Effective Support for Substitute Teachers

While practicing yoga, I received a helpful adjustment from my teacher that made the pose more comfortable and enjoyable. This experience led me to reflect on the subtle changes occurring in public education, particularly as a substitute teacher, that are fostering noticeable improvements and development.

As a substitute teacher, I frequently make small adjustments to enhance my teaching methods and create a conducive learning atmosphere for students. These minor tweaks can range from trying out new attention signals to refining attendance-taking strategies, all of which have a significant impact on the overall teaching experience. Notably, innovative school and district leaders are also making slight adjustments to support substitute educators, resulting in transformative outcomes.

Through my collaboration with state and union leaders to assist emergency certified substitute educators, I’ve observed that recognizing and empowering substitutes not only retains exceptional replacements but also attracts prospective full-time classroom teachers. To enhance support for substitutes, district-level leaders, human resources professionals, building principals, and front office staff can consider making these three subtle adjustments—alongside actionable steps.

1. Acknowledge Substitutes’ Significance and Offer Relevant Professional Development

Recognizing the crucial role of substitute teachers in students’ education is paramount. According to Substantial Classrooms, the average American public school student spends a full year with substitute educators during their K–12 journey. This compelling data underscores the need for district leaders and administrators to shift their focus towards supporting substitutes, as it directly influences student learning outcomes.

Providing professional development opportunities and fostering a sense of community among substitute teachers can be highly effective. This includes inviting them to relevant teacher training sessions, organizing substitute-specific workshops, and maintaining regular communication through newsletters. Additionally, hosting informal gatherings for substitutes to network and discuss challenges can create a supportive community atmosphere.

Substitute educators greatly value training. Here are some additional ideas to support substitutes and build a strong community:

  • Sending regular communication offering social and emotional tips, instructional suggestions, leadership opportunities, and heartfelt appreciation to substitute educators.
  • Organizing gatherings for substitutes to network and address current challenges throughout the school year.
  • Setting aside staff meetings to brainstorm strategies for fostering inclusion for substitute educators if you’re a building-level leader.
  • Ensuring substitutes have essential resources like badges, keys, sub plans, and building procedures for their success.

2. Recognize SUBSTITUTES’ Diversity Through Leadership Opportunities

The substitute teacher cohort comprises diverse and educated individuals who bring a wealth of experience and perspectives to the classroom. In my interactions at SubCommunity gatherings, I’ve encountered subs from various professions, each contributing uniquely to the education field. Recognizing the diverse backgrounds and educational credentials of substitutes can lead to innovative solutions for addressing teacher shortages.

District leaders can empower substitute teachers by providing leadership opportunities. Having transitioned from a classroom teacher to a substitute educator, I’ve noted differences in treatment and available opportunities for growth and leadership. Creating avenues for substitute teachers to lead and grow within the educational community is essential for their professional development.

By acknowledging substitute educators’ strengths and offering leadership roles, district leaders can tap into their potential. Suggestions to empower substitutes include:

  • Identifying substitutes’ strengths and recognizing their contributions in specific teaching areas.
  • Encouraging substitutes to engage with full-time staff by joining lunchroom conversations to strengthen ties within the school community.
  • Offering long-term teaching opportunities for substitutes who excel in specific subjects or grade levels.

3. Recognize Substitutes’ Potential Through Pathways to Certification

Viewing substitute teachers as potential full-time educators is crucial. While some subs may prefer to remain in their substitute roles, a significant percentage aspire to become full-time teachers. Supporting substitutes with pathways to teacher certification is essential for their professional growth and development.

Initiatives like the Washington Education Association’s Emergency Substitute Teacher Support Project highlight the importance of empowering substitute educators to pursue teacher certification. By guiding subs through the certification process and providing personalized support, district leaders can help subs achieve their goals of becoming full-time classroom teachers.

The untapped potential of substitute educators can lead to transformative outcomes in school communities. Leveraging their creativity, passion, and expertise can contribute to positive growth and change in educational settings.

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