Fixing the Substitute and Teacher Shortages

Dana GoodierBlog, Connect Better, Innovate Better, Lead Better


  • Schools all over the world have staffing shortages.
  • Think creatively about where to recruit substitute teachers.
  • What incentives can you offer potential employees such as sign-on bonuses or other perks?
  • Treat your staff well and they will want to stick around.

As I write this blog post, the United States is dealing with an unprecedented teacher and substitute shortage. Just last week, an email I received from a principals group warned us that up to 20% of teachers could quit by winter break. It stated that this wasn’t just cause for concern, it was a red alert.

Fixing the Substitute and Teacher Shortages: Lots of Talk—Not Much Action

From my point of view, it seems that we’re doing a lot of talking about the sub and teacher shortages but not doing much about it. I have seen a few posts shared on social media about districts that have recently decided to increase starting teacher wage to a livable salary such as $61K in New Jersey and $69K in Ft. Worth, TX.  Why should school boards and teacher unions have to scramble mid-year to increase the pay when they should have anticipated the need before the start of the 2020-21 school year?

It isn't rocket science to understand that you have to treat your employees well to have them enjoy working in your district. Click To Tweet

Fixing the Substitute and Teacher Shortages: Meager Pay Rates

That leads me to discuss sub pay. Ask someone who often covers classes as an administrator and volunteered to do so as a teacher. The sub shortage is not a new problem. In Colorado in early 2001, anyone with a high school diploma could receive a sub license. Usually, at least in this state, subs need a 3 or 5-year authorization if they don’t have a regular teaching license. I got my own father to discover a 2nd career after retirement and he has enjoyed subbing for the past 4 years.

The substitute pay varies widely anywhere from $90/day to $200/day. In my district, they paid the subs $200/day for a short time from September-December 2020 in order to fill the vacancies due to quarantines, then reverted back to the regular pay of $110 for subs without a teacher license or $130 for subs with a teacher license. That didn’t make sense, and many daily jobs were left unfilled in the spring, forcing teachers and administrators in the building to cover classes. This year, for example, the district increased the pay to $150/day  (subs without a teacher license) or $170/day (subs with a teacher license). Long-term subs get slightly more at $190/day, but that isn’t nearly as much as an average teacher in the district is paid.

Fixing the Substitute and Teacher Shortages: Where to Recruit

If your school or district is lacking subs, think of parents of students who are part-time employed or stay-at-home parents who may consider subbing a few days a week. Recent college graduates (in any field) are great candidates while they are looking for a place to land professionally. Also, seasonal retail workers whose hours will be reduced after the holidays are potential candidates. However, during the hiring process, some potential subs may back out due to the fact that in most districts they are 1) required to pay for their own fingerprinting and 2) required to pay upwards of $100 for a substitute license from their state’s Department of Education.

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Reel Them In

We are experiencing many people not taking jobs due to the pay just not being enough to make ends meet and substitute teaching is one of them. What can districts do, besides the obvious pay raise, to increase their sub pool? Perhaps offering hiring bonuses or incentive raises? What about connecting subs with mentor teachers or instructional coaches in the district who can provide a pipeline to contracted positions? Another idea is to provide benefits to subs who work over 20 hours a week. Generally, due to the nature of being non-contracted employees, subs receive no benefits or sick leave.

Staff Retention

Quite frankly, many of the strategies mentioned above can help attract and retain teachers in our schools as well. It isn’t rocket science to understand that you have to treat your employees well to have them enjoy working in your district. If you’re an administrator, ask yourself these questions: Are you piling the most preps on your newest teachers? Are you investing in the well-being of your staff by checking in with them regularly? Are you showing appreciation by having coffee carts, donuts/bagels in the lounge, and little treats in staff mailboxes? These are simple things to do that don’t take much of your time.

One principal in my Mastermind said that she had been welcoming one new hire every week the past few weeks. She made it a point to check in with the new hires several times during their first week to see if they had questions and to connect them with resources.  I had the pleasure of interviewing TJ Vari and Joseph Jones for my podcast “Out of the Trenches” last year. They have written numerous books on improving hiring practices, teacher retention, and employee appreciation. Some of their books include: Building a Winning Team: The Power of a Magnetic Reputation and Retention for a Change. Visit their website: Welcome to TheSchoolHouse302 – TheSchoolHouse302. 

Perhaps you’re an administrator or work in HR in your district. If you have other ideas than those mentioned here to increase the sub pool and attract and retain new teachers you’ve hiring this time of year, I’d love to hear them. Tweet me @danagoodier and mention the hashtags #subshortage #teachershortage.

About Dana Goodier

Dr. Dana Goodier has 20 years of experience in education. She has taught World Languages and English and worked as a middle school administrator. She completed her doctorate degree (Ed.D.) in Educational Leadership early 2020. For her dissertation, she researched reasons parents were opting their students out of high-stakes testing at middle schools and how that affected the district accreditation rating. She often speaks at conferences, providing educators with techniques to minimize off-task behavior and to increase time on task. She is the host of the “Out of the Trenches” podcast, which features educators who share their stories of resiliency. Follow her on Twitter @danagoodier and visit her website at: