PARMA, Ohio — Businesses are struggling to hire workers amid a nationwide labor shortage and school districts are not immune.
They simply can't find enough people to fill the classrooms, including many in Northeast Ohio.
Nowel Rains is the building substitute for Greenbriar Middle School in Parma.
“I’ve been substitute teaching since 2014. So, I absolutely love it. I haven't done anything else since then,” said Rains. “It's just that you build connections with kids, they like seeing you, you like seeing them. And it just helps their mindset to feel at ease. When I walk into the room, they know I'm not a stranger.”
She’s there on a full-time basis to teach classes whenever needed.
“Sometimes I'm in the classroom all day, sometimes I'm moving around quite a bit from floor to floor, grade level to grade level—just depends on where my need is for that day,” said Rains.
Rains is moving around a lot more these days.
This year, the district only has a 19% fill rate of substitute teachers.
“Sometimes when a teacher can't cover that class, then we're pulling, we’re pulling the strings to try to just get someone in there because you never want to leave a class unattended,” said Rains. “The more subs that obviously we can get in the district, the better.”
That means full-time teachers often have to step in and teach other classes, leaving them less time for professional development or to plan for their own classes.
The shortage isn’t just happening in Parma.
Painesville City Local Schools said its substitute teacher fill rate has consistently been between 50% and 75%.
Chas Irish, the district’s communications manager, said there are two building subs per building for all five of the district’s buildings. They report five days a week and are contracted for the entire year. However, Irish said the district has had a daily need for anywhere from two to ten additional teaching subs on any given day.
Cleveland Metropolitan School District said it's in need of subs too along with educational assistants and secretaries. Interim deputy chief of communications Tom Ott said the district has had staff shortages in some buildings, but others haven’t experienced issues. He said district officials are monitoring the situation and making adjustments as needed.
Over in Lorain County, many districts are also struggling to find subs.
“There are days where they have classes that are not covered by substitute teachers. They’re unfilled and they sometimes have to combine those classes,” said Franco Gallo, superintendent of the Educational Service Center of Lorain County. “And then there's other times where they have to turn them into study halls and put them in a large group setting where they have a person to cover the larger group.”
Gallo oversees 14 school districts in Lorain County in his role as superintendent.
He said the subs list is as low as it's ever been, and it's linked to COVID concerns, tensions in schools between parents and staff, and other jobs paying higher wages.
Substitute teacher jobs offered through the ESC of Lorain County pay $100 per day and can go up to $150 per day. Parma City Schools pays $100 per day. CMSD pays substitute teachers a competitive rate starting at $141 per day.
“One of the things that I've been hearing is that there's teachers who feel like I can't miss school now, because, ‘Hey I'm causing a larger issue because we don't have substitute teachers,’” said Gallo. “We have teachers who are feeling that pressure that is causing–I think a lot of stress and some burnout.”
So he’s urging people to apply and help out if they can.
Many districts only require a bachelor’s degree and an Ohio teaching certificate or license in any subject to teach.
“The goal is to make sure that we have educated folks in front of our students so that they can help them out,” said Gallo. “You can even work one day a week, I mean districts right now would take anything that they could get, and if you can help out even one day a week that would be helpful.”
At Greenbriar, Rains said all teachers are shouldering the load and pitching in where they can. So far, no classes have gone unattended.
“I can cover a period, somebody else covers another period. And the nicest thing about this staff that I've had the pleasure of getting to know is that everybody steps in, everybody helps everybody,” said Rains.
But they don’t want to see this shortage go on for much longer.
“Ultimately, I think in any classroom when there's a shortage of teachers and subs the kids get behind. And that's certainly what we don't want to see happen,” said Rains.
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