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Substitute teachers coming up short as school year begins

Posted at 5:52 PM, Aug 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-18 19:36:39-04

VERMILION, Ohio — As teachers and students across Northeast Ohio head back to the classroom in the coming weeks, both in-person and online, many substitute teachers are struggling to find work in a market they say was already overly competitive before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are educated educators. I mean, that’s what our degrees are in,” Ghalib Ali said. “That’s what our careers are in. That’s what we want to do.”

A bachelor’s degree is required for short-term substitute teaching positions in Ohio and a teaching certificate is required for most long-term assignments.

Some educators told News 5 they have the degree and the experience, but can’t find the work.

“It is scary. I mean, right now it looks like we’re not going to be able to work for awhile so that’s scary having everything to pay for — bills,” Mallory Ali said.

Before the pandemic, Ghalib and Mallory Ali had no trouble finding work as substitute teachers five days a week.

“We were able to work every single day,” Ghalib Ali said. “Every single school day.”

But after schools shut down in March and many districts are choosing to begin the year remotely, the need for subs is fleeting and so is the income.

“With all the remote learning there’s really no need for substitutes in that case,” Ghalib Ali said.

Mallory Ali said she understands the need for remote learning, but her family is struggling to stay afloat.

“Being online where everyone is safer but us substitutes don’t have a job,” Mallory Ali said. “So either way I feel like someone is hurting.”

Vermilion Local Schools Superintendent Philip Pempin said before COVID-19 there would be between two and 20 substitute teachers filling in on a single campus each day.

“You can see that that is impacting those people that we would be hiring on a fairly regular basis,” Pempin said. “It probably would average, I would say, ten to twelve.”

However, Pempin said the district is only hiring two subs per school as they begin the year remotely.

“If, God forbid, one of our staff members or more than one gets COVID, we’re going to need someone to step in and fulfill their role,” Pempin said.

For the Ali family, side jobs to supplement the lack of subbing jobs are barely helping them to keep their heads above water while raising twin one-year-old girls.

“Taking care of these girls,” Ghalib Ali said. “Little side gigs here and there. Making ends meet.”

Ali said he has looked for other opportunities while re-applying for district jobs multiple times a week but has been unsuccessful.

“They’ll see that, ‘Oh you have a degree in education?’ The jig is up at that point because they’re afraid as soon as the school year starts or as soon as you find that full-time job, you’re out of here,” Ali said.

Some district superintendents told News 5 they will re-evaluate after the first several weeks of the school year and bring in more substitute teachers if necessary.

“If anything significantly changes, then we want to get back and get those subs back with us too,” Pempin said.