Shortage of substitute teachers increasingly closes public schools

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Public schools across the country have temporarily closed and canceled classes this holiday season – not to recognize a religious practice, but to deal with a shortage of substitute teachers.

Several Seattle-area schools canceled classes last Friday, and public schools in Montgomery County, Maryland will close on Thanksgiving eve. Community Schools in Eastpointe, Michigan brought their colleges back to distance education last week. Meanwhile, school systems from California to Texas are offering more money to attract substitute teachers.

The supply teacher shortage is exacerbating a national workforce shortage that has forced companies and agencies to scramble and compete to recruit workers as the economy recovers after closures and related mandates. pandemic.

Jim Politis, president of the National Substitute Teachers Alliance, said the shortage reflects “people questioning old standards that apply to work.”

“Substitute teachers feel like they are not well respected, they know they are not paid well and they know that sometimes the job is difficult,” M. Politis, a substitute teacher at the Washington Times, told the Washington Times. public schools in Montgomery County, Maryland. .

Mr Politis, 81, said retired teachers like him kept many school systems afloat during the pandemic. He retired from full-time teaching in 1999 after 32 years.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said pre-COVID-19 staff shortages “and the pandemic only make them worse.”

“Between the increased stress at work and the loss of a million public education jobs earlier in the pandemic, schools continue to struggle to find staff, especially nurses, guidance counselors and bus drivers, ”Ms. Weingarten said in an email.

Before the pandemic, she said, “teachers faced disrespect at work, routinely taking money out of their pockets for classroom supplies while paying student loans and tinkering with multiple jobs for the classroom. make ends meet.

“Now they are facing the burnout and burnout of the past few years,” said Ms. Weingarten, leader of the country’s second-largest teachers’ union.

The National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers’ union, did not respond to a request for comment.

According to the National Substitute Teachers Alliance, the national average salary for replacement educators is about $ 105 per full day. Some substitutes also receive benefits.

The national average salary for full-time teachers was $ 63,645 in 2019-2020, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Joyce Rankin, a member of the Colorado State Board of Education, said the teacher shortage reflects broader workforce trends across the country.

“It is reminiscent of the need for workers across the workforce,” Rankin told The Times. “You can see it every day as businesses continue to display ‘Help Wanted’ signs. Why should teaching be different?

In Colorado, Jefferson County Public Schools offered a temporary $ 50 per day increase in substitute teacher salaries for the current school year. Since the base pay rate starts at $ 100 a day, the 50% increase “should be an attractive incentive for some,” according to analyst Pam Benigno of the Independence Institute in Denver.

“For too long, substitute teachers have been underpaid and underestimated,” said Benigno, director of the Education Policy Center of the libertarian think tank.

But many teaching positions remain vacant in Colorado and elsewhere.

Rebecca Friedrichs, founder of the education reform group For Kids and Country, attributed the crisis in part to “working conditions put in place by teachers’ unions” which are causing senior teachers to miss school more often and take early retirement.

“No teacher wants to teach students online or using a mask,” said Ms. Friedrichs, a 28-year-old senior elementary school teacher in Southern California. “Who wants to work in this chaos? “

“I have heard many teachers express their frustration, and they are ready to throw in the towel and quit or retire,” she added.

Erika Sanzi, director of outreach for the nonprofit parental rights group Parents Defending Education, said that “the shortage of submarines is at the forefront due to the unacceptable number of schools still unable or unwilling to provide a in-person learning five days a week ”.

“We are seeing national union leaders argue that teachers are too exhausted and exhausted to come to work five days a week, and this is not going to suit parents who have continued to work throughout the pandemic or have had to leave home. manpower to supervise ‘Zoom School’ at their kitchen table, ”Ms. Sanzi said.

She added that “the lack of subscribers is not surprising after so many months in which they had no choice” to work in person on campuses already struggling with an increase in student behavior problems and elimination of school resource officers.

While this may help schools hire a permanent pool of full-time substitutes with all the perks, Ms Sanzi said ‘it won’t solve anything when so many teachers are absent on the same day that a school can’t even open. . . “

To deal with a shortage of more than 300 teachers, the superintendent of public schools in Palm Beach County, Florida – the 10th largest school district in the country – instituted a policy last month requiring all “non-teaching staff », Including administrators, act as substitute teachers. day every month. Finance graduate Superintendent Michael Burke has been replaced at an elementary school in West Palm Beach, WPTV reported.

Some states have attempted to expand their pools of substitutes by removing requirements for bachelor’s degrees and speeding up the certification process. Missouri approved a 20-hour online replacement certification course last month, while Oregon has temporarily dropped the bachelor’s degree requirement in some cases.

In an Oct. 26 essay for nonprofit news source Chalkbeat, the former substitute teacher at Walt Stallings college wrote that many like him quit their jobs last summer when it became clear that conditions would not improve in schools this year.

“After a traumatic and exhausting school year, our salaries did not give us time to recover. The exhaustion and frustration in the classrooms was palpable, ”wrote Stallings, now a professor of writing at DePaul University.


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