November 19, 2021

Tips for Improving K-12 Substitute Teacher Retention

When school is in session, you can’t afford to be short-staffed. You need regular teachers and substitutes in every classroom, across all grades and locations. But when you don’t have enough teachers, you can fall behind schedule, and students will miss out on critical classroom instruction.

The pandemic has only made matters worse, creating an educator retention crisis for K-12 schools across the country. A combination of teachers on sick leave, in quarantine and in early retirement has left many schools with a higher demand for substitutes than the existing supply can accommodate. Despite this, there are actions you can take to retain the substitutes you have, attract new candidates and increase the likelihood you have enough qualified professionals to fill vacancies as they occur.

Boost Substitute Teacher Retention

Despite growing vaccination rates in many states, finding and keeping substitutes continues to be problematic for many school districts. In a recent EducationWeek survey, 77 percent of K-12 principals and district leaders said they have struggled to hire a sufficient number of substitute teachers so far during the 2021-22 school year.

Because substitute teachers have been so hard to find, it makes sense to take actions to improve substitute teacher retention and reduce the chances of losing critical resources for your school operations.

Take the following steps to retain substitutes, both at the school and district level:

Offer financial incentives.
Because there are more substitute teaching opportunities than substitutes, make your opportunities stand out by offering competitive pay and incentives. For example, some schools offer sign-on bonuses to substitutes who join their district, whereas others give bonuses to retiring teachers who agree to return as substitutes.

Other incentives that can support substitute teacher retention include:

  • A higher pay rate for substitutes who agree to work in any building in your district or who fill less popular assignments
  • Bonuses for substitutes who work for a minimum number of days per month
  • Minimum daily pay rates for substitutes who work on half-days or partial-day assignments
  • Referral bonuses for substitutes and regular employees who refer new substitutes to your district

Show your appreciation with recognition and perks.
If your district budget doesn’t provide room for bonuses and pay hikes, there are less-expensive ways to show substitutes you value their contributions. For example, you may be able to offer snacks or free lunch vouchers for the school cafeteria. You could also give substitutes free passes to school sporting events and performances. Lastly, you could work with the school PTA to organize a donation of gift cards or other rewards to offer as a thank you.

Make it easy for substitutes to discover and fill vacancies.
Instead of using an old-fashioned phone-tree system to find substitutes when a teacher is absent, use a fully mobile solution. A mobile-friendly substitute management system is a hassle-free way to connect substitutes to assignments, so the process is seamless. Substitutes can view and accept offers from their mobile device, anywhere and anytime. They also have more visibility into open opportunities, including the location, schedule and key contacts.

Build a positive substitute experience.
Like your full-time employees, substitute teachers will be more likely to stay with your school or district when they have a positive experience. To encourage them to return for more substitute opportunities, take the time to onboard all substitutes and give them the information they need to have a positive working experience. For example, introduce them to key contacts, provide lesson plans and class lists, and keep ample personal protective equipment (PPE) in the classroom.

Another way to provide a positive experience for substitutes is to eliminate unnecessary obstacles to working productively with your district. For instance, you can reduce the number of steps substitutes must take to become certified. Instead, you can offer alternative certification options that get substitutes ready sooner and provide a larger pool of qualified candidates.

Achieve Stress-Free Substitute Management and Retention

Given the persistent substitute teacher shortage, your district doesn’t have a moment to waste in finding and retaining substitutes to fill critical vacancies. And with the help of an efficient substitute management solution, you don’t have to risk a poorly-staffed school day. Instead, you can utilize automated tools to identify qualified candidates and improve substitute teacher retention throughout the school year. For more information, learn about TCP’s substitute management solutions for K-12 schools.