- The pool of available substitute teachers nationwide has shrunk by about 10,000 since 2014, according to a 2017 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, even as wages have increased slightly, causing school districts across the nation to look for new solutions to find substitutes, Edutopia reports.
- Some school districts are turning to new services such as Swing Education, which uses the Internet to find and prescreen a large pool of possible substitutes and school district data to predict when substitutes will most often be needed so it can place substitutes on standby for the job.
- Other school districts are reducing the need for finding substitute teachers by employing ELFs (electronic learning facilitators) to oversee several classes of students missing teachers while the students complete computer-based assignments left by their teachers.
The reduction of the nation’s available substitute teachers is blamed partially on the current strength of the nation’s economy. But another factor is that more teachers are missing from the classroom. In the 2015-16 school year, 28% of teachers were “chronically absent” more than 10 days of the school year, more often than students in many cases. Moreover, teachers in public schools tended to absent at three times the rate of those in charter schools. Meanwhile, the cost of substitute teachers is increasing for many school districts.
Teachers can be missing from the classroom for many reasons. Some positions are not filled at the beginning of the school year and some teachers leave before the school year is done. These situations often require long-term substitutes while replacements are sought. The need for these long-term substitutes reduces the available pool of short-term substitutes even farther. States also vary greatly in pay and requirements for substitute teachers, which may make the issue even greater for some school districts.
Retired teachers are a good source for substitute teachers, especially as retirement benefits may not live up to their expectations. However, some states, such as North Carolina, limit the amount of time retires who benefit from the state retirement plan can serve as a substitute. With the decreasing labor pool of substitute teachers, schools may need to look at ways to encourage classroom teachers to stay on the job more often as well as exploring other options to fill substitute positions. They may also want to work with state policymakers to make substitute teaching a more attractive option in their state.