DENVER — In addition to a shortage of full-time teachers in Colorado and nationwide, there’s also a secondary crisis: not enough substitutes to fill-in.
Now, Colorado is taking what some would say are fairly drastic measures to attract more subs to classrooms statewide.
The relaxed requirements allow someone to be a substitute teacher without a college degree. They must still pass a background check.
While some say it is an effective stopgap measure to the teacher shortage, others say it is certainly no long-term solution.
“It’s important that we have people in the classroom,” one father said. “Teachers of some sort. If there's a shortage, you sort of have to lower standards to get them in there. And without more incentives to bring more people into that career path, then yeah, we're sort of stuck with this.”
"Several schools went back to remote learning before Thanksgiving, a model that we know is not best for students,” said Amber Wilson, a high school English teacher and secretary-treasurer of the Colorado Education Association. “In some schools, there were 10-15 resignations this year. That’s per site at different schools.”
Wilson is talking about the loss of full-time teachers, and finding permanent or temporary replacements is no easy task.
So, Colorado is getting creative with the recent relaxation of substitute teaching prerequisites, which no longer require a four-year degree.
On the surface, the idea has support.
“Children being around their peers will really provide support to each other and also offer a better education in-person versus online,” said Raba Caudle, a nurse whose mom is a teacher.
“I think our schools definitely have a need for support and our kids and families need people in the building that can help,” said Hope Oglesby, a new mom.
On a Zoom call Tuesday with the Colorado Education Association, many teachers expressed anxieties about staffing shortages and the workload that could fall upon the teachers who are left. They also called upon the state and the community to help out.
“To get as many parents and community members to step-up and help us,” said Brooke Auston Williams, an art teacher and president of the Jefferson County Education Association. “Even if it’s just for one day a week.”
Auston Williams suggested partnerships with local businesses.
“Where businesses allow some of their employees to sub in our schools,” she said. “I think that would alleviate some of these staffing shortages.”
But as a long-term solution, few see the viability in these relaxed regulations.
“Parents need to work, so we need teachers in the classroom,” one mother said. “But if it were a more longer-term substitute situation, say for maternity leave or something like that, I do think then, that, yeah, it's important to have that bachelor's degree.”
“In the long-term, we want to ensure that we have substitutes who feel supported, who feel qualified and who have the training to enter into a classroom,” said Amie Baca-Oehlert, high school counselor and president of the Colorado Education Association “[Teaching] requires a lot of skill, a lot of training.”
Baca-Oehlert says the substitute workforce ultimately needs to be sustainable.
“And not one where there are just people coming in and going out,” she said.