Substitute teacher crisis: What will it take to attract them to schools?

The nation's schools are facing a shortage of subs in classrooms, forcing staffers and administrators to help take on the task.
By: | September 8, 2021
Adobe Stock

School districts across the U.S. are finding it extremely difficult to find substitute teachers, even those that are offering incentives such as increased hourly pay rates from what was previously offered.

With teaching staffs reduced—and continuing to decline—after some teachers left their jobs during the lockdown and continue to do so now with Delta raging, not to mention those who have become sick themselves, substitutes are highly in demand.

“We have quite a few teachers out either because they’ve tested positive, they’re symptomatic or they have their own children in quarantine,” Kelly Rhoden, principal at Nevada Union High School in California, told CalMatters. “At the end of the day, we just don’t have enough substitutes.”

“Due to positive employee cases and quarantines, we need more substitutes than in a typical school year,” Catoosa County Schools of Georgia’s Superintendent Denia Reese told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “Due to students being home due to testing positive and/or being in quarantine, these parents are not available to substitute.”

During the second week of classes, Palm Beach County Public Schools students were being taught by counselors and school staffers or being crammed into other teachers’ classes due to a lack of staffing and substitutes, The Palm Beach Post reported. School board members voted in mid-August to up the substitutes’ hourly pay by $1, and, at schools where slots are especially hard to fill, agreed to offer an extra $3 an hour.

While all states are facing the crisis, California has been one of the hardest hit. Nevada Joint Union High School District in Nevada County, where 2,686 students are enrolled, had 60 positive COVID cases by the start of the second week of school, with three teachers and 200 students quarantined.

Superintendent Brett McFadden said, “In the next two to three weeks I’m not sure how we’ll stay open. It’s possible I’m just going to run out of people and resources. I’m not complaining about the federal and state government. They gave us a ton of money. This isn’t a money issue; it’s a resource allocation issue,” adding, “We ran out of adults to teach. This year, our [COVID infection] numbers are even worse.”

“This isn’t a money issue; it’s a resource allocation issue. We ran out of adults to teach. This year, our [COVID infection] numbers are even worse.” – Nevada (Calif.) Joint Union High School District Superintendent Brett McFadden

In San Diego County, an emergency meeting of the district board was held to address the shortage of substitutes at Chula Vista Elementary School District—which operates on a year-round calendar—because they were getting only about half of the subs they needed on a daily basis. The board voted to temporarily increase the daily pay rate from $122 to $200, the rate for long-term subs from $132 to $283 and to start a marketing campaign to recruit subs from the community. The move helped: The district saw an increase in subs willing to work within a week.

Elk Grove Unified School District in Sacramento County has proposed one of the biggest pay hikes, offering retired teachers and counselors—along with teachers and substitutes on contracts–$350 per day, up from the current rate of $200 per day.

Los Angeles Unified has not only raised pay rates for substitutes; it also offered paid professional development and, after 100 days of service, full medical benefits. The district even hired more human resources staff to help recruit and onboard teachers.

In districts that have not been able to implement such incentives, adapting has been the answer thus far. At one point last week, the Sundale Union Elementary School District superintendent was taking students’ temperatures, administering COVID tests, and applying ice packs to bumps on students who had minor injuries because the health aide was absent, EdSource reported. The principal was filling in for the administrative assistant and the counselor, who has teaching credentials, was substituting for one of the teachers.

More from DA