Substitute Teacher Shortage – Now a Teacher Shortage?

jfrench@portageps.org's picture

Written by Jim French, Principal at Portage Northern High School and President of the MASSP Board of Directors

MASSP has worked this past spring to prioritize policy initiatives for our work in the 2017-18 school year. I want to highlight one area in particular and how it impacts our work as building principals.

Substitute teacher shortage is one issue that creates anxiety each morning when we walk into the office. Uncovered classrooms now become the focus and we prioritize staff duties to allocate resources to cover any vacant classrooms. This problem is real and has required districts to take additional steps to review substitute services (work to increase staff pools in each service) and we have witnessed an increase in non-traditional subs rather than recent teacher prep program graduates. Daily, districts are hiring full-time subs to place in the district and then utilizing outside services to fill any vacancies above and beyond those staffing numbers. Here is a link to a recent story on sub shortages with some perspective on pay and what districts’ are doing to meet the needs.

Also in Michigan at a recent House Education Reform committee meeting, Representative Holly Hughes (R-Montague) summarized with, “We have heard about the substitute teacher shortage for years, but today in committee, the numbers presented were staggering,” Hughes said. “According to testimony, approximately 1,200 substitute positions are unfilled each day statewide.” These numbers are staggering and are only the tip of the iceberg when we look down the road. (Click here for the story.)

We see this translating to another larger issue of teacher shortage. Recently, we have seen a large decrease in teacher preparation program enrollments across the state. Specifically, we have heard that teacher prep program enrollments at Michigan State University are down 35%, and at The University of Michigan we have heard up to 45% decline in teaching candidates. Why? What are the major contributors to this shortage? I recently ran across a study by Hanover Research that reviewed this dilemma of teacher shortage in Illinois and more specifically in the Central Region of Illinois. It also reviewed strategies school districts can use to attract and retain teachers.

Some of their key findings indicate that there is a teacher shortage in the central region of the state. They also state, “Experts attribute the nationwide teacher shortage to relatively low salaries for teachers as well as negative perceptions of teaching as a career pathway.” They provide some additional insights on how to fix the problems, and many of those are key local decisions and investigations that must happen to build on local initiatives.

In Michigan, we see this first hand with attacks on our profession and on our pension system. The legislature recently passed laws, which remove the current pension system in lieu of a 401K style of retirement system for all new school employees. These bills would ultimately close out the current pension system for any new teachers. How do we change the culture and perspective of our profession both locally and throughout the state with the current dilemmas? Here are my thoughts. Please take a look to see what you can do to make the term “Profession” be synonymous with “Teaching” within our communities once again!

  • We need to continue to pursue locally developed programs to identify and promote students into our profession. At this time, more than any other, we need to find those individuals in our local schools and universities and promote the profession back to the most admirable of all professions, teaching.
  • We also need to continue to promote our local school districts and to market our accomplishments. We are the best resource of information and we need to share it intentionally and widely to impact change.
  • We should engage our legislators regularly with our programs and accomplishments, as well as our challenges, so they see what we do and, on a greater scale, understand the impact our profession has within our community.
  • Participate in the Engage Advocacy Tool through MASSP to stay in communication with legislators when we need larger scale communication with our state government.

To help make a difference, be willing to plan intentionally and invite your local State Representative or Senator when you host a parent event, a workshop, a presentation, or even an SAT or PSAT parent night. Share with them the information and stay in constant communication about what issues you face and how they impact the greater community. Now more than ever, we have to engage our community in this challenge to make teaching a viable and respected occupation for our students. Our future depends on it.

Best wishes for a fantastic summer break and good luck in locating those future leaders of our classrooms.