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The Devastating Substitute Teacher Shortage

Dani Corbett
Article Writer
January 22, 2021

Substitute Teacher Shortage

Substitute teachers are vitally needed throughout the county. The need for qualified substitutes is on the rise. Current requirements and prerequisites required for substitute teachers is contributing to this rise. Trends for prospective substitutes, trends for current substitutes and trends for how schools fill their substitute teaching needs also contribute to the increased demand for substitute teachers. The challenge for substitute teachers to successfully fulfill their responsibilities in our schools is an integral part to our childrens’ education. This is a challenge that requires awareness and a devotion to finding solutions.

The Need For Substitute Teachers

Across the county, the need for qualified substitute teachers is in high demand. A study conducted in 2014 by the National Council on Teacher quality found that teachers miss an average of 11 days of teaching per school year. That same study noted that there is a statistically significant correlation between the amount of time a teacher spends in the classroom and student outcomes. At the time of the study, 48% of schools were experiencing a “severe or somewhat severe” substitute teacher shortage.  Another study in 2013 found that students in classrooms where teachers missed more than ten days of school in the school year showed a 1.2% and 0.6% of a standard deviation decrease in both math and English test scores. What does this mean for our students? Substitute teachers are critical to the educational career of our children.

Interesting fact: Based on the average number of days teachers miss per school year, each student will spend two-thirds of a school year with a substitute teacher during their elementary through high school education.

What is contributing to such a high demand and a low supply to fill it? Let’s look at Pennsylvania. In a three year period, it was reported that there was a 62% decline in the amount of state residents who were working towards earning a teaching degree or certification. This appears to be an accurate description for most states across the nation. Because of the decline in education graduates, there is also an increase in the amount of graduates accepting full time positions immediately after graduation because of the teacher need. Past trends leaned towards new graduates taking a year or two to substitute teach. This allowed new career employees to “test out” what positions they enjoyed teaching in the most prior to committing to one. Because new graduates are taking full time positions immediately, the highly qualified substitute teacher pool has greatly decreased.

How Schools Are Filling Their Substitute Teacher Needs

One way schools are solving their substitute teacher shortage is by lowering the qualifications for substitute teachers. Many schools are no longer requiring degrees or teaching certifications. Some schools are only requiring a high school diploma as a minimal qualification. Having substitute teachers with teaching certifications and continued education has proven more effective for educating our students than having a substitute teacher with no teaching certifications. This trend in lowering qualifications has an impact on our students, but schools are desperate to fill these positions.


Filling substitute teaching needs is quite burdensome for administrators and educators. On average, $1,800 is spent per full time teacher per year to cover substitute teaching needs. School administrators are being burdened with calling substitute teacher lists at the start of each school day to cover last minute teacher absences. Somes schools have transitioned to software like our Ready2Teach software to help address their substitute teacher needs. Often, needs still go unmet and a burden is left on the school and the students.


Another way schools are coping with the substitute teacher shortage is by filling the need internally. Often, full time teachers will take on students from classrooms with no teacher. This significantly increases class sizes in already growing classrooms around the county. It also burdens the teachers who often already feel stretched thin. Another way the need is filled is by having teachers fill in during their preparation periods. While this may seem like a good solution, it is taking needed lesson preparation and tutoring time away from teachers. Up to 12% of the time, the need is filled by a school administrator, and another 16% of the time, unknown coverage is reported.

Trends in Substitute Teaching

One significant trend in filling substitute teaching needs is the need of substitute teachers in schools that are labeled as disadvantaged or lower income. Schools with a higher minority student population are also identified as difficult to fill substitute teacher needs in. On average, these schools had 0.9 to 1.3 more non-covered positions per teacher annually than schools that do not hold the burden of these labels.

substitute teacher shortage and disadvantaged schools


In a school with a high population of black and Hispanic students, almost half of the full time teachers expressed that their school does not adequately fill the substitute needs. Only 9% of teachers in schools with low numbers of black and Hispanic students report the same opinion. Similarly, in a survey of substitute teachers, it was found that the least preferred substitute teaching positions were found in middle schools, schools with more black and Hispanic students and schools that reported high numbers of suspensions and behavior problems.


The need for qualified substitute teachers across the country is not going away. This will be a continued need for our school administrators, for our teachers, and most importantly, for our children. Finding solutions for hiring qualified substitutes, creating new ways to train and educate our substitutes, and ensuring our substitute positions are filled, especially in our most needed schools, is an educational priority. Our kids deserve this effort!



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