Not only are schools all over the country impacted by a teacher shortage, they’re also facing a shortage of qualified people to step in as substitutes when teachers aren’t able to be on campus. So often it falls to teachers in other classes to carry the load. Students may be split among several classes or other teachers have to give up their planning period to cover the absences. Sometimes more than one teacher is absent and administrators, counselors and others must fill in. Teachers are often faced with tough choices because they know there are no substitutes to cover.
In the last two weeks, I’ve had friends call and beg me to come back as a substitute because one had to leave her sick baby with her mother and the other had to find someone to stay at her house to wait for an AC repairman because they didn’t want their grade level team to have to cover both of their classes. In a survey conducted by the National Education Association, nearly 55 percent of its teachers considered quitting due to burnout, with many citing substitute shortages as a contributing factor.
Student learning is also impacted. When students are moved into large group settings, the structure and nature of their lessons are changed, targeted instruction and intervention are difficult, if not impossible. Long-term, this is detrimental to student growth.
Let’s look at some ways to go beyond finding a “warm body” to fill in for an absent teacher.
1. Clear the path for retired teachers to return
Many retired teachers would like to return as substitutes, but pension and other restrictions keep them from doing so. Look at ways to change these roadblocks so that former teachers can get back into the classroom.
2. Build a “homegrown” team
Hire district high school seniors as substitutes and tutors. Port Arthur ISD in Texas has begun a new initiative that allows students who have appropriate college credits to have jobs as substitutes and tutors. This model provides students interested in pursuing a career in education an opportunity to experience an elementary classroom.
3. Create a fellowship
Set up a residency-style fellowship for bachelor degree residents of your community. This would be a full-time position that offers benefits and professional development. The number of fellows hired would be based on district needs, ideally, you would hire one per campus. Typically, substitutes don’t know where they are going to be working day-to-day, but fellows work on a single campus and are able to make connections with students. This provides for continuity and builds trust to support continued learning and growth for the students.
4. Partner with local universities and colleges
Offer opportunities to graduate or undergraduate students in education or other relevant fields to work part time as a substitute. Student teaching experiences are often very limited and unpaid. This sort of partnership allows for a flexible schedule and pay as students continue to pursue a degree. It’s also the perfect way to gain classroom experience.
Many of these options for staffing classrooms will not only provide consistent classroom coverage, but could also serve as an avenue for filling permanent teacher vacancies.
Teia Hoover Baker is an educator, published author, and entrepreneur. She is an innovative, devoted educator whose career has been dedicated to coordinating programs that support struggling learners. Her passion is meeting students where they are and guiding them to excel. Her main focus is always what is best for children. Teia holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism and a Master’s of Education. In her spare time, she enjoys being Lovie to her growing grandchildren.