What Schools Should Look for in a Substitute Teacher Staffing Agency

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With the substitute teacher shortage taking a toll across the country, a growing number of K-12 schools and districts have turned to staffing agencies for support in covering teacher absences.

Schools and districts use agencies in different ways — some outsource their entire substitute teacher operations, others use agencies to supplement their internal teacher pool, and others just for hard-to-fill absences.

But despite those differences, top substitute teacher staffing agencies tend to share a number of common qualities.

Emphasis on Substitute Teacher Recruiting

Recruiting is one of the most important functions of a successful substitute teacher staffing agency. Without a large, reliable pool of subs, agencies likely won’t be able to provide sufficient absence coverage to their school partners.

Of course, agencies face the same barriers to hiring substitute teachers as schools and districts do — namely, that there’s a limited supply of qualified subs in many states. That’s why it’s so important for agencies to invest heavily in substitute teacher recruiting.

The most successful agencies have dedicated substitute teacher recruiting teams that utilize a variety of methods to build their sub pools, including:

  • Job boards
  • Digital and print advertisements
  • Programmatic advertisements
  • Social media
  • Job fairs
  • University partnerships

Investment in Their Substitute Teachers

Substitute teachers have a lot of employment options in today’s K-12 landscape, and agencies that invest in and support their substitute teachers will often do a better job of attracting and retaining top subs. Given the importance of educator quality on student success, an agency’s investment in its substitute teachers can have a significant impact on learning in your school communities.

Some of the ways top agencies support their substitute teachers include:

  • Reimbursements for educator certifications and clearances, including renewals
  • Free professional development materials
  • Appreciation events and giveaways
  • Free text notifications for jobs (some agencies rely on paid services like SubAlert, SubSidekick, or Jobulator to help inform subs of openings)

Focus on Substitute Teacher Quality 

Investing in substitute teachers is a big piece of developing a high-quality pool of substitute teachers, but there’s more to it than that. It’s also critical for staffing agencies to have policies and processes in place to support substitute teacher quality.

As you evaluate different agencies, consider asking the following questions:

  • Screening: Does the agency have safeguards to ensure all substitute teachers meet local requirements for background checks and certifications?
  • Development: Does the agency offer courses/development opportunities to its substitute teachers?
  • Feedback: Does the agency have a coaching/support mechanism in place to act on constructive feedback from school partners?

Strong Customer Service

As with any business, customer service is an important part of a successful substitute teacher staffing agency. Given the nature of K-12 education, however, the consequences of inadequate customer support in a staffing agency may be more severe than in other fields. 

For example, if a school needs to fill an unexpected teacher absence but can’t reach the agency’s support team to coordinate, that absence may go unfilled — which could force schools to combine classes or pull staff from prep periods. 

Similarly, if a substitute teacher has to back out of an assignment at the last minute, it will be important for the agency to maintain close communication with the school and quickly find an available educator for that day. 

Effective Technology

Different substitute teacher staffing agencies operate differently — and use technology in different ways — but no matter the specifics, technology is an important part of covering absences.

Two of the most important ways effective technology can help agencies provide a superior experience relate to fill rate and and sub-school fit.

Agencies that have technology to quickly process requests and make them available to a large number of substitute teachers in real-time will be more likely to be able to cover hard-to-fill absences. And software that helps schools identify subs that best fit their communities goes a long way toward building the right pool of educators.

Proven Results

While every school and district may be looking for something slightly different in a substitute teacher staffing agency, there are a handful of statistics that speak to any agency’s ability to provide strong, quality substitute teachers. These include:

  • Number of absence days covered
  • Fill rate
  • Number of school partners
  • Number of local substitute teachers 

Of course, referrals from schools and districts near you can also offer great insight into an agency’s ability to serve your region. 

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