Attracting and retaining substitute teachers—during the pandemic and beyond

Have you read about Patrice Pullen, a Florida substitute who works for our parent company, Kelly Education? She’s the kind of substitute teacher that schools hope for and students adore. She’s engaging, upbeat, and dedicated to students—willing to show up for them, even during a pandemic.  

Here’s the thing: Substitute teachers like her are in short supply. According to our Education Week research, even before the pandemic, districts were able to fill only 54 percent of teacher absences every day.  

Since schools have reopened, many veteran teachers opted not to return to the classroom due to concerns about health and safety. Substitute teachers have the same health concerns. Teachers who have chosen to return are absent more. Symptoms that might indicate COVID will sideline a teacher for a minimum of three days, as they get tested and wait for results.  

All this has led to historically low fill rates. There are things we can do right now that can help ease the pressure. But to ensure there’s a teacher in every classroom, we’ll also need to make changes to the system. Here are a few ideas. 

  • Increase substitute pay. School budgets are tight, but it’s hard to attract people when other industries are paying more. Hobby Lobby just raised its starting hourly wage to $17; compare that to the $13/hour on average that substitutes make.  

Some districts have already taken action by offering long-term pay starting on the first day a substitute teaches at a school, rather than making them teach for 20 days. In Jefferson County, Ala., a long-term substitute with a valid teaching certificate will get $220 per day instead of $135.  

Here are a few more datapoints below: 



Daily Rate Increase 

Aliquippa (PA) School District 


From $90 to $125 

Kinnikinnick (IL) District 131 


From $85 to $100 

Warren County School District (PA) 

From $95 to $105 


Rockford (MN) ISD 883 

From $85 to $110 


  • Revisit substitute teacher requirements and consider lobbying your state to change them temporarily to ease the crisis. For example, the Missouri Board of Education has temporarily given candidates the option of taking 20 hours of state-approved online training, instead of 60 hours of college credits. And Iowa changed the requirement from a bachelor’s degree to an associate degree or 60 hours of college credits. Other states are considering changes as well. 

  • Support alternative credentialing. The specifics vary by state, but traditional teaching programs require a four-year degree. Instead, support alternative teaching certifications. These generally take less time and money to complete than traditional programs, clearing a path to becoming the teacher. These programs provide diverse candidates a pathway to participate in on-the-job credentialing and the opportunity to secure a career in the classroom. 

  • Help us help you! If you’re a current Teachers On Call partner, please include us in your recruiting events, add us to your Facebook page, and link to Teachers On Call from the front page of your website. People who have a tie to your schools (e.g., alumni or parents of students) are more likely to consider substitute teaching. 

At Teachers On Call, it is our mission to power the future of learning through the right talent. If we work together and focus our efforts, we’re confident we can give students the educational experience they deserve in order to conquer what’s next.