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What is the cause of the substitute teacher shortage?

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

The shortage of substitute teachers is a serious issue in the United States. Let's take a look at a few of the root causes.


Substitutes are often appointed to challenging classrooms but lack the training to be effective.


One cause of the substitute teacher shortage is that substitutes are often assigned to difficult classrooms, where they lack the training and support needed to be effective. The result? Frustrated substitutes hesitant to return.


Substitutes are often assigned to challenging classrooms because they're seen as easier than permanent teachers--and thus more expendable when it comes time for layoffs or other budget cuts. In reality, however, many substitutes lack the skills needed for these situations. They may not know how to handle behavioral challenges, they might not be familiar with lesson plans, or perhaps their training didn't include teaching special needs students (which comprise about 17 percent of U.S. public school enrollment).


Without sufficient preparation, these issues will inevitably lead some substitute teachers down a path toward failure--and potentially cause them to quit after just one day on the job!


Declining enrollment in teacher preparation programs.


Declining enrollment in teacher preparation programs is another major factor contributing to the substitute teacher shortage. The number of students enrolling in traditional teaching programs has declined significantly over the past decade, while alternative certification programs have seen an increase.


  • According to a 2018 report by the Learning Policy Institute (LPI), there was a 23% drop in enrollment between 2008 and 2017 at public colleges offering education degrees. This means fewer people are becoming certified teachers today than they were ten years ago--and fewer still will be eligible for employment as substitutes or full-time employees at schools that require a bachelor's degree for their teachers' positions.*


Fewer retired teachers are interested in becoming substitutes.


The number of retired teachers who are interested in being substitutes is declining. Many teachers leave the profession before reaching retirement age, which means there's a smaller pool of candidates to choose from. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about one-third of public school teachers leave each year for other professions or for personal reasons such as illness or family responsibilities.


It's not all about money, but some districts pay less than their local McDonalds.

The real culprit is a lack of respect for the job.


  • Substitute teachers are often paid less than their permanent counterparts. In fact, some districts pay their subs less than the local McDonald's! This means that it can be difficult for substitutes to earn a living wage.

  • Many districts don't pay substitutes until weeks after they work--and sometimes not at all if there are errors or problems with paperwork or other administrative issues.


Finding reasons behind the substitute teacher shortage can help us fix the problem.


HelloSubs is working hand in hand with schools and districts to address these challenges and modernize substitute teaching. We believe this problem can be solved.




Solving the substitute teacher shortage in the U.S.

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