Substitute teacher shortage is a nationwide crisis


(NewsNation) — Since the start of the pandemic, teachers across the U.S. have retired early or quit the profession, causing a substitute and teacher shortage. Increased absences have pushed the situation to a breaking point, as schools struggle to fill vacancies.

Even before the pandemic, nearly 600,000 substitute teachers covered more than 30 million teacher absences a year, according to Future-Ed, a nonpartisan organization that analyzes education issues.

School districts have faced enormous challenges in staffing the nation’s nearly 100,000 public schools since the start of the pandemic, Thomas Toch, director of Future-Ed, reported in a New York Times article.

According to a new study by Future-Ed, prior to the pandemic, one out of every five substitute requests went unfilled. Now, health and economic impacts have further complicated the situation in 77% of school districts.

Researchers and school officials say the shortages are primarily in areas where they have existed for years — rural communities, schools serving low-income students and students of color and in subjects such as special education, foreign languages and advanced math and science.

Toch told NewsNation that compensation, working amid the pandemic and decreased interest are also all issues impacting the shortage.

“The challenges of working during the pandemic and managing families at the same time, being on the front lines of the culture war, has increased attrition among teachers and increased demand for subs,” Toch explained.

He added: “On the supply side, there are fewer people going into teaching, and so it’s created a real challenge for a lot of school districts.”

Despite the issues at hand, Toch has solutions, including paying substitute teachers more money.

“The research, in the study we did, suggests that if you do increase pay for subs, it will bring more people into classrooms,” Toch said.

Researchers say another issue impacting the teacher labor market is that aspiring teachers frequently don’t know what jobs are going to be available to them when they complete their training, while states and school districts have neglected to use financial incentives to persuade candidates to take jobs and stay in them.

Toch said a solution for that is to ensure teachers are getting adequate training for the needs of schools in their local area.

“Unlike college professors for which there’s a national market, most folks going into teaching out of college work locally,” he added. “So we need to have created a better understanding for folks when they enter teacher training as to what they should study in order to to get credentialed to serve in subjects where there are jobs.”

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