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Hiring Great Substitute Teachers

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Teacher vacancies, the shortage of qualified teachers, and teacher illness are a few of the reasons great substitute teachers are in high demand in Texas schools.

The Need for Substitute Teachers

Texas school districts, like so many across the country, are having trouble keeping classrooms open and functioning in the absence of teachers. Finding willing and qualified substitute teachers is a constant challenge for schools, but this year substitute teachers have been key to keeping classrooms open and mitigating student learning loss.

The demand for substitute teachers has sparked discussion with district leaders on how to attract and reward these important individuals. For substitute teachers who are willing to commit to full-time positions, the options are plenty. Districts across the state are providing higher compensation rates, offering flexible schedules, and lowering qualification standards to attract a larger pool of candidates to their schools. Substitutes can practically choose the district and assignment for the day.

Unfortunately, even with more recruitment and hiring incentives, districts are still struggling to find people who have the skills and capacity to fill in when needed.

Substitute Requirements

National studies show that substitute teachers are hard to find, yet the demand continues to grow.

In Texas, each school district may decide locally on how to set requirements for the hiring of substitute teachers. While there is no common standard across districts or regions, there are several qualifications typically seen across the state including the following:

  • Education: Most districts require some baseline of education. However, it doesn’t have to be a degree or a certain number of college hours. The district can decide the education requirement for substitute teachers which may include college hours but not necessarily a degree.
  • Certification: Teacher certification is not required to be a substitute teacher in Texas. In some schools, certified substitute teachers are recruited for certain assignments or schools. Certified substitute teachers are usually paid more and assigned to long-term or more challenging assignments.
  • Background Check: Candidates must successfully pass appropriate background checks to be hired as a substitute teacher in Texas schools. Typically, school districts will help the candidate with this process.
  • Training: Many school districts provide district-created training to the newly hired substitute teacher. The amount and level of training may depend on the education and experience level of the substitute teacher, as well as teacher certification credentials.

Since districts can locally decide the requirements for hiring substitutes, revamping current requirements may help widen the candidate pool. Districts should consider revising education requirements and possibly looking at important characteristics that help substitutes succeed beyond education and certification.

Qualities of a Great Substitute

While many substitute teacher candidates can pass the basic requirements for the job, districts often overlook the importance of the substitute having the skills and ability to be successful. Substitute teachers mostly work independently and autonomously when assigned to a classroom. They essentially minimize the disruption of the teacher being absent and support continuous student learning.

Unfortunately, many substitute teachers find the job of replacing the teacher very overwhelming and are often unsuccessful. To be a successful substitute teacher, it takes a certain skill set and amount of fortitude and ability. Not all candidates are prepared to work with all students, so districts should be mindful of who they are hiring to replace campus teachers.

Characteristics of highly successful substitute teachers include:

  • Relationship Builder: The substitute should be able to build relationships with students as well as other adults on campus. Connecting with students will increase success in the classroom, and positive relationships with the adults on campus will provide a support system when needed.
  • Flexible & Adaptable: The substitute should be able to work with all students and in most content areas. The job of a substitute can vary each period and unless serving in a long-term assignment most often changes each day.
  • Classroom Manager: While a background in education is not necessary, it may help a substitute understand the framework of effective classroom management. Maintaining classroom discipline is key to student safety and the continuity of learning during a teacher’s absence.
  • Professional: The most successful substitutes have utmost respect for the job. They maintain high standards in appearance, communication, timeliness, and organization. They ask questions for clarification and help, when needed. They also take pride in helping students learn and achieve their goals when the teacher is absent.
  • Passionate & Positive: The role of a substitute teacher is a difficult one, but a great substitute will be passionate about helping the classroom teacher and students. They will also provide a level of positivity in the classroom for students who may struggle without the regular teacher. Substitute teachers can be a true asset to many campuses when given the opportunity to shine.

Substitute teachers are vital to the success of the campus, and great substitutes will be willing to do what is necessary to help students and others on campus. Education and experience are helpful, but the attitude and willingness to persevere are some of the most needed qualities of a great substitute.

HR Considerations

District leaders are under the pressure of staffing shortages due to the challenges of the ongoing pandemic and the shortage of qualified teachers. Because of these challenges, substitute teachers are in high demand, yet the pool is shallow in many areas across the state. Many districts are resorting to placing anyone willing to work in the classroom. But this method can lead to the detriment of the students and the campus.

To recruit and retain excellent substitute teachers, districts may need to think differently about expectations and compensation when hiring a substitute teacher. Key areas of consideration include:

  • Education Requirements: Many districts have education requirements for substitute teachers which may require upwards of 60 college hours to be hired. Districts may want to consider lowering the education standard for substitutes. Districts also may want to consider candidates with a high school diploma and some college hours. Often, successful substitute teachers have the passion and desire to work with students in the classroom regardless of their education background.
  • Compensation: Across the state, many districts have increased daily rates to attract and keep great substitutes working. Some districts have offered additional compensation for substitutes willing to take long-term assignments or work in challenging teaching assignments. There is no limit to the creativity of districts when designing a compensation plan for substitute teacher pay. Districts can provide multiple compensation options if budgeted funds are available.
  • Flexible Scheduling: To attract substitutes, some districts are providing flexible scheduling options. This may include allowing the substitute to cover classes in a block of time and then releasing them once all classes are covered. Some districts also are allowing substitutes to work half days, mornings, or afternoons to accommodate another job, parenting obligations, or other commitments.
  • Training & Support: The more support and training provided to substitute teachers the more prepared they are to manage all types of students and classrooms. Many districts offer an initial training for substitutes. However, it may be prudent for districts to offer periodic training throughout the year as a refresher for specific topics. The district should also provide additional support measures to substitutes for more challenging assignments. This may include co-teaching with a peer teacher or the presence of administration for periods of time.
  • Priority Assignments: Districts should evaluate the education, experience, and credentials of the substitute teacher pool and determine how to assign substitutes to specific assignments. Certified substitutes should be placed in more long-term assignments or to classrooms with a greater need. Uncertified substitutes or substitutes new to the job could be given fewer demanding assignments.

As staffing challenges continue to grow, districts will need to think differently about employing and retaining their pool of substitute teachers. To keep great substitute teachers motivated to return to campus each day, districts are going to have to meet the needs and wants more readily. Strategic hiring practices are one step to finding the best substitutes, but districts must think more broadly in how to support and retain substitutes over time. 

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Jennifer Barton
Jennifer Barton
Senior HR and Compensation Consultant

Jennifer Barton joined HR Services in 2018. She assists with compensation planning and development, staffing reviews, training, and other HR projects. Prior to joining TASB, Barton served for 19 years in Texas public schools as a principal, assistant principal, teacher, and coach.

Barton earned master’s degrees in education and educational leadership from The University of Texas at Austin and Lamar University. She holds a Texas superintendent certificate and is a SHRM-CP.

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TASB HR Services supports HR leadership in Texas schools through membership offerings in specialized training, consulting, and other services.
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