Recruiting Substitute Teachers Poses Challenges for Schools, Amidst Severe Staffing Shortages

School districts throughout the country face an existential threat posed by a nationwide shortage of teachers. That problem is due in large part to the pandemic. Many teachers have recently left the workforce for good because of the health risks of being in the classroom, battles with parents over masks, vaccines, other protective measures, and general burnout. According to a recent survey conducted by the National Education Association, 32 percent of teachers “said the pandemic has led them to plan to leave the profession earlier than they anticipated.” 

The result of that mass exodus is a widespread short-staffing issue at most schools throughout the nation. Few schools have enough teachers, and even fewer have the base of substitute teachers necessary to fill gaps when teachers fall ill or miss school for other reasons. Some schools have even had to close to go virtual for days at a time due to insufficient staffing.

The current situation has most schools hiring for all positions – not just teachers but also bus drivers, paraprofessionals, and support staff. One key challenge remains to recruit substitute teachers to respond to urgent needs. Because of Covid-19, the teacher shortage is coming at the same time when illness is more likely to require teachers to miss work. As such, even schools that can meet their staffing needs have had to make new plans for substitute teachers.

According to PBS, the shortages have schools considering desperate measures to meet their needs, such as bringing retired teachers back to school or having teachers teach subjects they aren’t trained to teach. The article notes that, in Louisiana, 24 percent of teachers working right now are “either uncertified or teaching outside their field of expertise.” Elsewhere, including in Nashville and Washington, D.C., parents are asked to step in as emergency substitute teachers. In Oklahoma, a recent executive order from the governor’s office aims to get employees of state agencies to step in and substitute teach.

Measures such as these may prove effective at getting adults into classrooms to teach, in turn allowing schools to stay open for in-person learning. One potential concern is that school districts will lower their standards for new teachers – mainly substitute teachers – in desperation to fill vacant roles. Especially given the unpredictable and often emergent needs for substitute teachers, it’s possible that schools could recruit new subs without attending to their usual pre-employment background screening protocols.

Pre-employment screening is a vital part of hiring teachers. It allows employers to ensure that teachers are qualified to teach and don’t have red flags in their background – such as sex offenses, child abuse charges, or other serious criminal activity – that might indicate risks to children. However, background checks are a barrier to entry for would-be subs – they take time, cost money, and can disqualify potential candidates. Schools may be more inclined to skip them than they would be in less desperate circumstances. 

In cases where schools require pre-employment background screening for substitute teachers, there may be a question of who pays for those checks. In Oklahoma, for instance, the state requires FBI background checks for all teachers – subs included – but doesn’t pay for them. As a result, schools in the state have been asking prospective substitute teachers to pay for their own background checks, which creates another barrier to getting teachers into classrooms.

As school districts work to navigate the recruitment, hiring, and pre-employment screening processes for substitute teachers, is here to help as a resource for background check needs. Contact us today with questions.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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