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what matters most to subs

What matters most to subs (according to research)

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

With the 2023-2024 school year wrapping up rapidly, it wouldn’t be surprising if the next school year was already on your mind. What better time than summer break to plan ahead and brainstorm new programs to implement to attract and retain high quality substitute teachers? But before you do, we’ve got some fresh research with substitute teachers to help you focus on the right areas. 

Why subs leave the profession

Sub retention is the top challenge for nearly every school pool we’ve encountered. Although substitute teachers enter the profession for a myriad of reasons (wanting to give back to their communities, working with children, gaining teaching experience, etc), research has shown there is one primary theme for why they leave: a lack of appreciation.

But what does that mean? 

There are lots of ways to interpret an overall “lack of appreciation” ranging from first-day onboarding with a new school to pay-rates to general friendliness and support from staff – so what exactly would it take to improve sub retention? 

Some quick facts to get started:

  • 92% of polled subs are proud of their work in the field
  • 81% of subs wished that schools would treat subs better
  • 53% of subs feel disconnected from their school community

No surprise, pay is critical

While long commutes, challenging students, and unmet preferences are among the reasons this group of subs cited for why they left the profession, low pay is, unsurprisingly, by far the largest contributing factor subs attributed to feeling underappreciated.

Our research highlights a direct correlation between low pay and feeling undervalued within the education system. When compensation fails to align with the importance of their role or the level of dedication required, substitutes often experience a sense of disillusionment and demoralization. 

Despite shouldering the same responsibilities and demands as their full-time counterparts, substitute teachers often receive significantly lower wages, which fail to accurately reflect the immensity of their contributions. This financial strain can lead to feelings of undervaluation and frustration, exacerbating the already challenging nature of the job. 

Sub treatment – good communication is key

So when 81% of subs wished that schools would treat subs better and 53% of subs claim they feel disconnected from their school community the next questions are “why” and “what can we do about this?” So we asked subs… the reply? 

  • Get the necessary information in advance (i.e. lesson plans, school rules and regulations, disciplinary requirements, etc)
  • School orientation
  • Understanding the school’s expectations
  • Meeting with the teacher beforehand 
  • Obtaining lesson plans in advance

So while pay may not always be under your control or within your budget, you can positively impact the substitute teacher experience by changing aspects that are within your control, such as the school culture and proper onboarding that makes the sub feel seen, heard, and appreciated. 

Some ideas to consider before the new school year

Provide a welcome guide
Properly equip subs with everything they’ll need for their upcoming assignment, such as fully fleshed out lesson plans. Additionally, go above and beyond and provide new substitute teachers with welcome “swag” bags with useful resources like supplies, snacks, school merchandise, or a comprehensive welcome guide. Little personal touches can make all the difference. 

Assign a dedicated helper
Ensure that each sub is assigned a point person for the duration of their assignment. Someone who will greet them at the door and provide them with any necessary information for the day such as where to store their lunch, how to access facilities, where to find their classroom, emergency protocols, etc. 

Establish A+ communication
A few days before the start of the assignment (or the day before for a last minute request), reach out to the sub and let them know how excited you are to have them at your school. Establishing a connection early on informs the sub that they are valued, likely increasing the probability that they show up to the assignment. Additionally, at the end of the assignment, be sure to encourage subs to leave feedback and communicate any concerns or issues they encountered during their assignment. As a result, subs will feel like their voice matters, while simultaneously allowing schools to constantly improve.

Offer professional development
Show substitutes that you care and are invested in their success by offering professional development opportunities. For example, try offering mentorship programs or workshops to provide guidance on classroom management techniques and strategies for handling difficult students. For a long term sub, include them in professional development opportunities geared toward your full time teachers. 

Be inclusive
Swing Sub Paul T explained that a substitute will know straight away whether or not they feel like they belong at the school, so be sure to make a great first impression. In order to be considered a great school to substitute teach, treat your subs with respect. On his most recent assignment, Paul explained that the staff included him in their bowling social. He said, “They showed me that they appreciate me and want me a part of their community.”

By implementing these measures and programs, schools can create a more positive and supportive environment for substitute teachers, ultimately enhancing the quality of education for students and promoting greater retention within the profession.

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Case Study

Cajon Valley USD

How Cajon Valley USD created a winning professional development program