By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice
Substitute teachers have an important role in meeting the staffing needs of schools throughout the United States. School districts typically have a pool of pre-qualified substitute teachers who can serve as on-call instructors when regular full-time teachers are not available.
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The requirements to be a substitute teacher vary by state. Often a bachelor’s degree is required, and some states require some form of certification. When necessary, these substitute teachers carry out lesson plans in class, maintain order in the classroom and respond to student learning needs.
School Districts Can Only Fill about 54% of Daily Teacher Absences
Currently, there is an alarming shortage of substitute teachers across the U.S. For example, the EdWeek Research Center conducted a survey and found that school districts are currently only able to fill 54% of the approximately 250,000 daily teacher absences.
The coronavirus pandemic has had an impact on staffing at schools around the United States, especially at schools that traditionally hold in-person classes. The coronavirus has resulted in more teacher illnesses and reduced class sizes due to social distancing. Consequently, there is a greater need for substitute teachers.
Schools Have Used Different Strategies to Handle the Shortage of Substitute Teachers
In response to this shortage of substitute teachers during the coronavirus pandemic, some schools are relaxing the substitute teacher requirements. For example, schools in Missouri, under an emergency order, are waiving the standard 60 hours of college credit. They are only requiring a high school diploma and a 20-hour online training course, coupled with a background check.
According to Iowa State Education Association President Mike Beranek, “Substitute teachers are typically individuals who are retired from our profession.” This pool of retired, elderly instructors may account for the shortage of readily available substitute teachers. The retired population group is more susceptible to more serious illnesses from the coronavirus, which has discourages them from returning to in-person classrooms as substitute teachers.
Other states have adopted additional ways of responding to the substitute teacher shortage. For instance, Iowa relaxed its substitute teacher requirements from a bachelor’s degree to now only requiring some college credits. Similarly, one school district in New Jersey has doubled its daily pay for substitute teachers.
School districts from Nevada to Rhode Island have shifted to remote learning in part because of the number of teachers who are quarantining. These districts did not have enough qualified substitutes to cover the classes in the traditional in-person format. In this situation, the teacher can continue to provide instruction remotely while remaining in quarantine.
A Proactive Approach Is Needed to Fix the Substitute Teacher Shortage
Overall, school districts must take a proactive approach to solving the substitute teacher shortage problem. School districts may wish to focus their recruitment efforts on individuals who are currently unemployed and could qualify as substitute teachers.
Also, developing a robust substitute teaching certification program to enable potential substitutes to work without meeting the traditional bachelor’s degree requirement may be effective. Candidates who successfully pass a comprehensive background check may be able to fill the gap in the substitute teacher shortage through this training, which could focus on the learning and development needs specific to the school district providing the training.
Increasing substitute teachers’ pay is also an important step in increasing recruitment. Recruitment that targets college students seeking part-time income may be effective, especially if it can be used as an incentive for students who are majoring in education to gain classroom experience.