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Attracting Substitute Teachers in Today’s “Gig Economy”

April 08, 2021   •   Insights

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School districts across the nation are facing massive substitute teacher shortages, from Pennsylvania to Utah. This urgent demand is changing how school districts operate, and many are evolving to meet the needs of modern subs, who often share the new “gig economy” mindset.

What's a gig economy?

The gig economy focuses on gigs, or temporary jobs. This type of economy benefits employees and businesses by meeting immediate needs and accommodating flexible schedules. Many American adults are beginning to favor independent work schedules that allow them to work how and when they want. Thirty-six percent of U.S. workers are currently participating in the gig economy through their primary or secondary jobs.

Gig economy subs are typically workers who want flexibility, whether they’re simply looking for a way to supplement income, considering a career in teaching, are retired, or are checking out different districts. These subs want to find jobs quickly, which means they need easy-to-learn technology and tools that reach them how they want to be reached, such as through text messaging and a free mobile app.

Gig economy subs want independence and plenty of options. They may have multiple jobs and value schedule flexibility over long-term gigs at schools. They also prefer being paid in a timely manner for their work. 

Unfortunately, adapting to meet the demands of the gig economy sub can be challenging for school administrators, especially when online substitute management systems haven’t kept up. The result? One in three sub requests are going unfilled in some districts, and the national fill rate average sits at 54 percent.


How can you bring subs to your district?

The new challenges of the gig economy can leave many school administrators perplexed over how to attract, engage, and retain modern subs. But there’s hope! The first step is attracting substitute teachers in fresh, creative ways. Here are just a few ideas:

Engage the community.

  • Identify potential candidates from the local community, such as parents, friends, and relatives.
  • Partner with local colleges and universities to tap into a new pool of potential candidates.
  • Set up a news alert for any local teaching layoffs that could lead to educators who are looking for flexible gigs.
  • Offer subs monetary incentives, such as daily bonuses, stipends, or even free lunches.

Reach out to retired teachers.

  • Encourage retired teachers to return to the classroom by reducing restrictions on qualifications and allowing them to keep their pensions. 
  • Keep retired teachers in your working pool postretirement by providing specialty training, incentives, and social networking opportunities. 

Communicate regularly.

  • Use newsletters, text messages, and email blasts to touch base with subs at least once or twice per week. 
  • Use social media channels to bring in more candidates.

Keep your options open.

  • Extend allotted time frames for inactive subs. Wait a full year before removing inactive subs from the roster of availability instead of just a few months. 
  • Set up a readily available list of preferred substitutes to contact when you need teaching staff. 
  • Recruit student teachers and part-time educators.


How can you keep your subs coming back?

Provide a sense of support and purpose.

Just as important as finding substitutes is retaining them. Supporting substitute teachers can go a long way. A 2019 Gallup poll found that millennials and members of Gen Z especially want to know that they’re working toward a more meaningful purpose. 

Showing genuine gratitude and appreciation to substitute teachers will help them feel as if their work is being valued, and offering incentives such as a free lunch can make them more likely to return. You can also ask local businesses to offer discounts or special prices for subs, which will help make them feel more valued by the community. 

Get to know your subs on a personal level.

Taking the time to understand each sub on a personal level will also help make them feel valued. Do they prefer to teach the same course or do they enjoy exploring various subjects? Do they enjoy variety, staying with a certain class and group of students for a few weeks and then moving to a different spot? Or do they want to work with the same group of students each time they fill in at a district?

Provide quality training for substitutes.

Another way to offer substitute support is through regular substitute training programs based on your district’s current needs. These training programs can help them learn how to better manage issues such as problematic student behavior, one of the many reasons that some teachers decide to abandon the profession. 

Offer modern technology that works the way they do.

Lastly, offering subs flexibility and a convenient way to find gigs can also keep them coming back. Subs don’t have time anymore for outdated online substitute management systems that are hard to use or substitute job notification apps that require extra fees and lack needed features. 

Modern subs need modern technology, such as substitute management systems that will alert them of available gigs in real time based on their job preferences and skill set. Notifications should happen on the go via text and mobile to accommodate the gig economy lifestyle. And subs should have voice and choice in the types of assignments they take, with full visibility into the assignment, classroom and building-level details, and the ability to take just part of a multiday absence. 

Finding substitute teachers in today’s gig economy may seem difficult, but making some strategic changes to your approach, supported by a more modern online substitute management system, can dramatically increase fill rates. 

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