LANSING, Mich. — The pandemic has been accompanied by a labor shortage, and with in-person learning a priority this school year, mid-Michigan school districts say they can't find enough qualified substitutes to cover for teachers in quarantine.
"Mason's having challenges getting substitutes, as well as most districts in the state," Ron Drzewicki, superintendent of Mason Public Schools said.
Director of Public Affairs for the Michigan Education Association Doug Pratt said Michigan had an educator shortage before the pandemic and "it's only grown. We're facing real shortages for teachers, for substitutes, for bus drivers, for everybody in education."
"A lot of teachers are dealing with covering other classes if somebody's out sick, missing prep periods that used to get ready for their own classes with students," Pratt said.
Superintendent of DeWitt Public Schools Shanna Spickard said this shortage is the worst she's seen in her more than 20 years in education.
"It has really taxed people as far as trying to really be able to fill in and support when there are gaps. Whether it's here or even in my past district, you know, teachers giving up plan time to be able to help support, or we might not be able to have reading service because of needing reading specialists to cover," she said.
Spickard said principals have had to step in to substitute.
"I'm afraid that it's going to be quite a crisis if something's not done soon," she said
So, why is this shortage happening?
"Well, you know, obviously the pandemic has had an effect on people," Drzewicki said.
Even with pandemic safety measures put in place by schools, there are inherent risks to being in classrooms with students, many of whom are not vaccinated.
But, Pratt said there's more.
"A lot of it comes back to a lack of respect for the profession, both in terms of the compensation, but also in terms of respect for their professional expertise, their integrity and the work that they do every day to help students succeed," he said.
Pratt said this problem has been a long time coming, and it's going to take time to fix.
"There are steps that we can take in the short run, to invest federal money in programs to recruit people into the profession," Pratt said.
Most districts use a service such as EDUStaff to recruit their substitutes.
"As long as people have at least 60 hours with a university and at least a 2.0 they can apply, and then they'll do additional training...and help build that confidence and then can put them into a pipeline of several different districts that they could work for," Spickard said.
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