Dear School Boards: You Need to Professionalize the Substitute Teacher Role

Teacher shortages at every level demand a new response to what has always been a problem, namely the lack of available substitute teachers.

Photo by Kenny Eliason for Unsplash

I recently interviewed for a position with UP Education in Massachusetts. One of the roles is “Cluster Substitute Teacher,” otherwise known as a building sub. I applaud them for creating such a role and making it a full-time teaching position. That makes it attractive to teachers like me, who are experienced and have been in teaching positions, but might be looking for a change. In my case, I was also attracted by the organization’s mission.

This position comes with benefits and a competitive starting salary. When the teacher is not needed to cover a class, then a co-teaching assignment might be available. Otherwise, the principal will assign other duties as needed. We all know that schools need everyone to wear several hats, as staffing levels are lean. It seems to me this organization knows how to use its human resources well.

What should we do?

I have several suggestions.

  1. Create a professional, full-time role for substitutes that includes a competitive salary and benefits (medical, PTO, etc.).
  2. Structure the role so that when a sub is not needed to cover a classroom, that sub is engaged in other student-centered activities, such as co-teaching, performing paraprofessional tasks, or helping in the office.
  3. Ensure the position is eligible for union membership, professional development opportunities, tuition reimbursement, “years of service” counts, etc.
  4. Consider induction programs for these teachers with mentors and action-research projects, and offer them continuing education opportunities at little to no cost.
  5. Ensure the person holding the position is protected by establishing a rigorous disciplinary system to mitigate unwanted behaviors.

Who would be best suited for this role?

  1. New teachers. Teachers just entering the profession would benefit from substitute teaching. It wasn’t that long ago that I was a student teacher, and while my experience was excellent and I learned so much, I learned a lot more about classroom management while I was a substitute, out there on the “line” without a “net” (a supervising teacher) to protect me. Personally, I think every new teacher should be required to substitute for at least a year before getting a classroom, and a program like this would make that requirement possible.
  2. Teachers looking for a change. Suppose a high school teacher would like to explore elementary education. While they would probably have to take a pay cut, perhaps they would think it worth their time.

What would be required?

  1. Certification to teach in the state.
  2. Clear background checks and fingerprints.
  3. Letters of reference from professors and/or supervisors.
  4. Successful interviews and demo lessons.

Well, what do you think?

If I were offered this job, I’d take it. I’d buy a rolling cart and off I’d go to a new adventure every day. What do you think?

Thank you, as always, for reading.

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