Schools struggle to find substitute teachers during pandemic

Incoming substitute teachers sit in on a training session with the Nampa School District.

 

A shortage of substitute teachers caused by the pandemic is forcing schools to get creative.

In Marsing, the superintendent’s administrative assistant has led a classroom because the district couldn’t reach a substitute in time.

The Nampa and Vallivue districts raised the daily wage for substitute teachers from $80 to $95 this week, hoping to attract more subs. 

Substitute teacher Mya Marx works with students in a computer lab at Centennial Elementary School in Nampa.

 

Vallivue had 27 unfilled teaching positions on Thursday because there were not enough substitutes available. In a typical year, unfilled positions max out at 10, said spokesperson Joseph Palmer. To cover the classrooms, the district pulls people away from other responsibilities.

“Most subs are parents and grandparents and parents are not available when their kids are at home,” said Nampa School District spokeswoman Kathleen Tuck. 

Some veteran substitute teachers are choosing other work or staying home out of concern of contracting COVID-19 in a classroom, Palmer and Tuck said. 

The Middleton School District had 29 teacher and aide positions that were unfilled the week of Nov. 2-9. 

“When this occurs, the district has to dismantle intervention programs to use aides as substitutes and combine classes that are already at capacity to deal with the shortages,” said Middleton superintendent Kristin Beck in an email. “On the worst days, administrators have to step in and become teachers.”

Vallivue opened in a hybrid model in August, with students in the classroom two days a week and at home three days a week. Nampa has been in the same model since September. Middleton also opened in a hybrid model in August but is set to reopen middle and high school this week. The district opened elementary schools last month.

Cyndi Hutchison, English Language teacher and the Middleton School District migrant coordinator, told the school board that if she gets sick she knows she won’t be able to find a substitute for her classes.

“In fact, there have been days at the middle school that there were no subs available and teachers had to cover (each other’s) classes,” Hutchison wrote to the school board in public comment.

Beck said the district is  also struggling to hire paraprofessionals, who help with instruction and supervision in the schools. The paraprofessional shortage is especially evident in special education programs, she said.

The Nampa School District has 246 substitute teachers, Tuck said, but its goal is to have a pool of 300.

The quarantine period for people with the virus and people with potential exposure to the virus is 10 to 14 days. Substitute teachers typically work one or two days in a row; they now may be asked to work 10 to 14 or even more days, which is a concern in Nampa. 

Caldwell has around 107 substitute teachers, however they all can’t be plugged into any classroom, said district spokeswoman Allison Westfall. She said some subs will only work in specific schools and for specific teachers.

“Some (of our subs) are subbing for other districts (that) have been open for in-person learning longer than we have, for example Vallivue,” Westfall said in an email. “We remained concerned about our sub pool.”

Nampa, Vallivue and Caldwell are hiring substitute teachers. The applications are available on the district websites. Middleton is also hiring subs, they can apply by stopping by the district office or completing the application on the district website. Nampa, Vallivue and Middleton have increased substitute teacher pay. Middleton increased pay from $80 per day to $90 per day.

 

Republish this article on your website