BIG CORPORATION APPROACHES TO SCHOOL DISTRICTS DON'T WORK
Substitute teacher staffing agencies started popping up in the northeast nearly 20 years ago. They were supposed to be the answer, to what was the beginning of the substitute teacher shortage. These for-profit corporations utilized a one-size-fits-all approach in recruiting new substitutes, without regard for demographics, school district and site-level teaching philosophy/culture, effective outreach, proper training, nor support for district staff and substitutes.
On paper, this initially seemed like a good solution to the sub shortage, and these big corporations secured multi-million dollar contracts with school districts. However, school districts and Superintendents who employed a staffing agency, quickly came under fire with teachers, administrative staff, and parents. The theme was consistent: the fill rates were the same or worse than before, the quality of subs was awful, and the double-digit million dollar contracts for these staffing agencies was a waste of the district’s precious resources.
Here we are 20 years later, and these same districts that used these agencies are in an even greater crisis. So why don’t big corporations, like staffing agencies work?
1. Generic, Outdated Recruitment Efforts
Substitute teaching, as a means of part-time employment, suffers from extremely poor public relations and marketing. The job conjures up images of spit-balls and rowdy students. To compound the problem, people who may not share that negative connotation, but would benefit from this supplemental income, assume they have to be a credentialed teacher in order to sub. To break down these kinds of misconceptions, a grassroots, person-to-person, intelligently targeted effort is required.
As one former staffing agency substitute told me, “They let this guy in his 50s, who looked like ‘ZZ Top’ go sub in a kindergarten class, long beard, leather jacket, and all. They were sending subs into classrooms who sometimes left the students unattended, or made personal calls with their feet up on the teacher’s desk. And they would send subs, who indicated a preference for only high school classrooms, into pre-K and kinder classes, where the sub was ill-equipped and spoke inappropriately with the children, because he didn’t know how to relate or work with such young students.”
In recruiting, these corporations cast too wide a net, which has the effect of snaring candidates that are completely inappropriate for subbing and supervising children. Renting a table at a job fair, renting a big billboard sign by a freeway, or Craigslist advertising is not what innovation in recruitment looks like.
2. Inadequate Training
Staffing agencies provide infrequent, generic training, that does little to really prepare and support subs new to a classroom. New agency recruits can even “train” online. Let’s be real for a moment here. Anyone who has done a “mandatory” online training, knows you can completely ignore it while you watch TV or cook dinner, you just keep moving the mouse, so the program continues to think you’re actively paying attention. That is not the kind of “training” we want for people entrusted with our students.
Meaningful training requires a relaxed, open forum where subs who are completely new to classrooms can learn and ask questions, and exchange information with more experienced subs and teachers, about classroom management tips, how to follow a lesson plan, some basic common core math (so they can help the students), procedures for students with IEPs or behavioral issues, appropriate/inappropriate behavior/classroom discussion with students, procedures for fire drills, etc. The bottom line is that you get out of a sub what you invest in them.
3. One-Size-Fits-All Approach At District and Site Level
Recruitment and training for schools really depends on multiple factors:
the demographics of the community surrounding the school district,
the number of enrolled students,
the current teacher to sub ratio
school district and site-specific academic philosophy and culture (two schools within the same district can be COMPLETELY different).
is this a rural, urban, or suburban community?
what are the local businesses?
Source4Teachers, one of the two largest corporations providing staffing services in the northeast, secured a capped $34 million dollar contract with a Pennsylvania school district. That relationship was severed after 9 months of abysmal performance by the staffing agency, with the district paying $6 million dollars--for nothing. Here’s what the company had to say, after the debacle:
“Source4Teachers has had considerable success in more than 200 districts throughout the East Coast, but we’ve realized that many of the techniques employed in other areas simply didn’t resonate with prospective substitute teachers in the Philadelphia market,” said Kendley Davenport, president of Source4Teachers in an earlier interview.
These large staffing agencies enter into multi-million dollar contracts with schools, without even doing their homework on the area that they are profiting from. When you are taking several million dollars away from a school district’s budget, you should at least know your market. Which leads us to the problem of, motive.
4. Profit-Motivated, Not Education-Motivated
These are for-profit corporations, therefore they answer to a board, pay hefty salaries to the top tiered executives and management. This is not an endeavor of the heart that cares about students or teachers. If it is, it is a severely misguided effort. No one in good conscience should charge those kinds of exorbitant fees to already-struggling, resource-strained school districts. Now these schools are out of millions of dollars, and still have the same sub shortage.
WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?
Identifying, targeting, and recruiting quality substitutes from outside of teaching, requires a grassroots-like effort to contact potential candidates. Big corporations cannot convince people that subbing will work for them from far away. Personal contact is still mandatory for successful outreach for this particular type of job and candidate. SubWorksPro literally pounds the pavement, goes out into surrounding communities, institutions of higher education, and businesses to recruit appropriate, quality candidates that match the school district’s specific and unique needs, but with a personal touch. We visit school sites and district administrations for continual feedback, and conduct orientations and training of new and existing subs, as often or as little as the school needs, so that subs can be ready to work from day one. This approach allows us to instantaneously address any changes in the school’s needs.
Quality recruitment yields immediate results that a school can actually see and feel. School districts should not have to wait 6 months to see results, and should not be locked into multi-million dollar contracts with profit-motivated, generic, temp agencies. It’s unconscionable, particularly as this sub shortage has reached crisis-level proportions, and schools can’t financially absorb the cost when these companies fail to deliver but still expect to be paid.
SubWorksPro is an educational nonprofit comprised of individuals who have actually worked in school districts. We know how schools work and what they need, and we want to see teachers and students succeed!