In Short

New emergency substitute teaching license attempts to solve statewide shortages

By: - October 5, 2021 4:30 am
A teacher cleans a classroom to prepare it for students

Oregon schools have more than $1 billion in federal Covid relief money to spend. (Getty Images).

Hiring substitute teachers has been difficult in Oregon for a number of years, but the pandemic has made it worse. 

Superintendent Dan Goldman, who coordinates the hiring of substitutes for the Northwest Regional Education Service District, had only 65% of the substitute teachers he needed last week to fill classrooms in the 20 school districts he oversees. Northwest Regional includes school districts in Clatsop, Columbia, Tillamook and Washington counties.

“We know there is a higher need in the first place due to workforce shortages,” Goldman wrote in an email. Some teachers are staying home because they have Covid-19 or cold-like symptoms and don’t want to infect others, he said, adding that there could be other issues at play, too.

The Douglas Education Service District, which encompasses 13 school districts, was forced to find substitutes to fill in for a number of unfilled, full-time teaching positions in September, according to Superintendent Michael Lasher. 

And in Umatilla, Superintendent Heidi Sipe is down to four substitute teachers for the entire district. On any given day, she needs about double that. “We are grateful for all four of them,” she said, “but we need far more.”

In order to combat the shortages, the state Teacher Standards and Practices Commission rolled out a new emergency substitute teaching license at the beginning of October. A district has to sponsor the candidate applying, pay for the license, explain why they can’t find a licensed teacher substitute and assure the commission that the emergency substitute will be trained and supervised by an administrator. The candidates aren’t required to have a bachelor’s degree or any prior training, but must submit an application and pass a background check.

The decision to offer the emergency substitute teaching licenses was made after individual districts, education service districts and public charters reported their staffing difficulties to the commission.

The commission has offered an emergency teaching license for years, which is valid for one year for schools that can prove a need. This would be to fill a full-time role, at a single school in a single subject area. These licenses also do not require a bachelor’s degree or any advance training. The new emergency substitute teaching license is valid for just six months, and not beyond June 30, 2022. Emergency substitutes can teach only in the district that sponsors them, but can teach across subjects and can be put in any school in the district that needs them on a given day. 

Both Lasher and Goldman are considering applying for emergency substitute teaching licenses. “Ultimately, the decision will come down to what’s best for kids,” Goldman said.

Sipe plans to meet with union leaders this week to make a plan to reach out to some of the highest quality paraprofessionals in the district and see if they would apply for the emergency substitute teaching licenses with the district. Paraprofessionals aid students who need extra support, often ones who are on individualized education plans with their schools, and aid teachers in the classroom.

As substitutes, the paraprofessionals would make more money than they currently do while keeping their benefits. But Sipe also would need candidates to fill in for the paraprofessionals.

The overall number of emergency teaching licenses issued around the state has fluctuated each year from a low of 124 in 2017 to a high of 182 this year. Oregon, like most states, suffers from teacher shortages in certain subject areas, like special education and math, as well as by geography. Rural areas tend to face the greatest difficulty finding teachers. The Teacher Standards and Practices Commission does not have numbers on which districts have applied for emergency substitute teaching licenses, and how many of those licenses they’ve issued, yet.

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Alex Baumhardt
Alex Baumhardt

Alex Baumhardt has been a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media since 2017. She has reported from the Arctic to the Antarctic for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post.