The national labor shortage has crippled schools across the country. They’ve been hit particularly hard this year. As the pandemic continues to evolve, school districts have struggled to find educators willing to fill seats in our classrooms. Some states are turning to parents as substitute teachers to answer the call and fill in the gaps. Is this the answer to our staff shortages?

Growing shortage of teachers

Schools have been fighting to stay in-person, but the growing shortage of teachers has made this difficult if not nearly impossible. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistic, “the US lost over 140,000 jobs in the local government education sector, as well as an additional 36,000 between state government and private education in September.”

The uptick in teacher departures has been largely attributed to poor school management, increased job demands, and concerns over COVID-19 exposure. Meanwhile, schools in every state have been hit by staff shortages on all levels from school bus drivers and cafeteria workers to substitute teachers. Finding a solution has been difficult.

Filling the need with parents

We’ve seen schools in California, Colorado, and Georgia offering incentives and bonuses in hopes of luring new hires, but these efforts haven’t always been effective. As COVID-19 infection rates rise, so does the need for substitute teachers. We can only imagine that concerns over the new Omicron variant will make things even more complicated.

In an attempt to meet the need, the state of Colorado also lowered its requirements for a one-year substitute teaching license. What this means is that applicants won’t need a bachelor’s degree to obtain a license as long as they have experience working with children and are fingerprinted. The Boulder and Denver school districts have been actively recruiting parents to fill these roles with some degree of success.

“The educational system is experiencing staffing shortages across the nation, but so are many other industries,” one teacher says on our HELPLINE Facebook group. “Where are all the workers? I’m glad CO is trying something … anything … to help alleviate the shortages. Everyone needs to start thinking outside the box. We need innovative ideas because I believe these shortages are going to get worse, and I don’t think things will be getting better anytime soon. I hope they provide support for these parents. I hope they support new teachers. We all need to support one another! Our children and the future of our communities are at stake.”

As Lacey Nelson, director of talent acquisition for Denver Public Schools, reminds us, it’s not new or unusual for schools to rely on parents to fill hiring gaps. Currently, hundreds of parents across the country have stepped up to keep our schools running. More than 120 have volunteered in a Minnesota school district’s cafeteria while over 40 parents have given their time to keep Bromwell Elementary’s library open. Now, they have a clearer path to the classroom.

Teacher Dena B. weighs in. “I’m in Colorado. We don’t have enough subs. Staff covers subs much of the time. Sometimes schools have to close because of a staff shortage. If parents subbing keeps schools open and teachers don’t feel quite as guilty taking time off, then so be it. Maybe they will see what behaviors are like. Maybe it might help instigate change. Who knows. Most of the time the subs I do get don’t do the plans I provide … but in the end I don’t care about that. I can catch students up. I just need a sub so I can be off for whatever reason.”

But not all teachers agree that parents are qualified

While some districts are trying to think outside the box and find any way possible to support the students and teachers, not all teachers appreciate the idea.

“Sounds like a babysitting service,” Jennifer F. says.

Tammy S.J. wonders why she bothered to go to college if anyone can teach. “What’s the point of teachers going to college and learning their trade if we could teach without knowing how, like parents? If a hospital is understaffed would they let anyone off the street sub in for a brain surgery or to replace a heart valve? It seems to me that this just lends to the idea that anybody can do our job, therefore we don’t need higher pay, and it’s all OK to work us extra hours without pay. Why did I go to college, and why am I paying back all those college loans? Shoot! I could just waltz into a classroom now and get paid to teach without going through all that.”

We’re living in unprecedented times and the situation around the world changes every single day. It’s hard to predict where we will be a year from now, so the best we can do is focus on today. What can be done right now to keep schools open and safe for kids despite the pandemic and labor shortages?

Will lowering the requirements for a substitute teaching license help? Join the discussion in our Facebook community!

Should Schools Hire Parents to Fill in During the Sub Shortage?