School districts across the country are dealing with severe substitute teacher shortages, despite efforts to recruit and pay them more

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Cooper Hanson, a substitute teacher at the Greenfield Intermediate School in Greenfield, Ind., is photographed Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020. AP Photo/Michael Conroy
  • School districts are stretched thin facing continuing problems staffing their schools amid the pandemic.
  • The shortages have resulted in a need for substitute teachers, which are also in short supply.
  • Some school districts are offering incentives or bonuses to maintain teaching staff and subs.
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School districts across the country have been struggling with dwindling staff numbers after teachers left the profession amid coronavirus lockdowns last year, and now, as Delta infections spike. Those factors, coupled with more full-time teachers testing positive for COVID-19, has led to an increased demand for substitute teachers, which are also now in critically short supply in many districts.

Districts in Georgia, California, Florida, Idaho, and other states are struggling to fill their substitute teacher rosters, and some are even offering more money and perks in what is typically a low-paid and inconsistent job.

“We have quite a few teachers out either because they’ve tested positive, they’re symptomatic, or they have their own children who are 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.”

School administrators are scrambling to prepare for these absences, ensuring there’s an adult in every classroom, with some asking non-teaching school staff fill in for these positions, CalMatters reported. The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which licenses full-time and substitute teachers, saw a drop in substitute permits it issued from 64,000 in 2018-19 to 47,000 in 2020-21.

In Georgia, multiple school districts are reporting substitute teacher shortages, having school counselors and media specialists without full teaching experience cover classes, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported.

School districts in Central Massachusetts saw their substitute pools dry up due to low pay rates, which was only exacerbated by the COVID pandemic. Substitutes are typically paid less than $US100 ($AU134) per day of teaching – just a little over minimum wage in the state – which is not enough for subs to risk coming in and catching COVID-19, according to the Telegram & Gazette.

Texas schools have even gone to cancelling online classes, with the Conroe Independent School District in Houston reportedly 250 substitutes short on Friday, KHOU reported. Conroe ISD is one of several districts that don’t have mask mandates against COVID-19, which is also leading to increased cases among teachers and hesitations from substitutes to enter these learning spaces.

“The pandemic has just had a devastating impact on children’s education across the country,” former United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told CNN on Sunday. “We now have tens of millions of children who are behind anywhere between a couple months to a year or more.”

In an effort to keep and recruit qualified substitutes, several school districts in California and Georgia gave per-day raises for both short and long-term subs. Administrators also advertised open positions on digital freeway billboards and lowered barriers for prospective substitutes, like a $US100 ($AU134) signup fee and a bachelor’s degree requirement. Atlanta Public Schools also offered substitutes a $US500 ($AU671) bonus to return.

The teaching shortage is not a new issue – and certainly not unique to substitute teachers.

Educators have been reevaluating whether they want to remain in the teaching profession, with many of them opting to leave this past year. A survey from May found 32% of teachers considered leaving the profession because of the pandemic. Special education teacher numbers area also down because they lack the necessary support from the US school system. The US is down 582,000 jobs in local and state government since February 2020, Insider previously reported.

Amid the growing teaching crisis, school districts have turned to offering different incentives to retain their teachers and attract new staff. Districts in California and North Carolina are offering new teachers $US2,000 ($AU2,682) in signing bonuses. Other schools are using federal stimulus funds to provide retention bonuses for teachers planning to stay another year. Some US school districts are even looking outside of the US for new teaching talent.