Human Resources

Improving Teacher Recruitment for Early Childhood Education

It’s often said that the littlest learners need the biggest help. That’s certainly true when it comes to the teacher shortage. Nowhere is the shortage more acute than at the early childhood level, where licensure requirements are higher, yet salaries are lower than K-12 teachers. But unlike K-12 classrooms, early childhood centers that don’t meet the state-mandated teacher-to-student ratios must close their doors for the day or run out of compliance.

I began as director of Creative Kids Academy 21 years ago with one location. Back then, teacher recruitment was not a concern. But when the shortage kicked in, competition for qualified teachers, substitute teachers and classroom aides increased. We reached a tipping point when vacancies and last-minute teacher absences threatened the very reason our centers exist: to teach. Through a combination of leveraging our substitute teaching base to fill full-time vacancies and outsourcing our entire substitute teaching program, I have been able to ensure a quality teaching environment at our centers, despite the shortage.

A Daily Part of Life

The impact of vacancies and same-day absences creates a steady cycle of recruiting, screening and onboarding caring and qualified early childhood educators — talented people who have many other appealing employment options in the metropolitan area. Over time, creating and maintaining a dependable pool of teaching staff can become a 24-hour a day job.

It’s a challenge to find full-time teachers, which is why substitute teachers play a major role in retention.

Connecting to Subs in Minutes

By 2010, as our enrollment continued to grow, I needed a more comprehensive solution that we could share across all our locations, so I outsourced the entire substitute program to a teacher recruitment agency called Teachers On Call. This frees up staff to focus on administration, filling full-time permanent teacher vacancies and allows directors to spend more time with our teachers. As a center, we can continue enrolling without putting parents on a waitlist.

I start with a quality base of substitute teachers. Each school year, I gear up for an estimated 1,500 teacher absences that will happen across our 10 centers in the Minneapolis and St. Paul areas.

With substitute teachers, I get to meet all kinds of candidates and see how they fit our culture, how they interact with the kids, with parents and with other teachers. Once I find someone who is uniquely devoted to early childhood education, I hang on to them. I offer a Child Development Associate (CDA) reimbursement to nurture our aides into becoming great teachers.

Our centralized absence management system plays an important role and takes away a significant amount of stress. All of our locations share substitute opportunities across a network of talent. As substitute positions are entered into the system, the substitute pool can sign up immediately. The distribution list is tailored so that the subs who request to work certain days and times can see only the openings that match their availability. Not only is this a more efficient way to reach a large pool of hundreds of substitute teachers, but it helps us with retention. Our substitute teachers don’t have to spend their precious free time reviewing opportunities that won’t interest them, and our permanent staff don’t have to worry about missing a day of work without putting the rest of us at an inconvenience. Knowing that my directors can post an opening at midnight and have it filled by 5 a.m. keeps the directors from being in the classrooms themselves. I don’t want our directors working too many hours because then it trickles down. If I can keep a director out of a classroom, it makes the time that they do spend with our kids more special.

Creativity Matters

We need to make substitute teachers feel welcome on day one. If we don’t make them feel comfortable, they aren’t going to come back. At Creative Kids Academy, we greet every new sub personally, and provide them with an extensive orientation. We encourage questions and emphasize collaboration. Our center directors introduce subs to the classroom and facilitate introductions with the primary teachers who will mentor them. We celebrate our subs’ birthdays and include them in our employee recognition programs. Substitutes are also eligible for bonuses, based on their position and the location.

If our centers are going to keep up with the shortage, we need to remain creative. There’s no time to remain idle — I regularly brainstorm new solutions to meet the needs of teacher recruitment. As an example, I often pay long term substitute teachers a driving bonus of $300 per month as an extra incentive to cover the cost of driving a longer distance to fill in temporarily. I’m pleased to say that our creativity has paid off, and some of our substitutes have remained with us for more than five years.

As a leader, alignment and growth is important to me. My biggest success is knowing that many of our current directors are people that I hired as teachers, aides — or substitutes.

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of Spaces4Learning.

About the Author

Brandy Sroga-Coons is executive director of Creative Kids Academy.