By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
Substitute teachers are hard to find, said Shari Bozorgzad, building administrator for Keokuk Catholic Schools.
Prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, St. Vincent School had a number of substitutes. Last school year, three to five subs were on the call list. “Three of our previous subs went to the public school. None left due to COVID (concerns),” she said. Others have moved out of the area.
“This year (2021-22) we had to hire two paraprofessionals and six teachers,” she said. “Five days before school started, I was still down five teachers. By the grace of God, we were 100% staffed when school started. Since then, I have had one long-term sub that I need to replace due to illness and another full-time teacher to replace.” To help fill in the gaps, Bozorgzad and some other office personnel take on various duties, including teaching.
At St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School in Davenport, Principal Julie Delaney said some of the substitutes who did not fill in last year are back, which has helped. Last year, she had some eligible parents and grandparents who filled in as teachers or classroom aides. Due to a turnover in staff, five of those substitutes are now part-time or full-time staff this year.
“Last year we were able to cover for up to nine teachers or aids being absent with our list of substitutes and reassigning personnel for the day,” she said. “Because we hired many of our subs, we are on the lookout for additional subs. Once again, a grandparent retired from the public school system has stepped up to sub and we’ve gotten a few additional subs.”
Other school personnel cover classes if needed. “This includes academic support, Spanish, band, religion coordinator and teachers who have a prep period who often offer to step into another classroom, and administration.” Delaney noted, “We are experiencing a teacher shortage in general. This year the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners is allowing schools for the first time to hire people with substitute authorizations to fill a teaching position on a temporary basis while the school continues to seek a teacher with the proper license and endorsement. That change in rules has allowed us to start the year with a full faculty.”
Principal Chad Steimle of John F. Kennedy Catholic School in Davenport had 10 substitutes on his roster for 2019-20, seven substitutes for 2020-21 and five active substitutes this year. “So in two years, our number of active subs has been cut in half.”
“Last year, our board offered an incentive for people to get their substitute authorization. We had about 12 people inquire about the process, but only two completed it,” Steimle said. “When we are short substitutes, everyone has to chip in to help with the coverage. Other teachers are sacrificing planning periods or doing additional duties. We pull counselors or administrators away from their duties to be in classrooms. We cancel small-group reading work with students to put reading interventionists in classrooms. It puts a strain on everyone. Having enough good substitutes is crucial.”
Staff absences have ranged from 2%-4% through the first four weeks. “That seems fairly typical for the beginning of a school year,” he said. About 40% of the staff at JFK are in support positions and not actual classroom teachers. “There were many times last year when determining how to cover a support staff person’s duties was even more challenging than covering for a classroom teacher. Non-teaching support staff are critical to the efficient operation of a school.”
Preparing for planned absences is easier than filling an unexpected absence that comes the night before or early in the morning. “Because substitutes ‘book themselves’ into a variety of planned absences, sometimes months ahead of time, it’s also difficult to find one person who can work a long-term maternity or surgery-leave job,” Steimle said.
Principal Craig Huebner of Holy Trinity Catholic Schools in Fort Madison said prior to COVID-19 he had six people on his list to fill in. Now he is down to two. To fill in the gaps when absences exceed available substitutes, para professionals and other staff members, including him, fill in. Usually absences are due to family or personal health reasons, he said.
Principal Glenn Plummer of Regina Junior/Senior High School in Iowa City said, “Our sub list is down a couple but that is because people moved or retired. We had an issue with subs prior to COVID. We had two subs last year who did not want to come in due to health concerns but they are back this year.” He is grateful no teachers have missed school for an extended time. “Our teachers have always been awesome in covering for each other when they are gone. They understand the problems we are faced with and always step up to help each other out, as well as the school.”
“There are a lot of talented people who have years of valuable experience with children that would make great substitutes,” Bozorgzad said.
Qualifications for substitute teaching
Substitute teachers require a teaching license or a substitute authorization from the State of Iowa. Teachers in Catholic schools also need to complete VIRTUS training and have a background check.
Candidates require an associate’s degree or 60 semester hours or higher and must complete an approved substitute authorization course. This can be done through the Area Education Agency or other approved organization. Authorization is good for five years. The process can take six-eight weeks. Substitute authorization allows a person to substitute teach for a contracted teacher on leave in any subject for grades PK-12 but not as a long-term substitute. They are limited to 10 days in a row in a 30-day period in the same assignment. They cannot fill open positions.
Paraeducators with authorization
Paraeducators who hold a paraeducator certificate with a limited substitute authorization may serve as a substitute only in their own special education classroom. Paraeducators with full substitute authorization may serve as a substitute teacher in any classroom except driver’s education.
Persons who have held or are eligible to hold an Iowa teaching license are eligible for a substitute license, which is good for five years. The substitute license holder may substitute teach for a contracted teacher on leave in any subject for grades PK-12, and may serve in one position up to 90 days (long-term sub) but cannot fill open positions.