Research by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute suggests that a ten-day increase in teacher absenteeism per year represents a learning loss of 6-10 days in English language arts and up to 15-25 days in math. When that teacher returns, there is often additional work setting the classroom to rights and resolving interpersonal or behavioral issues that occurred during the absence.
This drain on time and resources doesn’t just affect the absent teachers. Classrooms staffed by untrained or underequipped substitutes often require additional administrative oversight and support from nearby teaching staff. When a substitute teacher is not available, the entire school may feel the pinch as schedules are disrupted, electives cancelled, and classes doubled up. The impact on student learning is tangible, as best instructional strategies fly out of the window in favor of maintaining a semblance of order or efficiency.
Why Are Best Instructional Strategies Important?
Kids crave structure and find security in routine. Teachers provide direction, guidance, and reminders as they attend to students’ physical safety and emotional security while they learn. Changes to the daily routine have a negative impact on classroom morale. The ripple effect can create problems for teachers and students in nearby classrooms, as well, especially if classes end up being doubled or a substitute teacher walks into a shift unprepared. As a result, some of the most crucial instructional strategies may get lost:
- Goal-setting and mentorship. Not all students are high-achievers, and many will need some extra help with staying on track. Teachers who set individual goals for their students and act as a mentor and cheerleader will see increased engagement. When students’ mentors are absent, these goals may be forgotten or sidetracked, especially if a substitute teacher is not able or willing to step into a similarly constructive role.
- Framing education as enjoyable. The best way to convince students that learning is fun is to enjoy teaching. Frequent teacher absences not only undermine the idea that showing up for class is a requirement, but also call into question how enjoyable it is to study. This is compounded when a substitute teacher is overly stressed or strict as a result of unpreparedness.
- Encouraging classroom discussion. Discussing a lesson as a class allows students to learn from each other. It also gives them an opportunity to synthesize and digest lessons instead of constantly being fed new information. When teacher absences result in time constraints or doubled-up classes, this method of learning is compromised.
- Acknowledging each student’s uniqueness. Students need to feel seen and understood in the classroom if they are going to thrive. Quality teachers will recognize and cultivate each of their student’s unique abilities and strengths. When the teacher is absent, replaced by an unprepared substitute, the students’ individual momentum can falter without recognition.
Teacher absences, unavoidable though they may be, are one of the biggest interruptions to the flow of the instructional cycle. Each time a teacher is absent, learning is disrupted. Multiply this by the average number of days missed per year by classroom teachers, and the need for a proactive and comprehensive absence management plan becomes crystal clear.
Identifying the Solution: Better Substitute Teachers
What if substitute teachers could have a positive impact on student learning, expertly establishing authority and maintaining instructional momentum? Rather than just “holding down the fort,” trained and acclimated substitute teachers would step in, allowing meaningful instruction to continue despite the absence of regular classroom teachers.
Professional substitutes trained to successfully implement a lesson plan skillfully guide individual students, encourage cooperative learning, and manage classroom technology. These competent educators expertly command the attention of a classroom full of students, easing transitions and exhibiting “withitness.” And, armed with positive behavioral interventions, they quickly diffuse conflicts, thus maintaining the flow of the lesson.
The key to fostering this kind of professional substitute teacher is preparation and training. Whether substitutes are retired educators, recent graduates, or transfers from other professions, they need ongoing exposure to best instructional practices. This training should be tailored to each district’s specific initiatives and school improvement goals. It should be hands-on, in-person, and on-demand.
How Substitute Teachers Can Support Best Instructional Strategies
In many districts, substitute teachers receive only a brief orientation that covers employment and legal issues. Often, that’s all the time a school can afford to spend on new substitutes, as they are scrambling to get their absences covered. Of course, in this scenario, best instructional strategies such as goal-setting, mentorship, and catering to individual student ability are going to take a back seat.
One way to combat this time crunch and make sure that your substitute teachers enter your classrooms fully prepared is to partner with an educational staffing agency. By providing relevant resources and training, a good agency will prepare their staff to thrive in a variety of diverse teaching placements.
ESS, the nation’s largest education-exclusive staffing agency, is leveraging decades of experience to create a select workforce that eliminates negative perceptions of substitute teachers and elevates the profession. We prepare your substitute teachers to engage students in a meaningful way. More than merely a placeholder in the classroom, our professional substitutes contribute to the critical task of educating K-12 students by supporting the best instructional strategies.
Let ESS rewrite the substitute teacher narrative by providing a well-trained, diversely qualified pool of education professionals who support best practice instructional strategies during inevitable teacher absences. Through extensive training and expert oversight, we will make your substitute teaching staff a powerful force for meaningful instruction. Contact ESS today to start building a team of professional substitute teachers for your district.
Phil has been supporting school districts across the country for more than 12 years. He works hands-on with districts implementing customized solutions to improve their substitute teacher and support staff programs. When he’s not increasing districts’ fill rates, Phil can be found swinging his clubs on a golf course.