It was a problem before the COVID-19 pandemic but it's only gotten worse.  The need for substitute teachers isn't a new issue; but the lack of applicants has only gotten worse over the course of the last year. Finding qualified, reliable applicants to fill those necessary positions is a challenge that many local schools are facing.

Two school districts in our area are finding unique ways to welcome and solicit applicants.

In Superior, that means creative advertising and incentives.  According to an article in the Superior Telegram [paywall],  the Superior School District is doing both.  Superior District Administrator Amy Starzecki shared that they are using the home pages of each schools' website, school newsletters, and social media as means of outreach.

Superior calls their substitute teachers "guest teachers".  Starzecki offers that more people meet the minimal qualifications than meets the eye: "You only need to have an AA (associates degree) to qualify for a license.  Many, many people are eligible to be substitutes".

And if they the minimal qualifications wasn't appealing enough, the pay might help.  At the Superior Public School District, those "guest teachers" earn $150 a day.  As a welcoming incentive, the district is considering giving each teacher a "gift bag....providing them with mentors, ongoing professional development, and a paid day for shadowing a teacher".  Their hope is that some of these methods will encourage more people to apply; they also hope to increase substitute teacher retention.

Superior High School sign - Superior School District in Superior, WI
Nick Cooper - TSM Duluth

While local districts have historically had problems finding and maintaining a substitute teacher pool, the COVID-19 Pandemic hasn't helped.  Starzecki agrees:  "We're really facing a substitute shortage across our country and it's a challenge.  It was a challenge before COVID, and now it's an even greater  challenge".

And it's not like the schools can just operate without a sub.  When there's a need for a substitute teacher - and one isn't available - the position gets filled by other staff members.  That leads to staff members who are already stretched with their duties to have to assume more work.  It also leads to an impact on professional development.

Starzecki explains what happens when there aren't enough substitute teachers in the pool:

"As a part of the sub shortage, you'll see (licensed) district administrators in classrooms when there is a desperate need.  At least once a year, you'll see district administrators who are license will go and help out with the sub shortage. That means me."

To brainstorm recruitment efforts, both the Superior and the Maple school boards recently spent time at recent meetings on the issue.


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