minimized to recruit them into classrooms as fully credentialed teachers....but I digress.

When California moved to the dreaded class size reduction model, dreaded only because it had no advanced planning and was thrust upon districts, we faced a significant shortage of teachers and districts depleted their ranks of subs to fill full time classrooms. And the cycle begins again. As the economy improved in the last couple of years, the ranks of substitutes have been put into play with regular classrooms, and subs are again a hot commodity.

What can districts consider in designing substitute recruitment programs?

1. Use social media. Many substitutes, especially those recently out of colleges are avid users of SnapChat, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Use them to your advantage and recruit.

2. Invest in their efforts. When trainings are being held after school for teachers, fill the extra spots with your regular subs. When they look for a job, they will remember that investment in their training, even if it was unpaid. Most subs are willing to spend time honing their craft. That training on Project Based Learning, classroom management, dealing with challenging topics, and technology are skills applicable to every person who comes into contact with students in specific districts. Why not invest and watch what happens? If nothing else, you'll have better trained subs. And even better? They may network with teachers in the training and build stronger relationships to where they become exclusive to schools and districts.

3. Provide a substitute training session. Consider a quarterly training session for substitutes. Allowing teachers, on a small stipend, to teach the training is where you get a bigger bang for your buck in really having the teachers explain in general terms how they like notes to be left, reporting procedures, attendance information, dealing with challenging behaviors, and more.

4. Make them feel welcome and appreciated. Let me repeat - make them feel welcome and appreciated. In my districts, I've always spent part of every day in classrooms. That enables me to see the subs, greet them, thank them, and praise their work. But it really begins with the office staff welcoming them, teachers leaving organized notes and realistic expectations, and a concerted effort by staff to invite them in the lunch room and engaging them in conversations. They are our guests. We can't do the important work with students if we can't rely on our substitute teachers to be part of our game plan.

5. It's all about respect. Subs should be treated with respect. From office staff. From teachers. From instructional aides. From administrators. Most importantly - from students! When the leadership at the top sets this expectation and takes behavioral issues with students and subs seriously, the message is that we value them. And we do. A little respect goes a long way.

Now, I could quote you lots of great statistics about the attractors and detractors, but I didn't want to bore you.

And in case you're still reading, the triangulation of data from my 2002 dissertation on substitute teachers from research, interviews, and questionnaires (with an 82% return rate!)

Attractors: like to work with students, prefer delimited job responsibilities, perceive the role of substitute as valuable

Detractors: lack of training, lack of knowing how to deal with difficult students, job related support (lesson plans, seating charts, supplies available), concerns for personal safety

Gonzales, L. "Inspiring the Pinch Hitters: Job Satisfaction and Dissatisfaction of Substitute Teachers." Ed.D. diss., University of LaVerne, CA, 2002.

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