Substitute Teacher Shortage Grows as the Start of the School Year Looms

School districts are racing to fill open teaching positions before the first school bell rings, leaning more on substitute teachers to start the school year than ever before.  However, as the need grows, the availability of substitutes is shrinking.

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From Farmington to Groton, school districts are scrambling to find substitute teachers.

“Yes, there's a need for substitutes everywhere,” said Middletown School Superintendent Dr. Michael Conner.

The need for substitute teachers in our state has doubled since this time last year according to Kelly Education, a staffing agency that supplies subs to 50 of Connecticut’s school districts.

“I would say just in the last week it’s probably gone up another 20% or so,” said Brad Beckner, the vice president of Kelly Education’s Northeast Education Practice.

More teachers have elected not to return for the start of the school year because of COVID-19.  Some don't believe the protocols put into place go far enough, others have a preexisting condition that makes them more vulnerable to the virus.

“There's specific laws now that extends the FMLA because of the pandemic that we're experiencing,” Conner explained.  “We do have teachers as well as staff members that are compromised by definition to some of the FMLA laws that are outlined already.”

A number of teachers have also decided to retire.

With only a week to go until their school year starts, Middletown is still waiting for some of its teachers to decide whether or not they plan to return to the classroom.

" I can’t give a definitive percent.  I know that there's a definitive need,” Conner said when asked how many teachers had decided not to return.

When asked if he was concerned that on the first day not enough teachers would show up to provide instruction to all of their students, Conner replied, "No, no, we're concerned about everything.  And I think every superintendent in the state of Connecticut would say that."

While that need for substitutes has doubled, Kelly Education says the candidate pool has actually decreased from a year ago.

"We have had a good portion of our group take a kind of wait and see attitude from a safety perspective as well,” explained Beckner.

CREC schools are hiring classroom facilitators to monitor students while their instructors teach remotely.

Now, more than ever before, school districts are competing with each other for substitute teachers. Those who go to the head of the class stand to make more money than they would have before the pandemic. 

To keep class sizes small, the Capitol Region Education Council or CREC created more classrooms in its magnets schools.  It’s offering $175 a day to fill these long-term teaching jobs, up from the typical $110 dollars a day a substitute teacher gets paid.

“This is a different role because it's where you're taking on the responsibilities of a teacher,” explained assistant superintendent Sasha Douglas.

Groton is advertising for a long-term substitute to teach kindergarten. The person picked will earn more than $263 per day.

"I think as districts struggle to fill the vacancies I think we're going to continue to see the increases,” said Beckner.

Douglas said 40 of its teachers will be offering remote instruction.  Douglas explained that some of its full-time staff will be dedicated to the students who have chosen their digital academy.  That’s opened up additional long-term teaching positions in the elementary schools.

“We’ve significantly expanded staffing at the elementary level,’ said Douglas.

The CREC schools are not only looking for substitute teachers but also classroom facilitators, a new position, to monitor students in their classrooms while their instructors teach remotely for the staff members who have chosen to start the school year from home because of a pre-existing condition.

The district still has 20 to 25 of these positions to fill. 

“They’ll be facilitating the mask breaks, facilitating all the things that happen in the classroom except for the actual instruction which the teacher will be doing remotely,” explained Douglas. 

CREC is offering $110 a day to classroom facilitators.

“They are going to be people that love working with kids, they want to build relationships, they’re not quite ready for teaching position, or they haven’t been trained for a teaching position but they’ll be managing the class, getting the technology set up,” said Douglas.

Some districts are looking for teachers who can pivot from teaching in-person to online.

“Anything that I do in class has to be replicable online.  I may very well have Teams up the whole class.  When I’m talking to 12 or so kids here maybe there’s five or six kids at home listening to the same thing,” said Art Landry, who’s been hired to teach seventh grade English in Bridgeport.

Kelly Education offered free training on virtual learning. 

Conner said Middletown, which is using the hybrid model, has required its subs to take extra professional development to make sure every student, whether they have a full-time teacher or a substitute, gets the same experience in-person and online.

"They will be provided maximum support and professional learning to navigate through this new environment," said Conner.

Landry, a former adjunct professor in computer science has both the educational and tech background so important in this age of teaching.  However, he still went through the extra virtual teaching training as well.

“In some ways it's better.  I’ve had just many inches of paper to correct in the old days, printing off tests computer classes and now I have it fully documented backed up online and I’m able to do it anytime day or night,” he said.

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