Illinois is in the middle of a severe teacher shortage, which also extends to substitute teachers. That problem has gotten much worse during the pandemic.
Amanda Christensen is the DeKalb County Regional Superintendent. Her office is the hub for subs, helping with background checks and licenses.
“I think that there’s a greater drain on the system, and we certainly are not keeping up with the need,” she said.
COVID-19 concerns are the core cause behind this. She said their pool of subs dwindled. And some of the subs they do have only want to come into a select number of schools. That’s to limit their own exposure.
“I’ve had some retired teachers tell me that because of their at-risk health and their age, they don’t feel like they should be subbing right now.”
Retired educators often make up a sizeable percentage of substitutes.
When a teacher needs to quarantine and miss a few days, there’s typically not much notice — and that makes it more difficult to secure subs who may have need childcare or be helping their own kids with remote learning.
It’s become more common for districts to shuffle teachers to cover gaps, and even call in principals or district administration to fill in for a class.
Sometimes teachers at home can digitally connect in to their in-person class. In those cases, the State Board gave schools permission to use non-certified people to physically help kids along with their teacher. This person has to pass a background check and is often a district employee like cafeteria or bus staff.
Chris Mehochko is the regional superintendent for Kendall and Grundy counties. He said they’ve provided training and technology to subs who help with remote learning.
Both administrators said it would help if the State Board of Education changed standards for long-term substitutes to be the same as those for short-term subs. That way short-term subs would be allowed to cover more than a few days in the same class.
Many DeKalb County schools may be moving to remote learning until January. Christensen said when in-person courses resume, they’re going to need more substitutes on call in case of quarantines.