Substitute shortage means "double, triple duty" for Walker County teachers, official says

(Image: File WTVC photo)

Many schools in our area and across the country are confronting a substitute shortage made worse by the pandemic.

It isn’t a new problem for the Walker County School district, but as more teachers and staff members are forced to quarantine because of COVID-19, it's one the district is closely monitoring.

The issue was a topic of conversation in a school board meeting on September 8th.

“It definitely is something we’re going to have to continue watching, because the more adults that are out of the building and the limited number of subs it is harder to get coverage,” said Damon Raines, Superintendent of Schools.

According to the superintendent, on the 8th, the district-wide substitute fill rate was 74 percent. Meaning the district was able to find replacements for 74 percent of teachers out that day.

But what happens when there are no substitutes available to fill in?

“It means that somebody else has to do it, somebody existing in the building has to take over. Which means teachers are doing double and triple duty,” said Debbie Baker, President of the Walker County Association of Educators.

Baker says the result of this is that it cuts into teacher planning time - time allotted for teachers to plan lessons and prepare for the next day of teaching.

“We have teachers who are not getting their planning so they’re working harder, working more. Many of these teachers are teaching virtually and in-person simultaneously, which takes more planning. And then they have to give up their planning to go teach another class,” said Baker.

In a statement to NewsChannel 9, superintendent Damon Raines said this method “is used only as a last resort to assure students are appropriately supervised and engaged and is not a typical practice.”

He also shared that the districts fill rate is similar to where it was last year.

According to the superintendent, on average for the week of Monday September 7th through Friday September 11th, the district was able to fill 82 percent of positions left vacant by teachers who were out. Raines says that number tracks well with the previous year's fill rate of 87 percent.

But Baker says ultimately, lack of planning time for teachers day-to-day and teacher instability due to quarantining could have adverse affects on students. It’s something Raines said he’s hoping to avoid.

“That’s the last thing we want to happen is to have the students achievement level suffer because of this, because we don’t have enough staff to cover those classes or supervise those students,” said Raines.