As the anniversary of the first pandemic-related lockdown approaches, school districts are faced with the realization that the virus is not the only threat to school closures. Amidst navigating the shift to virtual learning, schools face another crisis: a substitute teacher shortage.
While the nationwide shortage was a problem even before the pandemic, demand for subs has reached unprecedented levels. One study found the additional absences and quarantines have caused fill rates in some districts to fall below 50%—a near 30% decline from a normal school year. Not to mention that the roster of available substitute teachers has dwindled during the pandemic, with even the regular troop of retired teachers and part-time subs choosing to stay away from the classroom.
What seemed like a minor challenge initially is revealing itself to cause large issues nationwide, as Jing Liu reports for The Brookings Institution:
“The inability to find a substitute teacher might not seem problematic initially, as another teacher or administrator with spare time can often cover a classroom when a substitute teacher is not available. Yet, repeated occurrences can quickly become burdensome for staff who are frequently called upon to cover a peer’s classroom … A teacher’s non-covered absences can affect their colleagues and students across the school, not just those in the absent teacher’s classroom.”
The pandemic has revealed how many districts in Kansas and Missouri rely on substitutes to cover their classrooms, making them more essential than ever before. As the shortage continues to worsen, districts are looking for creative ways to recruit more substitute teachers.
A new approach to finding help
From waving certain license requirements or even increasing hourly rates, districts are attempting to attract first-time substitute teachers to fill the gaps.
Some states are dealing with the shortage by eliminating the requirement for 60 hours of college credit altogether. Missouri, for example, is one of several states that now only require a high school diploma to get a license, with the hope the move will encourage more people to apply.
Recent college graduates and those affected by layoffs in the pandemic are among those turning to substitute teaching during the pandemic, either part-time or full-time. According to Indeed, the average hourly pay for a substitute teacher in Kansas is above $12, much higher than the $7.25 federal minimum wage. For some, substitute teaching offers a way to earn a little extra during the pandemic while also accommodating flexible work schedules.
Some districts are also choosing to hire substitutes for permanent or long-term assignments. As hybrid learning environments force teachers to adapt lesson plans for Zoom, substitutes are often needed to supervise in-person classrooms when the teacher is remote. With the number of teacher absences on the rise, hiring a permanent substitute teacher allows the sub to get to know the students on a more personal level, keeping classes running smoothly.
Even with permanent substitutes, the question remains: who substitutes for the substitutes when they get sick? The scramble to fill teacher absences should subside as the vaccine continues to roll out, but that could take months. For now, schools will continue to rely on substitutes to stay open.
Look to a partner for help
Like so many issues that have arisen because of the pandemic’s massive ripple effects, the substitute teacher shortage and school staffing issues have no easy answer. Yet, districts around the area are also realizing the value of working with an outsourced partner to help carry the burden of finding and hiring qualified substitute teachers—and then placing them in local schools where they’re needed.
From reduced administrative duties for school officials (a huge benefit especially right now) to finding a larger quantity of available substitutes, working with an outside partner such as Morgan Hunter Education – a partner with extensive expertise in the Kansas City area working with local substitute teachers – can help your district with your fill rates and ensure all your classes are covered.
While we’re hopefully turning the corner on this pandemic, the form and format of education is likely changed forever. Be sure your district is covered as we all move forward together.
Angela Hunt is program director at Morgan Hunter Education, providing a cost-effective, high-quality solution to substitute teaching in the greater Kansas City region. Share your thoughts on Facebook!