Amelia Herring

Finding Good Substitute Teachers

Finding Good Substitute Teachers
Amelia Herring

Being a substitute teacher is a tough job.

They have to try to memorize dozens of names in a day. They have to try to keep order while educating students who often don’t give respect to substitute teachers. They’ve probably been hit in the back by spitballs, pencil erasers, paper airplanes and the occasional foam football. They have to demonstrate the patience of a chess master, adaptability of a chameleon and discipline of a drill sergeant. Many people try to do it but not so many can handle it, much less be good at it.

The Good, the Bad and the Unknown
So a good substitute teacher is worth his or her weight in gold. Unfortunately, unless you have a thorough screening process, you can’t tell which ones will be good and which will be bad until they’ve established their reputation… on the job. The substitute teacher situation in most districts is fluid, with any number of different subs being available at any given time. And since the job will usually have to be filled on the day it becomes available, it won’t be known until then who gets it. That leaves a lot to chance. So how can you make sure you hire good ones?

Safety First
An unfortunate fact of the matter is that there are people who are willing, but clearly unfit, for this duty.

It’s true that any profession can have bad people, but where children are involved the effects of inappropriate behavior can be devastating. So the important question is how can you identify and avoid people like that?

They may be few and far between, but there is no room for error with this kind of hire. Requiring that candidates submit to fingerprinting and a background check is a good practice (and is required in some districts). Also, integrity testing can spot counterproductive, and even dangerous, propensities and patterns of behavior.

Motivation for Education
Some people sub just to supplement their income. Others do it to keep busy. Some do it just because they love it and some have to do it in order to complete a degree program in education because they want to start a teaching career. There’s an easy way to find out: ask. Your substitute teaching application process should be thorough and include the simple question “Why do you want to be a substitute teacher for us?” A combination of passion and experience is ideal.

Professional, Personable, Purposeful
There are people who consider substitute teacher a career (not just a job) and approach it with the full professionalism you might encounter with an executive of a Fortune 500 company. These people are clearly the minority, but are in high demand. How can you spot them if they’ve just applied to your district?

As part of the application process, ask for letters of recommendation candidates may have from previous schools. Also, have your Principal or HR Director interview candidates personally. It will be easy to spot the ones who take the job seriously: they dress professionally, make an effort to greet staff and remember their names, ask questions about safety procedures, come early, and come prepared.

Testing is for Teachers, Too
That said, no matter how wonderfully the candidate presents themselves in an interview or how fabulous their references are, nothing is a good “substitute” for the value of pre-employment testing. With an estimated 40% or more of resumes sporting falsifications, you need to closely examine every applicant. Along with the integrity testing mentioned above, cognitive ability and personality assessments are a must for every good substitute teacher you’re considering.

Time for School
Another way to spot a candidate with potential is by their volunteer work. Teachers who are regularly willing to donate their time to help schools clearly have an emotional investment. That doesn’t automatically translate to teaching prowess, but it’s a good sign.

Spring Forward
Some states and districts require aspiring subs be certified, have a B.A. degree, provide references, complete a training program, interview with the principal, pass cognitive testing, submit to a background check and fingerprinting, and even pass a physical exam.

If you have the resources to process the resulting data as well as a large applicant pool, you’ll find these practices likely to find good quality candidates. Using an online system like SchoolSpring for soliciting candidates and storing and managing documents like applications, references, certifications, interview notes and the like can make the process easier and more efficient.

Good to Go
Once you’ve identified the tops of the class, life will be easier for everyone involved. Your teachers will request their favorite substitutes by name, your staff will enjoy dealing with reliable, dedicated and enthusiastic professionals, your students will look forward to learning with them, and the subs will feel appreciated as a result. Just remember that student safety is the first and most important thing to address. Once you’ve done that by putting your applicants through a vigorous screening process, the door has been opened to many potentially wonderful teaching moments.

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