School districts struggle to find qualified substitute teachers to fill the void

Posted at 10:44 PM, Jan 12, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-13 07:40:25-05

It’s a growing crisis in our classrooms, as the cold and flu season ramps up across Northeast Ohio. Some school districts are struggling to find qualified substitute teachers to fill in for staff members when they call out sick.

News 5 has discovered this is part of a much bigger problem that's intensifying in education right now.

The sub shortage may be creating a logistical nightmare for local districts and putting into question the quality of education children are getting, but the bigger concern is why we're seeing fewer qualified people stepping up to the plate in a pinch.

Day-to-day classroom staffing is more complex these days at Middleburg Heights Junior High School, as the number of substitute teachers is dropping drastically.

"I've definitely noticed the shortage over the last several years," said principal Paul Kish.

Kish often uses other teachers in the building to fill the void when he can't get outside help.

"It's taking time away from their prep and their planning and having an impact on that responsibility," said Kish.

And when that stop-gap measure doesn't work, sometimes he has to step in.

"As principal, I've had to cover classes when we don't have a substitute, assistant principals have had to cover classes" added Kish.

When they do get subs in the classroom, Kish tells News 5 some of them lack important experience.

"They're not necessarily certified in a curricular area that they are covering," said Kish.

"That is really an indication of the problem of the shortage of new teachers," said Karen Kaye, Dean of Education at Baldwin Wallace University.

Kaye is sounding the alarm.

"All of us want qualified teachers for our children. We’re worried that there won’t be qualified people,” said Kaye.

That's because nationwide the number of students majoring in Education has dropped 30% between 2011 and 2014. The number is even higher here in Ohio.

"That's a very dramatic drop in a very short amount of time," said Kaye.

But why are we seeing it? Kaye says it boils down to the changing landscape in Education. All of it is taking a toll on teachers, whose pay is now tied to students succeeding in standardized tests.

Those struggles are giving up-and-coming educators second thoughts. Shockingly, sometimes those saying steer clear are the teachers themselves.

"Instead of being complimented when their young people say I would like to be a teacher are saying 'I wouldn't go into it again if starting over, and I wouldn't recommend it,'" said Kaye.

Enrollment in the education program at Baldwin Wallace University alone is down nearly 35-percent.

Add on top of that more students in classrooms with learning disabilities, more children who don't speak English and more students who come from poverty - it’s all taking a toll on teachers.

"They're feeling stressed, they're feeling pressured, sometimes unappreciated. Young people are being discouraged from the career either from what they've heard or seen and they're not sure they want to do it," said Karen Kaye, Baldwin Wallace University’s Dean of Education.

Only News 5 is taking an in-depth look at how colleges and universities like Baldwin Wallace are fighting back - to not only make sure we still have teachers in our classrooms, but that the quality of education being offered doesn't take a hit.

It’s no easy task. We’re told the mindset of millions of young people, thinking about their future, needs to be changed and quick.

But schools producing our next generation of teachers can only move so fast.

As school districts desperately wait for newly qualified teachers, especially in math and science, the concern is growing.

"We aren't sure who's going to teach those science courses when the last of the baby boomers retire," said Kaye.

Right now, BW is looking at offering a fifth-year master's program for science majors, which could make them teachers in just 14 months.

"When there's a shortage, responding quickly is not easy," said Kaye.

Katherine Crossen, a recent BW grad, and math teacher at Middleburg Heights Junior High is proof aspiring teachers can make it despite the struggles.

"It was a rude awakening the first year," said Crossen.

The teacher, in her third year, said better preparation and quicker programs are great, but her advice to up-and-coming teachers is a simple one.

"You have to remember why you went into it in the first place, because if you lose sight of that, then it's hard to keep up with all those challenges," said Crossen.

Experts in education echo her thoughts.

"You need to be tough, you need to be strong, and you need to be committed and passionate, but you can teach," said Kaye.

It's one of the messages BW will be pushing in new marketing materials set to roll out this year.

"Some of the messages say it's too hard, it's just way harder. Our answer is we are preparing you for that in ways that 15-years ago we didn't prepare teachers," added Kaye.

Kaye said parents should be concerned right now. She said children who have a bad experience with math two years in a row, possibly due to poor teaching, will never recover that lost mathematic ability.


That's why this shortage of highly specialized teachers is so alarming. The littlest minds could possibly take the biggest hit.