Nationwide substitute shortage affects Michiana schools

NOW: Nationwide substitute shortage affects Michiana schools

NILES, Ind. - School districts reopened in August ready to deal with anything from sanitizing whole buildings every couple of hours to switching to virtual learning. But one thing that was unexpected - a nationwide substitute shortage leaving many schools without many options.

“They originally had teachers that were going to provide for the virtual learning, but they ran into a shortage of teachers," Jennifer Zellers, a third and fourth-grade virtual teacher at Eau Claire Public Schools said.

“We experienced a shortage of substitutes when we had some staff members out due to being close contacts of others, primarily outside of school who had tested positive for COVID-19," Geoff Walmer, the Wawasee High School Principal said,

“We had we had some staff that had to quarantine and so and the substitute, there's a substitute shortage throughout at least our county if not the whole country, but um so we just didn't have enough people in the building," Shawn Gedert, a high school math teacher at River Valley Schools said.

“No matter what what level we're at, yeah, we're having a real challenge with that," Tracy Hertsel, the Director of Student Support Services at Niles Community Schools said.

As fewer graduates are choosing to substitute teach and more teachers are quarantining - school districts nationwide have had to deal with a substitute shortage.

But each district has its own way of handling the mounting pressure of trying to fill those spots.

"The best choice was to pull regular teachers and have them do the virtual learning, that would be the best choice for our district," Zellers said.

"We had teachers that were able to then they could stream from home so they could actually teach the class from home while they're quarantined. So it was really just a seamless, you know, transition. And that's one of the reasons why we chose this option," Gedert said.

“We have actually hired some full-time subs right now for the year, just because of that issue, because it is hard," Hertsel said.

"The shortage of substitutes left us in, in a decision-making process of how can we continue school without having to really shut everything down," Walmer said. "And so we were we prepared well for the in-person school as we started, and we had preparations made in case we needed to go to virtual learning such as we did this week.”

For some school districts, it means looking elsewhere.

“December grads, asking about them, substituting if they have a day," Jim Bennett, the Program Director and Department Chair for Education at Bethel University said.

Like at local universities.

“I think we were aware fairly early on. Whether that's on or around in early September, began to sense when we would get calls from area school districts if, you know our seniors had any days that they could substitute. Or if we knew of individuals who perhaps graduated didn't have a position where they available," Bennett said. So I think pretty early on districts were experiencing, perhaps not what they're experiencing now to the level of the situation, but still a need for substitutes.”

Jim Bennett is now the Education Department Head at Bethel University but has had his fair share of working inside schools.

“Teacher, a principal, worked at a central office level in curriculum instruction. Yeah, for more than 20 years at the central office level,” he said.

And understands the stress these districts are going through trying to find replacements.

“If there's a day or two of that, you can kind of adjust and make that work. But I think one of the situations that has to be concerning now, for those who I think I'll say is in the trenches, so to speak, is just the day after day after day of the unknown, not having a substitute not having adequate substitutes," he said.

Bennett said the teacher shortage in previous years just adds to the dilemma.

“It's basic basically both there is a teacher shortage and that certainly is contributing to a substitute issue but covid I think has just really shone a light on that and made it all the worse," he said.

Coming up this Thursday you will hear more from Jim Bennett about the substitute shortages seen across the country as well as what two local Michiana school districts are doing to tackle this problem.

As always, if you have any burning questions or concerns about your local school district, email us at [email protected].

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