Across the country, teacher and substitute teacher shortages have been a major issue, leaving school districts struggling to fill required positions. The demand for substitute teachers has dramatically increased in the recent years as more people leave the teaching profession.
To address this issue, IU faculty members launched a new course, “Guest (Substitute) Teaching Guidelines and Tips,” aimed at helping students navigate the substitute teaching process while providing a much-needed resource to local school districts. The eight-week course is a replicable model, training students to serve a critical community need while gaining hands-on experience and getting paid for their time.
The course was created by Suzanne Thomson, an instructional coach at Rogers Elementary and an adjunct professor in the IU School of Education, and Sharon Daley, associate clinical professor in Literacy, Culture, and Language Education Program Curriculum and Instruction Department, along with help from their colleagues. As an employee of the Monroe County Community School Corporation and IU, Thomson saw an opportunity to address the shortage of substitute teachers and strengthen the relationship between the university and the county’s school district.
“The landscape has changed dramatically over the last 15 years, especially in Monroe County,” Thomson said. “It was almost impossible to even get a job interview at that time. Now, we have teaching positions we cannot fill. People are leaving the profession, and there is not a line of people waiting to take their place. Tapping into a pool of IU students who are eager to learn but who may need the extra bit of help to navigate the logistics of becoming a substitute teacher just made sense.”
One of those students is IU sophomore Grace Merryman, an elementary education major from Fort Wayne who always wanted to substitute teach but said the intensive process, and lack of knowledge, prevented her from actually applying.
“This course really helped me work through all of the requirements for becoming a substitute teacher and allowed me to learn from both my professors and those at MCCSC (Monroe County’s local school district),” Merryman said. “I could ask questions, talk to people with experience and I had support throughout the entire process.”
A total of 17 students completed the online course, which helps students walk through the employment process of a school district (it can be any district, but MCCSC is highly recommended), that in Indiana, requires an Indiana substitute permit and background check. Students can then pick one of three projects: complete the substitute teaching hiring process at MCCSC, complete it at a school district of their choice or create a plan on how they would go about this process.
“Figuring out all of the steps for becoming a substitute teacher is a long and sometimes complicated process,” Daley said. “I understand why people do not do it. It helps to have someone who can walk you through the process on what is needed and in what order.”
In addition to navigating employee logistics, students in the course also created a “sub tub,” or a cheat sheet on best practices when substituting in a classroom. This includes professionalism, networking with people in the building, managing a classroom and developing a lesson plan, if needed.
This provides both the student more preparation to substitute teach and the school district with potential substitute teachers who have done their homework.
“By doing this work now, they are going to have a set of resources they can take with them regardless if they substitute teach now or when they teach in the future,” Thomson said.
The class will continue in the fall 2022 semester, with two, eight-week courses planned. Daley said she would like to expand the class beyond education majors to provide students an opportunity to experience what it is like to teach.
“This course not only helps education majors learn more about their profession and connect with teachers in the field, it also is a great opportunity for students in different majors who might have an interest in teaching to try it out,” Daley said.
For Merryman, she plans to substitute teach in the fall, alongside taking classes. She is grateful for the opportunity to go through the process, which she thinks will help her as she prepares to become an elementary school teacher.
“The support we received from our professors was so beneficial and made this class so successful,” she said. “And by being able to substitute teach, I will be able to gain in-class experience before I begin student teaching.”