I am a retired educator. I will be honest. There were two times in my career that I came to school very ill because I could not get a classroom substitute. I did not want the stress of students being put in colleague’s classroom and the parent backlash I would receive. I decided to “soldier the illness” and go to school. Yes, while most states do require substitutes to have a college degree or a teaching certificate, the significantly low number of substitutes has made a logistical nightmare for some schools. In this article, we are going to look at do substitute teachers need a degree? Furthermore, should substitute requirements be relaxed?
Given the expectations of a shortage of substitutes, some states have started to relax their substitute teaching requirements. At the risk of stating the obvious, although increasing the teacher substitute supply by lowering the degree requirement in theory means a greater availability of substitutes in the event of teacher absences, but it could also mean that the average quality and effectiveness of the substitutes is likely lower.
The pandemic unveiled enormous weaknesses in America’s infrastructure. And in education, substitute teaching, already in dismal condition, was impacted. Prior to COVID 19, our nation’s schools had an 80 percent coverage rate . Thus, one-in-five jobs went unfilled. That is an average.
Many schools in the nation had averages that ranged upwards to 90 percent unfilled jobs. The harsh reality of not having substitute coverage is a disruption in student learning. Having been a classroom teacher, it also causes stress on colleagues when you must integrate an entire classroom of kids into your own program. A lack of substitutes has led many local campuses to ask teachers to sell their prep periods or combine multiple classes into one large space such as a gym or auditorium when substitutes aren’t available.
Solving the Shortage of Substitutes Has Been Elusive
What happens when the teacher is out, and there isn’t anyone available to cover the classroom? It is a disconcerting reality. Even before the pandemic, substitute teachers have been in short supply. But this school year, the shortage has been dire. To fill the gaps, schools are relaxing educational requirements to become a substitute.
A nationally representative survey, conducted by the EdWeek Research Center from Sept. 29 to Oct. 8, found that 77 percent of principals and district leaders said they have struggled to hire a sufficient number of substitute teachers. More administrators pointed to difficulties hiring subs than any other staffing position.
What does an administrator do when there are no substitutes? Other staff members—coaches, specialists, and administrators—are pulled into classrooms. And teachers are covering for each other. In both cases, that means pulling people away from their own work.
The last thing is we’re seeing is that principals really can’t release teachers for additional duties, like professional development and collaboration. Bob Niverson, the principal said, “I would love to send teachers to conferences but I do not have the coverage for their classes. We are already stretched to the point of breaking.”
Relaxing the Requirements for Substitute Teachers
Many states are relaxing requirements to allow someone to be a substitute teacher without a college degree. They must still pass a background check. While some say it is an effective stopgap measure to the teacher shortage, others say it is certainly no long-term solution.
A person I interviewed said, “If you must lower the bar to get a person in the classroom, you are putting the whole system at risk. You need to raise the bar and put more incentives in place for someone truly wanting to go into education. No longer requiring college for a person to substitute is asinine.”
While people argue having an educated substitute workforce ultimately needs to be sustainable and enticing, what do we do in the interim? Sally McNally, retired principal, stated, “In many places, teachers are out more frequently than usual because they’ve been exposed to or contracted COVID-19 and must quarantine, or because their own children must quarantine. Couple that with a substitute shortage and you have an unfit learning environment.”
Helping the Crisis: Some State Initiatives
The state of Nevada will again consider allowing the Clark and Washoe county school districts to hire substitute teachers who have only a high school diploma. Nevada school districts with fewer than 9,000 students and public charter schools within their boundaries are already allowed to hire emergency substitute teachers, but they can’t be in one classroom for more than five days in a 20-day period.
California has an Emergency Substitute Teaching Permit for Prospective Teachers. This permit authorizes the holder to serve as a day-to-day substitute teacher in any classroom, including preschool, kindergarten, and grades 1-12 inclusive, or in classes organized primarily for adults.
The holder may serve as a substitute for no more than 30 days for any one teacher and may only serve for a maximum of 90 days during the school year. In a special education classroom, the holder may serve for no more than 20 days for any one teacher during the school year. The permit is valid for one year and may be renewed only once.
Oregon allows substitute teacher applicants without a bachelor’s degree to be sponsored by a school district, which would also provide them with enhanced support and administrative supervision, according to a joint statement from Dr. Anthony Rosilez, the commission’s executive director, and Erika Bare, the commission chair.
The license would only allow individuals to work for the district that sponsored them and would only be valid for the remainder of the school year, or six months, whichever is later.
Florida allows substitute teachers to have a high school diploma (or equivalent). If you have no classroom teaching experience, the school district must provide you with training on classroom management skills and instructional strategies to use prior to allowing you to work in the classroom. You must be trained on the school district’s school safety protocol and procedures, ethics, professional responsibilities, and liability laws.
In Hawaii, substitute teachers are paid a daily rate based upon the class to which they belong (see chart, below). Substitutes are not eligible to participate in the Employees’ Retirement System.
In Kentucky, you must hold a Statement of Eligibility for a Kentucky teaching certificate to receive a Substitute Teaching Certificate. This means you must have at least a bachelor’s degree with a 2.5 GPA and have graduated from a Kentucky teacher preparation program.
The Stakes Are High
“I can’t imagine being 19 years old and substituting in the same high school where you graduated. The classroom management that you’re going to have is not going to be very effective because you’ll probably let a lot of things slide, and it could cause a lot of problems,” Bridgette Parriday said. “I don’t even know if I would be able to do that at this age. I’m 20 years old. I wouldn’t have that discipline and that confidence in myself.”
Final Thoughts – Should Substitute Requirements be Relaxed?
This nationwide substitute teacher shortage has reached a pinnacle point. It threatens to keep some districts open. Other school districts around the country have attempted to increase their pools of eligible substitutes by dropping requirements for a bachelor’s degree and speeding up the certification process.
With so many areas of the nation facing shortages of full-time teachers, efforts to get warm bodies in the classroom has erupted. In a perfect world, we hope someday there will be a plethora of highly qualified teachers rather than the current crisis. We need people out there that are willing to go into the classrooms: what we’re finding is that a lot of people are finding out that it really is kind of a cool job, and maybe education is a place for them.