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Why Substitute Fill Rates Matter (and Two Ways to Tackle Them)

Red Rover

Insights | October 04, 2021

Why do substitute fill rates matter?

More school districts across the U.S. are looking for subs to fill virtual teaching positions. Issues related to the COVID-19 virus, a rapidly growing gig economy, and a nationwide shortage of qualified subs are contributing to an increased demand for substitute teachers who can thrive in virtual classrooms.

You’ve probably seen the problems firsthand. Unfilled teacher absences can cause absolute chaos: last-minute scrambling, combining classrooms, pulling other teachers or principals, or heading to study hall. It adds stress on administrators, teachers, and students. But most importantly, a lack of qualified subs negatively impacts student learning. 

When school districts face sub shortages, they often have to lower sub teaching standards to increase the substitute pool. But the “lower the bar, widen the gate” mindset can backfire. Research already points to a decrease in student learning when teachers are absent, and lowering substitute quality requirements adds to this problem.

Teacher absences may be inevitable—but increasing fill rates with quality substitutes can help lessen the impact. 

So how can you increase fill rates?

What’s a strategic approach to substitute management?

To truly tackle fill rates and the sub shortage, a change is needed from “firefighting mode” to a more strategic approach to substitute management. It isn’t a simple task—it takes time, strategy, and patience. But a clear, two-pronged approach to strategic substitute management can make a huge difference. Let’s take a closer look.

1. Attract, engage, and retain quality substitutes.

COVID-19 and a fast-growing gig economy are changing the workforce; subs are concerned about their health and want flexibility, support, and lots of information. 

Substitute teachers are currently in high demand, which means that districts need to meet them where they are. According to a recent survey, nearly 85 percent of today’s subs want convenience. They’re technologically savvy and prefer to receive job notifications on their mobile devices, while nearly 80 percent prefer to be alerted via text message.

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Districts making just this one change—pivoting from robocalling and desktop-first systems to mobile-first—are seeing increases in fill rates, often an increase of 10 percent or higher!

A mobile-friendly absence management system will also provide a fast, convenient way for substitutes to manage their schedules. Fewer hurdles mean higher fill rates!

Want to dig deeper into attracting, engaging, and retaining substitute teachers? Check out these resources:

2. Better prepare substitutes for the classroom.

While your school district’s fill rates matter, the quality of your subs is equally as important. 

Subs want to be prepared, and they want lots of information. Survey results found that the information available surrounding factors such as subject area, grade, school location, and overall school environment influence whether or not substitutes will accept a job.

Providing thorough lesson plans is also key along with advanced prep and support for unique needs, such as for virtual substitute teaching. The more you can remove uncertainty, the more your substitutes can step confidently into the classroom and focus on instruction.

Providing subs with ongoing support and training can also help. Building substitute training programs to provide continued learning for subs (based on the district and individual needs) can help subs feel prepared when facing challenges or difficulties in the classroom.

The stakes are too high to casually address the substitute shortage. 

The substitute shortage has many districts in firefighting mode, but lowering the requirements for potential candidates can make matters worse. Support, education, better training, and meeting subs where they are will bring in more qualified and prepared subs, lessening the impact of teacher absences.

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