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What Are Substitute Teachers Really Desiring in their Job?

Dani Corbett
January 25, 2021

What Substitute Teachers Want and How We're Falling Short

We've already discussed the devastating substitute teacher shortage across the United States. One factor contributing to that shortage is the actual job of being a substitute teacher itself. While being a substitute teacher has many benefits, there are also many disadvantages to being a substitute teacher. The good news is, we can address those. But first, let's get a better understanding of where the shortfalls are.

5 Ways We're Falling Short for Our Substitute Teachers

  1. Managing current substitute pool
  2. Consistent training for substitute teachers
  3. Job benefits for substitute teachers
  4. Compensation for substitute teachers
  5. Job recognition for substitute teachers

Shortfalls In Managing Current Substitute Pool

what are substitute teachers really desiring

One way we're falling short in serving our substitute teachers is by not managing our substitute teacher pool well. It was reported in this survey that some schools have less than 30% of the number of substitute teachers they need to fill open jobs in their districts. Because schools are so desperate to hire new substitutes, we are forgetting the assets we already have in our corner. In failing to take care of our current substitute pool, we are contributing to part of the substitute teacher shortage problem. Poor job recognition, better job options elsewhere and greater benefits with those options is also leading to a decline in substitute teaching job applicants. Lack of onboarding processes and ongoing trainings for our current substitutes is leaving them without the tools they need to be successful in their job. Shortfalls in training leads to high turnover which leads to more money being invested in hiring new substitutes. The cycle continues. Managing our substitute pools better is what it will take to break these cycles.

Shortfalls In Consistent Training for Substitute Teachers

According to this survey, less than 10% of school districts have  implemented an ongoing substitute teacher training program. Let's imagine this for a minute. You've just started a new job. You attended a two hour onboarding process for the new job. You're eager to get started. You start your new job. Issues arise. You're feeling overwhelmed and a little lost. There is no one to turn to for assistance. You don't have an immediate supervisor. There is no more training for your job. Thirty sets of eyes are staring back at you as you stand at the front of the room and try and manage a job that you're unsure of how to do. Is this a job you would like to have? Would you feel satisfied at the end of your work day? This is the overwhelm that many of our substitute teachers are experiencing because of the lack consistent job trainings. Substitute teachers have little to no opportunities to ask questions and learn more effective ways to do their job. Because they don't have the resources they need to succeed, many leave the substitute teaching field.

Shortfalls in Job Benefits for Substitute Teachers

While members of a couple generations are employed as substitute teachers, members of the Millennial generation are the target cohort for hiring substitute teachers. Students, new graduates, moms needing school hours scheduling and individuals between jobs are the most often hired individuals to be substitute teachers. Almost all of these people are Millennial generation aged. Millennials make up 1/3 of the current workforce. In the last year, 21% of millennials changed jobs. This is a higher percentage than any previous generation.

In a survey of human resource professors, it was reported that there has been a noticeable and significant increase in how often millennials inquire about job benefits in initial job interviews. In addition, millennials are increasingly interested in the opportunities and options for growth pathways in their current jobs. In most districts, substitute teachers do not have any options for growth in their job. In surveying millennials, it was found the 89% of millennials rank job benefits higher than job compensation. Because substitute teachers are contract employees, most substitutes do not have the option for benefits included in their employment. Because there are so many job options available that do include job benefits and opportutnies for growth, the potential substitutes are going elsewhere to fill their employment needs.

Shortfalls in Job Compensation for Substitute Teachers

Even though job benefits is at the top of the list of millennials, it's still important to address how well substitute teachers are paid. Comparing substitute teacher pay to similar jobs may give us an insight into why some potential substitutes are choosing work in different fields. The median wage for a substitute teacher in the United States is $13.84/hour. That equals out to $28,790 for a substitute teacher who fills needed positions almost every day of the school year. Because the cost of living in every state varries, it's important to examine what we're paying teachers and how it stacks up to similar jobs.

Shortfalls in Job Recognition for Substitute Teachers

As with any job, substitute teachers desire to be recognized for a "job well done." Very few districts have implemented job recognition programs for substitute teachers.

In a discussion board on, substitutes listed multiple reasons for job satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Listening to what our substitute teachers are saying and acknowledging their struggles can validate and uplift our subs. Taking a look at this list and looking at ways we can improve in these areas will help our substitute teachers feel valued. Taking the steps necessary to correct shortfalls in these areas will improve job satisfaction as well.

  1. Walk into unfamiliar situations (Alexis R)
  2. Don’t know the students at all (Alexis R)
  3. Unfamiliar with classroom routines (Alexis R)
  4. Students see you as someone with no authority. (Deanna P)
  5. Students know you can’t hold them accountable for their behavior or productivity. (Deanna P)
  6. Students swap names with their friends and keep other students from accomplishing their work. (Deanna P)
  7. There’s also the kids who “go to the bathroom” and never come back (Deanna P)
  8. Feeling like you’re doing all the “bad parts of teaching without getting any of the benefits like watching kids grow, building relationships, and stretching their minds.” (Deanna P)
  9. Lack of connection with the students (Jim W)
  10. Lack of familiarity with the classroom routine (Jim W)
  11. “Uneven sub plans. Some teachers leave very good ones, others very sketchy ones.” (Jim W)
  12. Lack of respect from teachers. The example given is that some teachers refuse to grade any work done during the substitute’s time with the students. (Jim W)
  13. No healthcare benefits (Mark P)
  14. You’re essentially fired at the end of every school year (Mark P)
  15. When you sub for a teacher who goes home sick and you’re entering a classroom you know has a “bug” (Lenaigh H)
  16. If you decline jobs while you are sick, it takes a while for the job requests to come back in once you’re healthy. (Lenaigh H)
  17. Feeling like an outsider in the school (Nina R)
  18. Students are “disengaged” and are bored (Nina R)
  19. You’re left a lesson plan that is “uninspiring, dull, odd” and it’s work you don’t even want to do yourself (Nina R.)

What Are Substitute Teachers Really Desiring In Their Jobs

When we look at all this information together, we can see that there are some major shortfalls in the substitute teaching system. Identifying and acknowledging these shortfalls is the first step in the right direction to helping solve the substitute teacher shortage in our country. Finding solutions to this problem is not impossible. When we work hard to assist our schools, teachers and substitutes, we're working hard to serve our students, too! 

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