Schools in the United States are struggling to reopen and stay open for face-to-face classes amid coronavirus outbreaks.
Substitute teachers help fill gaps when teachers are sick or on personal leave. The problem is that there are not enough substitutes, who often work as needed for low pay.
Therefore, school districts are using innovative ways to find other substitutes and have expanded their pool of candidates to include parents, school bus drivers, and even members of the military.
“It’s been difficult to hire substitutes,” said Jean Consolla, principal of Mount Eagle Elementary School in Fairfax County, Va.
“I had a teacher about to go on maternity leave, and I’m wondering how to cover the time she’s gone.”
“Then it occurred to me: what about using my son, Julian, who will be on a break from college, as a substitute teacher? He has a positive attitude, he likes working with kids, and he can earn some money.”
Julian Consolla, 20, is majoring in sports management. After completing the required 30 hours of college credits needed to become a substitute in Virginia, he thought it would be a good opportunity.
“It was a little stressful at first, but after I got used to the routine, it became easier and more fun,” he told VOA.
At another school in Fairfax County, McNair Upper Elementary, Sophie Carter is also a college student and substitute teacher.
Since her major is elementary education, she considers this an ideal job.
“I am gaining classroom management skills and, hopefully, I am making the environment fun and engaging in the classroom. This has strengthened my love for teaching.”
Principal Melissa Goddin wants more college students like Carter to apply, since substitute teachers are so hard to find.
“There are a lot of job opportunities in this area. We’re competing with places that allow people to work from home, who want to avoid the possibility of exposure to the virus at school.”
The situation is similar in Ohio.
“I think people don’t want to be exposed to the virus if they don’t have to be,” said Dawn Gould, community relations coordinator for Kings Local Schools in Kings Mills, Ohio.
“Our substitute replacement rate was below 50% this week,” she said in an interview with VOA. “We had to close the school one day recently because we were having trouble filling the classrooms.”
Usually, a bachelor’s degree is required to be a substitute in Ohio. But now, during the pandemic, that’s not necessary.
“We’re hopeful that we can get more parents to subscribe who may not have a degree,” he said.
Schools in the western United States have also asked parents to help as volunteers or substitute teachers.
In California, the Palo Alto Unified School District urges parents to volunteer in its “Together, Schools Stay Open” campaign.
“We haven’t been fully staffed for months with enough teachers or substitute teachers,” said Don Austin, the district’s superintendent. “About 10 percent of our teachers are out every day.”
Parent Jen Wiener answered the call for help.
Having parents in the classroom “is not a quick fix” to the problem, she said. “But kids need to be in school, so let’s encourage parents to help.”
A school district in Texas says it can only get half the substitutes it needs.
“People test positive or have been in close contact with someone who has symptoms, so they stay home,” said Tim Savoy, director of communications for the Hays Consolidated Independent School District outside Austin.
“We reached out to parents as substitute teachers. Although they usually need a certain amount of college credit, the school principal can waive them.”
The rules have been relaxed in other states as well.
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill that would “temporarily allow trusted staff members, such as secretaries, professionals and others, to work as substitute teachers through the end of the current school year.”
School bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and administrative assistants who have a high school education may also be used, according to R.J. Webber, assistant superintendent of academic services in the Novi Community School District.
“Our teachers provide lesson plans for substitutes, who make sure the children are well cared for and safe,” he said.
But that’s disconcerting to Colin Sharkey, executive director of the Association of American Educators.
“It’s troubling that standards are being lowered,” he said, “but understandably, districts are just trying to do anything to make sure there’s supervision in the classroom.”
Because of “extreme staffing shortages,” New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is asking National Guard members to volunteer as substitute teachers. “Our schools are a critical source of stability for children. We know they learn best in the classroom,” she said.
[Artículo de Deborah Block, publicado originalmente en VOA News]
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