The United States Faces Widespread Substitute Shortages


Massimo Aguila

Public schools are going to great measures to recruit, in order to combat the growing substitute teacher shortages across the country.

Massimo Aguila, CavsConnect Staff

The United States public school system faces widespread substitute shortages as more teachers are quarantined or taking personal time during the pandemic. COVID-19 cases have also been on the rise, particularly in high-density areas like California, New York and Florida, which has caused teachers and students to be sent home.

Positive cases in Miami-Dade have quickly increased among teachers and students who are receiving physical instruction, leading to more quarantines from being exposed or even infected by the virus. On average, a teacher will miss 11 days of school each year, a number that will most likely be exacerbated by the end of the school year as they are now being forced to go home.

“Substitutes in my class are usually not responsive, lack leadership and let the students do whatever they want. Substitutes also do not give out very much work on zoom, due to the fact they do not get enough information to teach the class. They also are very free and usually get along with the students,” sophomore Justin Bohanan said.

In the year of COVID-19, an estimated over 2,000 students, teachers and staff underwent quarantine across five states alone. What this generates is a greater demand for substitute teachers than there are available in most parts of the country. This has made it difficult for schools to find educators to stand in for professors in the classroom and oversee physical students, often causing inconsistent substitute replacements over multiple classes. This results in the spreading of students throughout the campus by sending them to other rooms while they join the rest of the class via Zoom.

“I would think that many schools are finding themselves short on substitutes. Even before the pandemic, I would find that the same substitute was supervising different classes without a teacher, or at times classes were conjoined. Now during the pandemic, the amount of staff has gotten even smaller at Gables further worsening the existing situation,” sophomore Ralph Sans said.

Such obstacles have especially hurt schools of predominantly low-income student backgrounds. These communities have had historically harder times giving teachers time off, and the pandemic has only made the issue worse. For example, a poorer school with 50 teachers should expect 65 to 80 non-covered absences annually, compared to 16 to 33 non-covered absences in a privileged school of the same size. This makes it harder for physical classes to take place in impoverished areas when at the same time, students in these areas often rely on their school for food and care.

At Coral Gables Senior High, Mr. Ullivarri outlined some of his own difficulties with finding substitutes in one of the largest school districts in the U.S. As principal, he faces the same issues many public schools across the country are having trouble in this age of the pandemic. According to him, approximately 30 teachers and staff members have had to quarantine, and approximately 250 students have had to quarantine due to direct contact with a COVID-positive individual.

“Many schools have needed to hire additional substitutes so the pool has decreased. We try to secure the same subs daily to have continuity in the school,” Principal Ullivarri said.

School and local governments have tried to combat the diminishing number of substitute teachers by employing different strategies. States like New York have lowered their teacher certification requirements, and some states even only require high school diplomas to work in any capacity as a substitute. Some areas have implemented pay increases of anywhere from 50-70 percent to compete with other districts, in combination with bonuses of five dollars to 15 dollars a day who teach 85 percent or more of the semester. In some very more needy counties of Florida, billboards have been seen attempting to recruit substitutes.

The second-largest student populated county, Los Angeles, is considering a reopening around January, and amidst high COVID-19 rates, this action will most likely deepen the substitute teacher crisis being seen all over the country. It has been considered making teachers at the top of priority for a vaccine that will probably slow the issue and cause a dropping rate in teacher absences and quarantines.