Rebound Detroit: Could substitute teacher shortage be further exacerbated by pandemic?

Posted at 5:00 PM, Jul 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-07 17:02:59-04

Editor's Note: This article was originally published by WZYZ in Detroit. To view their original story, click here.

As school districts prepare to welcome kids back to the classrooms safely in the fall, they'll be facing a budget shortage. Could they face a teacher shortage too?

Substitute teachers step in when teachers are sick and even fill the gaps when staffing needs increase.

There has been a teacher shortage in the state for awhile, will the pandemic make that shortage worse? Are substitute teachers in high demand but short supply? It depends on who you ask.

“We have a lot of clients asking us to double, and in some cases, triple our talent pool sizes,” says Nicola Soares, president of Kelly Education, which supplies staff for school districts.

“I don’t think there’s going to be a bigger need because of COVID,” says David Hecker, president of the American Federation of Teachers in Michigan.

Hecker says full-time union teachers plan to return in the fall.

“I can’t stress enough how much our members want to go back, but want to go back under conditions where everybody in the school is as safe as possible,” Hecker said.

Substitute teachers will likely be needed to fill in the gaps, just like they have in the past.

“There is a teacher shortage, but that well pre-dated the COVID-19 situation,” Hecker said.

“Fewer and fewer students graduating from the College of Education, that’s the biggest reason we have a shortage. You’re even competing now against gig economies,” says Lezlie Soda, the National Development Team Director with EDUSTAFF.

The EDUSTAFF agency supplies substitute teachers to more than 400 school districts in Michigan. They recently surveyed their roster to see if the pandemic will affect their availability in the fall.

“We had 6,400 reply, 79 percent said they are anticipating coming back in the fall, which is great news,” Soda said.

That is great news, but that also means 20 percent of substitute teachers may not return. Soares with Kelly Education says health concerns will be a factor.

“We have many employees that might have underlying conditions, there could be substitute teachers or teachers with family members with underlying conditions,” Soares said.

Hecker says with virtual schooling options increasing, teachers who are immune-compromised will have more virtual options. When it comes to substitute teachers, they often bounce from district to district where ever they are needed, in the middle of a pandemic that is another concern.

The superintendent of L’Anse Creuse Public Schools Erik Edoff has a possible solution.

“To hire your own subs in the district, I think will help with shortages because if you have them as employees, you can assign them based on their certifications more easily and assure that there’s a high quality person in a classroom,” Edoff said.

But that costs money.

“It’s very difficult with out knowing what the budgetary situation will look like next year,” Edoff said.

With smaller class sizes and the uncertain trajectory of the pandemic, former educators are being asked to step back in the ring and help if they can.

“If it’s a calling, if it’s something that you’ve been thinking about, I strongly encourage you to apply for the needs not just of the district, but of the kids,“ says Edoff emphasizing that after the abrupt end to the spring semester, students need a strong fall more than ever.

If you would like to become a substitute teacher, check the websites of your local school districts. Some hire subs directly. You can also apply with one of the substitute teacher staffing services.

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

Click here for a page with resources including a COVID-19 overview from the CDC, details on cases in Michigan, a timeline of Governor Gretchen Whitmer's orders since the outbreak, coronavirus' impact on Southeast Michigan, and links to more information from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC and the WHO.

View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.

See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.

Visit our The Rebound Detroit, a place where we are working to help people impacted financially from the coronavirus. We have all the information on everything available to help you through this crisis and how to access it.