Substitute teacher shortage affects in-person learning


Photo Credit: photo via Frontline Education under creative commons license

Frontline, what was once called Aesop, is an teacher absence and substitute management site that Woodbridge Township utilizes. The website boast about providing easy substitute scheduling, but that can only happen when there are substitutes to fill these vacancies.

By: Jackie Poznanski, Editor

The substitute teacher shortage has quickly become an issue now that the pandemic is on the rise once again. Many factors such as low pay, unpredictable schedules and the challenge of supervising students are keeping potential subs home.

After the holiday season, Woodbridge Township Schools were facing a COVID-19 outbreak amongst students and faculty. In effect, administrators decided that taking two weeks off of in-person learning would be the best way to ensure safety. However, the lack of adult supervision is still a leading issue in today’s schooling as we go back to in-person.

Substitute Teachers

In the past substitute teachers never got much respect, but now they are in demand due to staff shortages. Many school districts are canceling in-person classes and lowering their hiring standards in response to this issue.

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

As a result, schools are raising pay and lowering job requirements as they struggle to hire substitute teachers. For example, Woodbridge Township just upped the pay for subs to about $200 per day to entice more substitute teachers to want to work.

Colonia High School substitute teacher Mr. Joseph Gregory stated, “depending on the school, we would get three classes and a lunch period. However, now subs are covering four actual classes with no breaks.”

Sub shortage affects teachers

A number of teachers at Colonia High School are covering classes when there isn’t enough substitutes in the building. For covering these classes, teachers are compensated financially. However, this leaves the teacher without professional time to get work graded. Conducted Sept. 29 to Oct. 8, “The EdWeek Research Center survey found that two-thirds of principals and district leaders across the country are asking their employees to take on additional responsibilities because of struggles with shortages.”

“Although it is an opportunity to make a few extra dollars, covering a class during a professional does cut into grading and lesson planning. Most classes just do their work so I can do my work too, but often you might have try to teach about the topic. Than can be hard when you don’t know the subject well,” explained English teacher Danielle Allen.

With teachers going on maternity leave and paternity leave, many teacher’s schedules are being reconfigured to absorb the classes of these missing teachers. Normally, to cover a leave like this one would hire a long-term substitute. Will teacher’s covering these classes lead to teacher’s burning out?  Could this burn out lead to weakened immune systems of teachers and further the shortage of teachers due to illness?

How COVID affected Substitutes

Like many other jobs, substitute teachers have become more fraught during the past two years. Without these additional teachers, classes will combine to unacceptable levels and could inflict harm on schoolchildren. Students still need to remain six feet apart and having a multitude of students in one classroom due to the combining of classes can be detrimental to both parties’ health.

With some teachers needing to quarantine or needing to be home with children who are quarantining, the demand for subs has increased as a result of the pandemic. Before the pandemic, many retired individuals became subs. Retired people tend to be older in age. Many of which do no want to put themselves at risk of getting Covid-19 while substituting at a school. This is one reason for the substitute shortage. According to EdWeek, “Some district leaders have said they’re having an especially hard time finding substitutes for elementary schools, since those students are all unvaccinated.”

New Jersey Substitute Teacher Rules

According to Swing Education, the substitute credential requirements include 60 semester-hour credits at a regionally accredited college/university or you must be a student enrolled in a college with a minimum of 30 semester-hour credits. Furthermore, one must have a criminal history background clearance to fulfill the job. However, to have the Technical Education Substitute Credential, one must have two years of full-time work experience in the last five years, a criminal history background clearance, and a signed letter from a current or former employer documenting work experience.

Gregory stated, “the daily pay rate has doubled since I started and I feel this increase is to compensate for the extended work and to stay competitive with other districts.”

The rule changes significantly expand the pool of potential substitute teachers and addresses the critical shortages. However, lowering teaching qualifications is a solution that worries many education experts. Lowering the standards where the new subs do not hold skill or knowledge may be problematic. While the New Jersey substitute teacher shortage quickly becomes an issue, officials must recognize the quality of adults they are hiring.

EdWeek also predicts the shortage of substitutes around the country could get worse before it gets better. EdSource warns that reduced staffing could lead to temporary school closures in the future. Ultimately, a substitute and teacher shortage impacts students’ learning and quality of education. If this shortage continues like EdWeek foresees, think of the long term effects this could have on a student’s academic career.