The struggle for substitute teachers

My name is Giulia Heyward, and since the start of this school year, I’ve covered the nationwide labor shortage affecting so many schools...


My name is Giulia Heyward, and since the start of this school year, I’ve covered the nationwide labor shortage affecting so many schools across the country.

Low pay, few benefits and erratic schedules have long created staffing issues in many districts. The pandemic has only exacerbated these problems.

Substitute teachers are particularly in demand. At least two states, Missouri and Oregon, have dropped educational requirements for job applicants to try to attract more replacements. Other districts have raised wages and benefits. When that failed, many temporarily classes canceled or have turned to distance education.

The abrupt changes have left families scrambling to find child care and prolonged learning losses from the pandemic. Here are some unconventional strategies used by districts that show the extent of the problem:

State employees – including a governor and the National Guard – are invited to teach.

In New Mexico, the governor is now a licensed substitute teacher.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is encouraging other state employees and the New Mexico National Guard, to follow suit. State staffing shortages are so severe that state employees are also being asked to take administrative leave to work as substitute teachers.

Other heads of state are doing the same. In Oklahoma, Governor Kevin Stitt Executive Decree will let state employees work as substitutes for the remainder of the school year. A bank in Oklahoma City even urged dozens of its own employees to help.

In North Carolina, Governor Roy Cooper leaves state employees go on paid leave work as substitute teachers.

The new measures seem to be working — over 120 Oklahoma State employees volunteered as replacements, and 100 state officials in New Mexico, including the National Guard, have pledged to do the same.

Some education departments are getting rid of application requirements altogether.

  • Both Missouri and Oregon have lowered their college degree requirements for replacements. A growing number of states are joining them.

  • Last month, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer temporarily allowed other school employees to bypass the teaching certificate requirement to become substitute teachers. All they need is a high school diploma. The state also allows retired teachers to return to the classroom without losing any of their retirement benefits.

  • In Kansas, the school board got rid of the college diploma requirement for substitutes for the remainder of the school year. In Salem, Ohio, anyone who passes a background check can temporarily become a certified substitute teacher.

  • The Governor of Pennsylvania removed the requirements so that some middle schoolers are now eligible to replace teaching in the state.

Schools are campaigning to bring parents into the classroom.

A school district in central Indiana is about to return to virtual learning. Most of its full-time teachers replace each other, and other school workers already supplement a small group of substitutes.

The Superintendent of Schools in South East Hamilton has made an urgent request request this month: ask parents to help take over. “I ask that – if you have time in your daily schedule – that you consider substituting,” Yvonne Stokes said.

Across the country, families are receiving calls to become surrogates. Earlier this month, school officials in Austin, Texas, request parents to consider becoming surrogates. And another school district in Louisiana is also do the same. In Palo Alto, California, Superintendent shipped a “call to action” to parents.

“No amount of money can solve this problem,” Superintendent Don Austin said. “We need your help.”

If you have any further questions for Giulia or other journalists who cover education, please write to us using this form. We plan to try to answer questions regularly in future editions of the newsletter.


Funding

  • Many districts are using federal stimulus dollars — dedicated to helping students pick up from school remotely — on virtual tutoring.

  • Governor Doug Ducey of Arizona has sued the Biden administration for blocking its efforts to claw back federal pandemic relief money. Ducey had used the aid to undermine school mask requirements.

Masks

And the rest …


A group of about 20 mothers in Boston were exhausted. So they met on the 50-yard line of a high school football field one night and shouted and shouted and shouted – letting some of the stress of parenthood escape during the pandemic.

“It was so nice to feel out of control for the first time,” one mother told Sarah Harmon, who organized the rally.

On the football field, Harmon signaled the start of a new round of screaming by raising two unicorn light wands belonging to his daughters. For 20 minutes, they screamed in different ways, laughing, competing, letting catharsis wash over them.

Mothers often have no place to escape and no time to take a break, said Manhattan psychiatrist Dr Ellen Vora. Unlike their children, they cannot collapse. “If you have two to three years of pent up pressure,” Dr. Vora said, “to go and be in a community of other moms and have a big release in the form of a cry is really healthy.”

If you’re in Massachusetts, Harmon now leads other cries across the state. Or, you can call The Times primal hotline, which is available for mothers who want to scream, laugh, cry or let off steam for a full minute.

Sign up here to receive the briefing by email.

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