The Power of Quality Substitutes:
How Hiring and Maintaining the Best Substitutes Can Improve Your Charter School


Benefits of Quality Substitutes

Hiring Quality Long-Term Subs

Managing & Supporting Subs

Maintaining Quality Substitutes

Measuring Impact

Support For Absence Management

To say today’s education system looks vastly different than it did just three years ago is like saying the Nile is just another river in Egypt. Since the COVID-19 pandemic nearly brought education to a standstill in the spring of 2020, schools have been juggling hybrid teaching, electronic learning, a renewed focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion, increased social-emotional learning, and trauma-informed teaching, just to name a few. 

As administrators maneuver these circumstances, they simultaneously have to deal with a growing teacher shortage. Teachers are choosing to retire early, fewer people are entering the profession, and teachers have begun to take more mental health days; subsequently, administrators find themselves in a substitute crisis.

Educators have long been aware of the impact of substitute teacher quality on student achievement, especially for long-term absences. This post-COVID world has exacerbated that need exponentially. In the case of charter schools, principals have the added pressure of keeping students enrolled in their schools. In 2023, families have more choices available than ever before. Charter school principals must keep various stakeholders happy, including parents, staff, and their board of directors.

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The Benefits of Quality Substitutes

Administrators are keenly aware of the importance of maintaining instructional continuity. When students are absent, the expectation is that they will follow up with teachers and work together to fill in the gaps. Conversely, when a teacher is absent, the expectation should be that learning will continue as planned. For that to occur, schools need to hire qualified, dependable, and confident substitutes. Under these circumstances, schools see improved student engagement and behavior management.


A Desperate Solution: Administrators Filling In

When substitutes can not be found, administrators–particularly in charter schools with minimal staffing–often step in to fill the need. Consequently, this takes them away from other vital responsibilities. This is not an ideal situation, as administrators must be able to react to situations as they arise, and if they are teaching a class, they cannot do so. That is not to say that a principal getting (back) into a classroom has no benefits; covering the occasional class can achieve many constructive purposes. Administrators can get “back to basics” with kids, renew their passion for education, and build relationships with students. That being said, school principals covering classes should be the exception rather than the rule.

Even if a school principal does choose to cover a class, they are only one person! That leaves other, already overwhelmed, classroom teachers to cover remaining vacancies. School principals and administrators must do everything in their power to prevent teacher burnout, which is, according to Data Scientist Imed Bouchrika, Ph.D., how 44% of K-12 teachers feel.

Impacts on Teacher and Support Staff Morale

When teachers and support staff are pulled to cover absences not filled by substitutes, it begins a vicious cycle - teachers and staff cover classes and become burned out, leading to more sick days being taken (for both physical and/or mental health), increasing the need for more substitutes, and eventually taking a toll on morale. When morale is low, it affects the entire building culture negatively, and student achievement suffers.

On the other hand, when teacher and support staff morale is high, student achievement benefits!

Reasons Charter Schools May Need Short-Term Substitute Teachers

Short-term positions, which are often last-minute requirements, vary and include:

Reasons Charter Schools May Need Long-Term Substitute Teachers

Long-term substitute requirements include filling in for:


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Hiring Quality Long-Term Substitutes 

In corporate America, when absenteeism becomes a problem, it can result in a significant loss of productivity. Fellow staff members may compensate for some of that work; in some instances, employees can work overtime to compensate for missed time. However, when teacher absenteeism is high in schools, it adversely affects student learning.

031723Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs tells us that students need food, water, shelter, safety, and the ability to relax before focusing on academics. Children must have these needs fulfilled before they can recall, understand, analyze, evaluate, and create.

For students to feel safe and connected, consistency in who delivers their education must be just that- consistent. It takes time to build relationships; if a new substitute walks into the room every day, there is no time to do that. Hiring quality long-term substitutes can prevent this from being an issue in schools. 


Staffing Agencies

Charter school administrators are already spread thin, and the current teacher and substitute shortage is not helping to lighten the load. According to Education Week, many states and districts have lowered their standards to build up their pools of available substitute teachers. But teacher absences cannot simply be filled with a body; charter schools need qualified, reliable, competent substitutes with strong interpersonal skills, stamina, and a genuine affinity for educating all students. With this in mind, many schools turn to third-party providers for staffing assistance. While there are many recruiting resources out there, finding an agency whose sole focus is placing educators is a valuable asset for schools.

Sub Teacher Source stands out as an exception. Sub Teacher Source is made up of current and former certified teachers, special education directors, school administrators, staffing specialists, and recruiters equipped to assist schools in staffing for success. The Sub Teacher Source team understands the importance of curating right-fit talent for schools.

Outsourcing absence management with an agency that has experience such as Sub Teacher Source is a huge time-saver! Such educational staffing includes candidate pre-screening and vetting. Sub Teacher Source ensures candidates meet state and district credentialing and compliance requirements, such as education, level II background clearances, and training on emergency procedures. Sub Teacher Source substitute teachers practice sensitivity and awareness of the values and culture of the schools they serve.

Over and above this, charter schools need assistance from agencies that will take the time to find a candidate that can fill the educational needs of each particular position, whether it be a degree in math or a bilingual science teacher. Ideally, Sub Teacher Source curates a pool of substitute teachers to meet the specific needs of each partner school.

Competitive Compensation & Training

Charter schools can attract quality substitutes by offering competitive compensation to substitute teachers. Sub Teacher Source uses compensation benchmarking to set a competitive living wage for substitutes.

Substitute teacher staffing agencies should also provide thorough orientation and training to subs. For example, substitutes should receive training on various classroom management and instructional strategies, such as:

  • Introductions and engagement

  • Icebreakers and Energizers 

  • Using proximity to help manage student behavior

  • What to do when students finish lessons left by the classroom teacher

  • Strategies for redirection

  • How to prepare to for effective substitute teaching at a moment’s notice

  • The power of establishing routines 

Overall best practices for substitutes should be a standard. As Haim G. Ginott famously realized:

“(Teachers) possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous.” 

With this in mind, training is vital to the students' welfare, the substitute teachers' success, and the overall achievement of the school as a whole.


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Managing and Supporting Quality Substitutes

When substitutes are managed well and provided with quality support, they are confident and better able to step in on short notice and deliver instruction. To say that can be challenging in a large school with hundreds of students and dozens of staff members is an understatement. Substitute teacher staffing agencies must have a unified platform for training substitute teachers that they place in schools. Expectations and guidelines need to be made clear, and communication between the school, the substitute, and agency should be ongoing. 


Ongoing Support and Feedback

Like professionals in any other industry, substitute teachers need to be valued and supported. They need to feel as though they are part of the school community. Many employment services simply place substitutes and assume they can and will “fend for themselves.” A substitute logs on to their website to look for an assignment; when they find one, they have no contact with the agency again until they need another placement.

Charter schools that choose to work with a substitute teacher staffing agency should be able to rely on the agency to impart continued support and feedback for their placements once they begin work in a building. Top tier agencies, such as Sub Teacher Source, provide the ongoing training, mentorship, check-ins, and coaching that proves indispensable when it comes to the success of substitute teachers. 

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Maintaining Quality Substitutes

Educators recognize that teachers need professional development. If they want substitutes to feel valued and continue to become better educators, schools need to extend their professional development opportunities to their subs, as well. All things being equal, it would be even better if the school and its staffing agency partner offered professional development!

Good substitutes are often overused and taken advantage of by schools - albeit unintentionally. In a way, it’s a backward compliment - principals and teachers see those subs doing a good job and often request them when they need coverage. Schools need to tread lightly and be mindful not to “abuse” their best substitutes, and inadvertently chase them out of the building! School leaders that invest the time and energy in hiring quality substitutes are rewarded with loyal subs who want to work there.

Depending on the situation, substitute teachers are not always given a prep period during the school day. They may have a “regular” teaching schedule, with five classes to teach for the same teacher and cover two additional classes for other vacancies in the building. As a result, they may work from the start of the day to the sound of the bell at the end of the day, with only a thirty-minute lunch to catch their breath. The effects of teacher burnout have gotten a lot of publicity over the past few years; school leaders need to ensure the same does not happen to quality substitute teachers.


According to Indeed, recognition is one of the top five motivating factors in the workplace. Substitute teachers are not an exception to this rule. In fact, since they may only be in a building sporadically, recognition is even more important.

CASE IN POINT: A suburban middle school in Pennsylvania needed a long-term, 12-week substitute for an 8th-grade social studies class. The school was lucky enough to have access to an outstanding long-term sub. A few weeks in, while on a field trip with students, the substitute returned to a beautiful flower bouquet on her desk! Two administrators had taken the time to show their appreciation for how she was helping her students (and, in turn, them). The substitute's work was recognized as she began to feel run-down and underappreciated in her role. The recognition served to reinvigorate her passion and purpose. 

While this is an example of a larger nod of appreciation, there are plenty of (free) ways to show employees they are valued. 


Sub Teacher Spotlights

Having a “Sub Teacher Spotlight” is another way to help substitutes feel a part of the staff in a school. A spotlight can feature in a school newspaper, a weekly update sent out to parents and staff, shared during a faculty meeting, or on morning announcements! It can include a short blurb that gives a little background on a substitute (perhaps especially those in long-term positions), their certifications, experience, qualifications, etc.

April Collage

Building Relationships—Removing Isolation

Substitutes can feel isolated and alone, especially when they enter a new school. Building relationships and community within the substitute teacher pool is a valuable tool. A mentor program run through either the school or educational staffing agency can go a long way toward achieving this goal. Having a group of peers to rely on, bounce ideas off of, and share experiences with could help alleviate some of the stress subs experience. Feeling like they are a part of something larger can be the difference between apathy and empathy, indifference and excitement, and success and failure.

Substitute Teacher Programs

Charter schools need to create a sustainable substitute teacher program. As previously mentioned, if an agency is effective, they can customize a substitute teacher pool for their partner schools. When schools find a substitute that works well within their school and/or a particular grade level or subject matter, they should have an easy path to getting them in their building more regularly. Asking for and receiving feedback from schools regarding the strength and weaknesses of substitutes should play a major part in identifying each school's preferred sub within the sub pool.


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Measuring the Impact of Quality Substitutes 

In a perfect world, when a teacher cannot be in class for whatever reason, the learning should continue with minimal disruption. Finding and maintaining quality substitute teachers is essential to accomplish this goal. When classes run smoothly, schools run smoothly. When schools run smoothly, teachers and administrators can dedicate more time and energy on ways to improve their schools and better serve students.

If charter schools do not have quality substitutes to step in when the need arises, it impacts the entire building—from teachers and school leaders having to cover classes, to poor classroom management, loss of learning, and lack of social-emotional support for students. Quality substitute teachers can help reduce teacher burnout, boost staff morale, lower teacher workload, and improve the quality and effectiveness of the overall school performance.

A successful educational staffing agency will gather feedback and insights from substitute teachers and school administrators, such as:

  • How do you describe a superstar in this environment? 

  • What are three adjectives to describe your right-fit substitute teacher (or school)? 

  • How do you describe someone who doesn’t do well in this environment? 

Asking these questions gives a clear picture of what a school values and what they don’t. Regular communication and cultivating relationships are invaluable. Charter schools need to work with an agency with a staff with a heart to serve and a passion for education. 

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Charter schools have burned-out teachers who are struggling with burned-out students coming from homes with burned-out parents. There can be no growth without change, and hiring quality, dependable substitute teachers is one major change that can lead to considerable growth.

Families entrust their children to schools, and in the case of charter schools, they consciously make that decision year after year. It’s refreshing and comforting to know that there are companies solely dedicated to education. Sub Teacher Source is a well-informed, nurturing, holistic substitute teacher staffing agency that embraces the process and path of education. 

Access Support For Absence Management

School administrators have a lot on their plate, particularly if they manage a charter school, and one of the keys to success is the ability to delegate. Imagine how much easier finding and managing substitutes would be if someone handled all of this for you!

As a charter school administrator, you must ensure your school runs smoothly, maintain enthusiastic staff, and keep children and parents happy. By partnering with Sub Teacher Source, you can consistently fill absences with vetted and prepared educators to help accomplish all your goals. Sub Teacher Source is ready and waiting to help charter schools fill their needs, whether filling all of your staffing needs or supplementing a service already in use.

Visit Sub Teacher Source to learn more about how they can assist you. Reap the benefits of working with a company committed to helping schools achieve optimal performance. 

the power of substitutes

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