Thomas Jefferson

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Substitute Teacher Shortages are no Joke

Posted 11/08/2023 by Ben Scherer

The effect of having fewer substitute teachers harms students in many ways. photo by Pololia/Shutterstock

The ongoing substitute teacher shortage is affecting many schools around the country, but there might be a solution.

Students may not know it, but substitute teachers play a vital role in keeping educational facilities running. Schools across the United States have been struggling in recent years due to the lack of substitute teachers. The issue is currently ongoing and has resulted in several issues in schools. Factors that have made the substitute teacher shortage worse include the COVID-19 pandemic, the retirement of a lot of experienced teachers, and an overall absence of teachers. The demand for substitute teachers is expected to only keep on growing.

However, the substitute teacher shortage isn’t affecting Thomas Jefferson High School as much as it is others. “Here at TJ, we have been pretty lucky. We typically have a high fill rate, meaning that when teachers are out, a substitute teacher will be able to fill in,” said Principal Mike Christoff, who also elaborated on the fact that at TJ, the sub shortage is improving daily. TJ usually only has about one or two teachers who are absent per day, which is an easy shortage to fill.

While the substitute teacher shortage isn’t particularly affecting TJ, it is certainly impacting other schools and looks as though it’s going to only get worse. Thanks to an already low teacher salary, more educator absenteeism, and teacher retirement, finding subs isn’t getting any easier, and the demand is increasing by the year. Schools in less fortunate areas of the country are experiencing the brunt of substitute teacher shortage. This creates a domino effect – when schools don’t have enough teachers, the students are impacted instead and their education comes to a halt. 

A study led by the University of Chicago Press Journal stated that teacher absences lead to a 1.2% standard deviation decrease in Math and English test scores. The consequences of the substitute teacher stretches beyond dropping test scores, however. In a worst-case scenario, schools could even temporarily shut down due to a strain on school resources and an uneven ratio of teachers to students. One example of where the shortage got really awful was in New Mexico, where the governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, called on the National Guard members and state workers to volunteer to fill in as substitute teachers.

Solutions to mitigate the shortage of substitute teachers include increasing substitute teacher salary, making other teachers who work at the school cover for absent teachers, offer incentives to long-term substitute teachers like health care, retirement plans, and more. All of these solutions can help mitigate the substitute shortage as it provides benefits to substitute teachers and ways to work around the issue. Some people blame the shortage on the COVID-19 pandemic. Although these people aren’t wrong, the substitute teacher shortage was also an issue pre-pandemic due to the declining salary for teachers and the stressful work environment. 

The substitute teacher shortage brings many challenges to students, who make up 100% of the nation’s future. Substitute teachers are vital for students and their continued education, so finding ways to improve the shortage of substitutes is one of the most prevalent ways of creating prepared people for the future.