'Challenges persist': Substitute teacher shortage hits districts
A new license change implemented to alleviate substitute teacher shortages hasn't made much of a dent in Lake Oswego, West Linn and Wilsonville.
Until March 31, applicants for substitute teaching roles do not need to have a bachelor's degree to qualify for the job. This decision was headed by the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission on Oct. 28, with hopes that the applicant pool would widen with the temporary drop of requirement.
Previously, applicants were required to have at least a bachelor's degree and finish state-mandated training programs and tests to qualify for a substitute license. Now, if an applicant does not have a bachelor's degree, the school district must sponsor the candidate. The district is required to conduct background checks and provide enhanced support and administrative supervision, said commission's executive director, Dr. Anthony Rosilez, and Erika Bare, the commission chair.
"This rule maintains the responsibility of districts to ensure that the adults caring for the students in the classroom have the skills and dispositions necessary to be a temporary substitute teacher who can keep students safe and learning," Rosilez and Bare said in a statement.
The situation at local districts
Applications for substitute teachers' roles have dramatically declined in the last couple of years. In 2019, the state confirmed over 8,200 licensed substitutes across Oregon, according to numbers provided by the state commission. In 2021, the number was barely scraping 5,000.
"It's just a really tough job market right now," said Donna Atherton, executive director of human resources for the Lake Oswego School District.
In any given year, LOSD has around 300 substitute teachers ready to fill in. Currently, that number is slashed in over half according to Atherton.
Despite the change to licensing standards, the district hasn't received any more applicants than it usually would.
"We would definitely like to have more substitutes in the pool. We're thankful for the substitutes who are currently with us, but we would certainly like to see the pool be a little bigger," she said.
The West Linn-Wilsonville School District echoes Lake Oswego's needs. Although the district currently has no substitutes working within schools that do not hold a bachelor's degree, anyone is encouraged to apply, according to Communications Director Andrew Kilstrom.
"We have seen slight improvements in our substitute pool since the beginning of the year, but challenges persist," said Kilstrom.
On top of the substitute shortage, schools are still short on other staff members and the substitute teacher issue may be exacerbating this.
From special education teachers to custodial staff, districts across the state have been caught in a continuous cycle of filling one position and seeking applicants for another.
A study from Institute of Education Sciences said that up to 30% of educators are experiencing burnout. The substitute shortage slathers on another thick layer of stress. Temporary teachers are a key component in the school's ecosystem — without them, teachers are forced to overfill their plates. Atherton said some teachers forfeit their prep time in order to cover other classrooms.
"I don't know where all the applicants have gone — don't know where they're at. But we would love to have them back," said Atherton.
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