I honestly thought the 2020–2021 school year would be where we saw the most significant teacher and sub shortages. Maybe they would extend into 2021–2022. But certainly by this year, things would have straightened out, right?
New me laughs at old me.
In many schools across the country, teachers are left to struggle with coverage issues. Sometimes teachers are out with illness (a principal in our Principal Life Facebook group reported 20% of his staff was out with COVID). Some schools still have unfilled positions due to the teacher shortage. And on top of this, it’s harder than ever to hire subs.
Here’s what teachers in our Teacher Helpline Facebook group said their schools have done to alleviate coverage issues.
1. Administration stepping up to help
“Administration should cover before teachers have to give up planning time.”
ASCD puts administration helping out as the very first item on their checklist for schools to address a substitute shortage. I know that principals and assistant principals have their own laundry list of responsibilities and can’t be in classrooms all day, but even a rotational system would demonstrate a culture of collective responsibility.
A note here: Even though a lot of schools are taking an “all hands on deck” approach, I think it’s important, for legal reasons, to avoid putting uncertified professionals of any kind in classes to cover kids unless it’s an absolute emergency. Because principals and assistant principals have experience teaching and their role is to support teachers and learning, it makes the most sense to utilize their training and experience before using other school staff who don’t have that background.
2. Paying teachers who opt in
“Our teachers get their hourly rate to cover a class, and they’re able to say no. Many do it for the extra money. If no teachers are available, admin covers, but we can’t have all admin covering in case there is an emergency.”
3. Getting parents and community members to help
“Parents as emergency subs (emergency sub cert and half day in primary band intermediate, each sort of watching a class in action) has been how we mostly survived last year!”
I Palo Alto’s response to their substitute and teacher shortage. Not every community has the resources and workday flexibility that parents in Palo Alto have. But so many districts could benefit from the approach of reaching out to the community to be a part of what’s happening in their schools.
4. Utilizing students in college education programs to sub
As this Edweek article discusses, certifying students in teacher-preparation programs could benefit everyone. College students get valuable experience teaching on their own, students get highly qualified substitutes, and teachers get more flexibility in taking time off to take care of themselves and their families. The rare win-win-win. This would make it especially easy for a student teacher to step in when their supervising teacher is absent.
5. Increasing sub pay
“My district increased sub pay. We are paying subs the most in my area, so, luckily, we’ve been doing OK. Teachers still get asked to cover but we can say no, and we get paid if we do decide to take the class during our prep period.”
6. Offering a “half class” option to protect at least part of planning time
“Having a block schedule helps because there are more people on prep when there are only 4 blocks a day. We do get paid to sub and only have to fill in half the block (about 45 minutes) so we still should get half our prep, though if we’re able to sub the whole thing, we can choose to to get paid for the full block.”
7. Creating a rotating system of who’s chosen to cover
“In my schools there is a rotation per period. So hopefully the same person doesn’t lose it each day.”
(I think she meant “lose it” as in losing the planning period, but I think it also applies in the stress sense.)
8. Making big changes to the school week
“Four-day school week.”
Check out the pros and cons to four-day school weeks here.
9. Behold the Flexible Friday
This Edsurge article outlines an excellent idea of using Fridays as flex time. They can be used for giving teachers time off, planning time, half days, online tutorials, or whatever else a school needs.
10. Consider lowering requirements for substitutes for non-classroom roles
Some schools are using parent volunteers and high school graduates to step in and give time back to teachers. These “subs” can do things like monitor the lunchroom, supervise car pickup duty, and do other tasks that take some of the weight off the teacher workload. (And while yes, many states are allowing anyone with a high school degree to substitute teach, I don’t feel great about an 18-year-old being the substitute teacher in a class of … 18-year-olds.)
I think it’s important to note here that it’s on administration to tackle how to alleviate coverage issues. Teachers can’t make changes to the master schedule. Teachers can’t create a teacher rotation system or make payments for coverage. That’s on leadership.
Principals, we know the last few years have been the hardest of your career too. If you don’t have money in the budget for some of these solutions, covering classes yourself or arranging a rotational system will go a long way for your teachers and for the culture of your school.