Substitute teacher crisis forces districts to turn to local businesses

Feb 28, 2021 by

Solutions to the substitute teacher crisis are elusive in most places as learning losses stack up. In Missouri, a barrel company’s employees serve as substitute teachers.

Stefanie Fernandez usually spends her work week in the finance office of Independent Stave, a company that manufactures oak barrels for bourbon and other spirits, headquartered in Lebanon, Missouri.

But once every week or two since in December, Fernandez has trailed her son into his middle school when she drops him off for classes. She checks in at the office, collects a binder of “sub notes,” and reports to a classroom.

“Good morning, class,” she greets the masked students. “I’m Mrs. Fernandez and this is what we’re going to do today.”

Stefanie Fernandez works for a company that has encouraged its employees to substitute teach in local schools. Armed with a binder of “sub notes,” she’s filling in for an absent teacher in the computer lab at Lebanon (Missouri) Middle School. Credit: Lebanon School District

Fernandez is one of several Independent Stave staffers who have taken their employer up on an offer to let them spend up to one day a week substitute teaching in the Lebanon School District. The company makes up the difference between the school district’s substitute teacher pay and their regular salaries.

The goal is to address a substitute teacher crisis that has left districts across the country struggling to find substitutes when teachers are absent because of Covid-19 or for other reasons.

“I don’t think that we fixed the problem, but we are part of the solution,” said Jeremiah Hough, a vice president at the barrel manufacturer.

Hough is also vice president of the Lebanon School Board. So he is keenly aware of the challenges the district faces. In September, coronavirus cases began climbing in Lebanon’s home county in southern Missouri, and continued to escalate in the following months. By early February, Laclede County had recorded 2,884 cases and 64 deaths, and one in 12 of the county’s 36,000 residents had been infected.

Hough proposed offering substitute teaching opportunities to his company’s administrative employees in December, after school administrators warned that the district was close to sending all of its roughly 4,300 students home to learn on virtual platforms because too many teachers were either sick or quarantined.

“We knew there was a risk that employees might be exposed and have to quarantine,” Hough said. “But it was a risk we were willing to try and it’s worked really well.”

54 percent — classroom vacancies filled by substitute teachers before coronavirus

The support from the local business provided a morale boost and good publicity, said David Schmitz, the Lebanon School District’s superintendent. “It’s been remarkable in helping us get the message out that we need help,” he said.

Source: Substitute teacher crisis forces districts to turn to local businesses

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