As school districts reopen during pandemic, many struggle to find teachers, substitutes

The DPI says more needs to be done to retain both teachers and substitutes across the state.
Published: Aug. 28, 2020 at 10:44 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - While many school districts across the country are ironing out the final plans to welcome students back either in person or virtually, administrators are also grappling with a teacher shortage, including substitute teachers.

“The last time we checked we have about 120,000 people who hold a valid teacher license, and about 60,000 are teaching in public schools,” said David DeGuire, director of teachers, education, professional development and licencing at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

DeGuire says the teacher shortage is nothing new and those choosing the career has been on the decline for the last decade.

A few years ago, the DPI asked the legislature to change the requirements to allow short term substitute teachers to have a bachelor’s degree or an associates degree with approved training.

The change prompted by teachers seeking out other career choices.

“What we heard from many districts around the state they were competing with Kwik Trip in particular. Kwik Trip was paying better, had better hours and provided benefits,” said DeGuire.

Now there’s another problem preventing districts from finding teachers or substitutes in the form of a pandemic.

“Generally retirees are at higher risk with COVID. The other is going online. Many retirees never taught online and are not familiar with the technology,” said DeGuire.

Administrators at the Howard-Suamico School District say they’ve been fortunate so far this year with staffing substitute teachers and they’re getting creative on how to utilize them.

“Our goal is to have two substitute teachers present at each of our elementary schools regardless of a vacancy or not,” said Deputy Superintendent, Mark Smith.

Elementary students at HSSD will go to school full time five days a week while middle and high school students will operate on a hybrid model.

Substitutes will also be used to help in other areas at the schools and stay within one particular building.

“Whether that’s supervising in the lunch room or making sure students are social distancing in hallways, we’re making the commitment to those substitutes that you show up, and you’re going to have employment for that time,” said Smith.

Still, the DPI says more needs to be done to retain both teachers and substitutes across the state; one solution is easing qualifications.

“If we could allow people who have had the equivalent of an associates degree to substitute, that’s probably the biggest thing we could do,” said DeGuire.

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