How suburban school districts are scrambling after pandemic exacerbates teacher shortage

School districts grappling with the long-term effects of COVID-19 have an urgent problem to address: a shortage of teachers and substitute teachers exacerbated by the pandemic.

Suburban districts are trying to solve the problem by asking retirees to step in where there are critical shortages, increasing salaries, deploying administrators to classrooms and sharing services with neighboring districts.

Statewide, more than 3,600 teaching jobs are vacant, with a particular shortage of applicants in special education. In October 2020, 42% of the vacancies were in special education, 9% in primary education, 6% for bilingual teachers and the rest were distributed in other content areas. Districts are also reporting more than 1,200 paraprofessional vacancies, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.

The State Council does not track supply teacher positions, but “we hear that districts are having difficulty finding supply teachers,” spokeswoman Jackie Matthews said.

Where have the replacements gone

Elgin Area School District U-46 has increased the salaries of substitute teachers like Maria Morales at Huff Elementary School in Elgin.
– Brian Hill | Staff photographer

School districts say the pool of potential substitute teachers is shrinking, in part due to concerns over COVID-19 and competition with other jobs. Substitute teachers must be vaccinated or undergo a weekly COVID-19 test, which could deter some applicants.

“It’s already a tight job market,” said Ann Chan, assistant superintendent of human resources for the Elgin U-46 area school district. “The need for replacements was not great during the pandemic. People were forced to find other work for a year and a half. This created a situation where our traditional pipeline had to shut down and readjust.

The second largest school district in the state has around 60 vacancies, mostly for special education and bilingual teachers. Qualified paraprofessionals who support teachers are also scarce in the U-46s.

Retirees represent a third of the pool of 400 active substitute teachers at U-46. Some are uncomfortable coming back in person with students 11 and under who are still ineligible for vaccination.

For others, there might be more stable work available outside of schools that offers benefits and is more predictable, Chan said.

To attract new replacements, U-46 increased their rate of pay by $ 20 per day starting this month. The district now pays substitutes $ 130 per day for general education courses and $ 140 per day for bilingual and special education courses.

“Also, there are about a dozen days in the school year where we will be paying subscribers an additional $ 20 per day… when we provide professional development to our full-time educators,” Chan said. “What is difficult for this year is that we have consciously created additional (teaching) positions to maintain social distancing to ensure the safety of students and staff. If necessary, administrators of the offices of district also replace substitute teachers. “

Finding replacements for short- and long-term assignments has been difficult, said Erin Holmes, spokesperson for Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211.

“We recently surveyed replacements who had worked for us before, and less than half said they wanted to continue,” she said. “The pandemic was widely cited as a reason not to return, with concerns about their health and the health of their families being key factors in the decision. “

Roles difficult to fill


Finding substitute teachers for long-term assignments, like Maria Morales at Huff Elementary School in Elgin, has been difficult for suburban school districts.

Finding substitute teachers for long-term assignments, like Maria Morales at Huff Elementary School in Elgin, has been difficult for suburban school districts.
– Brian Hill | Staff photographer

District 211 is struggling to find teachers for specialized positions, including English as a second language, special education, applied technology, and family and consumer sciences. He is also seeing a decline in the number of applicants for positions such as social workers and school psychologists, who are critical to meeting students’ social and emotional health needs after months of pandemic peer isolation.

In Huntley Community School District 158, the pool of applicants for some teaching positions has shrunk over the past five years.

“We need bilingual teachers, school psychologists, special education teachers at all levels, vocational and technical education teachers as well as high school math and science positions,” the door said. – district speech, Alex LeMoine. “We haven’t been immune to the shortage of substitute teachers, either.

In response, District 158 ​​increased the salary of substitute teachers this school year and held its first virtual job fair this fall to recruit candidates.

“Several retired teachers are in supply positions,” said LeMoine. “Our team of administrators and staff have also been invaluable in providing the coverage necessary to ensure that we are able to serve our students in any way necessary. We continue to explore new ways to recruit and retain candidates. quality.”

The problem is, most of the suburban neighborhoods are in the same boat.

“It has been extremely difficult to find substitute teachers this year,” said Carol Smith, spokesperson for District 303 for St. Charles Unit, which faces a shortage of teachers at all levels. “Districts around the area draw from the same pool of replacements. If there are no replacements available, teachers often fill up during their planning periods, which is not optimal.”

Paying a teacher to replace a teacher during a planning period is more expensive than hiring an outside person to replace that class. Teachers are also wasting the time allocated to planning their own lessons.

The financial impact of the teacher / substitute shortage has been difficult to quantify, said Ross Vittore, assistant superintendent of human resources for Elementary District 59 of Elk Grove.

“There is a lot of time and resources required to support the safe operation of the school during a pandemic,” Vittore said. “It can delay other planned goals,” such as professional development.

Some options


Elgin Area School District U-46 has increased the salaries of substitute teachers like Maria Morales at Huff Elementary School in Elgin.

Elgin Area School District U-46 has increased the salaries of substitute teachers like Maria Morales at Huff Elementary School in Elgin.
– Brian Hill | Staff photographer

State Superintendent of Education Carmel Ayala has offered districts facing staffing challenges ways to maintain in-person teaching.

“School districts can use technology to distribute a teacher’s instructions in person to other classrooms in the school supervised by parents, volunteers or paraprofessionals,” Ayala wrote in a message to school leaders. ‘establishment.

Unauthorized employees or volunteers must be supervised by authorized personnel physically present in the building. Districts can use federal pandemic relief funding to pay parent mentors and guardians, hire additional staff, and provide stipends and retention bonuses to current teachers, she wrote.

School districts can use the ISBE Teacher Assignment Tool to find current teachers who may be qualified to fill a vacant position through short-term approvals or past qualifications.

Recent state legislative changes also allow new applicants to teach while qualifying for full licensure to reduce the teacher shortage.

Holmes of District 211 suggested the state could offer alternative pathways or integrated work experiences for people to become teachers, allowing them to change careers and enter education from other jobs.

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