It’s Time To Question How We’re Addressing the Teacher Shortage — New Edtech Can Help

An edtech entrepreneur poses solutions for some of education’s most pressing problems.  

GUEST COLUMN | by Mike Teng


Over two decades ago technology made inroads into education. Since then it has transformed learning, making it more accessible, personalized, and focused. With the development of more powerful technology, edtech has even greater potential to challenge the status quo in education.

To realize the fuller potential of this new technology, district and school leaders will have to be ready to shed old ways of thinking. However, this is challenging in an industry with a penchant for the proven. While taking risks can be unsettling even when the goal is teacher and student success, maintaining the status quo can be just as perilous. 

‘While taking risks can be unsettling even when the goal is teacher and student success, maintaining the status quo can be just as perilous.’ 

The current teacher shortage is a great example of what can happen when entrenched models of how schools should operate are unable to react quickly enough. Teachers are leaving the profession in record numbers. A lack of pay, lingering stress from the pandemic, and greater pressure to make students succeed are all contributing to higher levels of burnout. At the same time, there is no relief. And as permanent teachers leave, there is a parallel substitute teacher shortage, creating more stress for the teachers who remain in schools. 

Of course, nothing can replace the effectiveness of high-quality teaching, but new technology solutions can help districts and schools shift current practices in novel ways. 

Edtech to Assess Qualifications

One long-held belief in education is that substitute teachers need a specific type of credential. While the type of requirements varies by state, they often include a bachelor’s degree and a substitute credential or license. The premise of these requirements is to create a standard, however they often become barriers, limiting the available pool of substitutes.

Consider that when educators are asked to describe the qualities of a good substitute they list capabilities like being able to build rapport with students, to keep students engaged, exhibit patience, and be able to think on one’s feet. Those capabilities aren’t necessarily inherent to bachelor’s degrees or teaching certificates. Being able to efficiently assess the soft skills of candidates, using immersive assessments or tech-based evaluations instead of relying on outdated notions of the value of a degree could lead to more people to consider substitute teaching as a short or long-term career. More people considering the work means schools have more choices for securing substitutes to fill the gaps. 

Edtech to Streamline Processes

And then, there is how those gaps get filled. The way districts and schools have filled teacher absences hasn’t changed for the past 50 years. Some small changes like robocalls or email blasts have been introduced but the basic behavior is the same. A school maintains its own pool of substitutes, then when a teacher calls in absent, school administrators reach out to the pool hoping they still have the right contact information. Hopefully, the school hears back from the sub, but very often vacancies go unfilled. Or, if it does get filled, the process is hurried and harried for everyone. This challenge of finding substitutes not only creates more stress for teachers, adding to the existing high rates of educator burnout, but it can impact students as well. 

Technology can flip the substitute process on its head, enabling administrators to tap into a pool of pre-screened, qualified, available substitutes. Better yet, some systems schools use gives administrators the opportunity to simply input a request and see which teachers in the database match their needs and see online profiles with information about past work experience and credentials.

A tech-based process gives substitutes more freedom as well. Instead of maintaining numerous relationships with local districts and schools, the substitute can wait for the right match to notify them. Such a streamlined approach gives substitutes more security in finding work. The added stability and control can also become a recruitment tool, bringing in new long-term subs and prospects interested in pursuing teaching as a career. 

When we apply our knowledge of social communities with technology, we find solutions that can be transformative — applying a fresh, tech-driven approach to an age-old practice. Sometimes those old and traditional practices are the most significant barrier to solving not only the primary problem, but the secondary one. When we innovate on the substitute teacher recruitment and placement process, we find that it can help solve other problems, too.

Mike Teng is the CEO and co-founder of Swing Education, a tech-enabled marketplace matching substitute teachers with schools in need. Before founding Swing, Mike was a software engineer in the private sector and then the tech director at a K-12 charter school network.


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