Schools Cannot Find Enough Substitute Teachers

Franklin Schargel

Being a substitute teacher in a K-12 school is one of the most difficult jobs in education. Other than low pay like most educators, most substitutes are only paid for the days they work, if they are not “long-term” substitutes. Substitute teachers might be called upon to teach English on Monday, Dance on Tuesday, and Math on Wednesday.

There is a national shortage of substitute teachers.  But as the crunch continues, some schools are lowering their standards for substitute teachers, which were already lower than those for full-time faculty. The situation has become dire enough that within the last month, at least two states, Missouri and Oregon, temporarily removed their college degree requirements for would-be hires.

At Kellogg Elementary School, classes were taught by a rotating cast of seven staff members, including the assistant principal, who switched off every 45 minutes because they couldn’t find a teacher who was available to fill in for an absent teacher.

The moves have led to concerns by parents, educators, and policymakers over the quality of instruction. The this is leading to significant learning losses for students.

Substitute teachers are “a short-term Band-Aid that shortchanges students,” said Kim Anderson, executive director for the National Education Association, which represents millions of education workers across the country.

The problem starts with the need for more full-time teachers in many school districts. In Arizona, nearly 1,400 teachers left the profession within the first few months of the school year, according to one study. School districts are really relying on substitutes because there are many, many teachers who have left the field. 

Oregon once had 8,290 licensed substitute teachers, but by Sept. 18, that number had been cut in half. To create a bigger pool, the state, in an Oct. 1 emergency created a new license. These new substitutes no longer need to pass several tests or have a bachelor’s degree. They simply need to be at least 18 years old, sponsored by a participating district or charter school, and have “good moral character” with the “mental and physical health necessary” to teach. Missouri once required 60 college credits, the equivalent of an associate degree. Now, substitutes just need to complete a 20-hour online course on professionalism, diversity, and classroom management.

In Florida, Ms. Mitchell attended a three-day seminar, where she and others were trained by doing mock-teaching and classroom management. She works about three to four days a week for about $80 a day. It is less, she says, than what she would make working at Target, or as a babysitter.

And as schools continue to rely on substitutes to pick up the slack, some educators worry that this is what too many classrooms will become — some form of babysitting.

About the author

Franklin P. Schargel is a former classroom teacher, school counselor and school administrator who successfully designed, developed and helped implement a process that dramatically increased parental engagement, increased post-secondary school attendance and significantly lowered his Title 1 high school’s dropout rate. The U.S. Department of Education, Business Week, Fortune Magazine, National Public Radio (NPR) the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) and The New York Times have recognized his work. In addition, Schargel served as the Education Division Chair of the American Society for Quality and helped develop the National Quality Award, the Malcolm Baldridge Award for Education.

Schargel is an internationally recognized speaker, trainer and author of thirteen best-selling books. His last published book: “Creating Safe Schools: A Guide for School Leaders, Classroom Teachers, Counselors and Parents” has been published internationally by Francis and Taylor, LLC. In addition, he has written over 100 published articles dealing with school reform.

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