An increase in pay and the opportunity to receive a COVID-19 vaccine are two of the tools being used to address a substitute teacher shortage in the Midland area.
Before COVID-19, the Midland, Bullock Creek, and Meridian Public Schools shared a pool of about 250 substitute teachers. Going into the current school year, that pool shrunk by over 40%.
“Before the pandemic, we had about 250 subs,” says Kyle Kowalski, director of Human Resources for Midland Public Schools (MPS) “We did a survey before school started and we found that only 140 were willing to go into a classroom.” The need varies from 30 to 80 subs per day. At peak, the need grows to 90. Substitute teachers manage the classroom in the teacher’s absence.
MPS coordinates the substitute teacher pool for the three districts. An administrative assistant in Human Resources reports to work at 6:00 a.m. to handle the requests from teachers who call in needing a sub. Specialized software apps, automated phone calls, and, if needed, personalized phone calls are used to make subs aware of positions that need to be filled. There are days when not all of the vacancies can be filled.
“The primary impact of having a smaller substitute pool is a reduction of planning, collaboration, and professional development time for teachers,” says Kowalski. “Several staff members have voluntarily covered unfilled substitute assignments instead of taking their conference and preparation time, which is built into their daily schedule.“Kyle Kowalski is the director of Human Resources for the Midland Public Schools.
MPS has approximately 7,600 students and 450 teachers. In an effort to attract substitutes, the hourly pay was increased to $14.29 per hour or $100 per day, up from $12.86 or $90 per day. Substitute teachers were also invited to receive one of the COVID-19 vaccines at the Midland Public Schools immunization clinic last week.
“768 vaccinations were completed by the Midland County Health Department at Central Auditorium on January 14th and 15th,” reports Kowalski. “Phase 1B-eligible participants included teachers, paraprofessionals, support staff, coaches, administrators, and substitute teachers.” Kowalski adds that several subs are planning to return to the classroom after receiving the vaccine.
The subs or guest teachers are employed by EDUStaff, headquartered in Grand Rapids. They are one of the primary providers of substitute teachers in Michigan. "EDUStaff provides onboarding, payroll processing, and online training before they start as a substitute,” says Kowalski.
Fred Dingman has been subbing for six years. He’s an Air Force veteran, a retired City of Midland police captain, and a retired project manager for a public sector software provider. The 69-year-old sat out the first month of the school year because of, he says, “the uncertainty of what was happening. Folks my age were more vulnerable [to COVID-19]. I didn’t want to be exposed unknowingly.”
When Dingman decided to go back to school, his concerns were addressed, “It went well. There were positive protocols. Everybody followed the protocols so it was not a concern.”
“We only have four confirmed cases of spread within the schools where it went from one student to another,” Kowalski says. The schools have masks and PPE (personal protective equipment) available at every front desk.
Dingman subs exclusively at Midland High School. He’s in the classroom about four days per week. Dingman subs for different reasons: “Keeps me busy. Connected to the community. Variety of functions. It’s not steady ‘sit in the same chair every day type of work.” He adds, ”It’s good to be with kids … It’s a different contact with kids than law enforcement was. More positive contact with the students.”Fred Dingman, a retired police captain, has been a substitute teacher for six years.
Persons interested in becoming a substitute teacher should go to the “Now Hiring” link on the MPS website to connect to an online application through EDUStaff. To be eligible, applicants must have successfully completed at least 60 credits of post secondary education. Applicants must provide a copy of their transcripts. They can’t have any violence, child endangerement or child abuse in their history. Candidates have to pass a background check and be fingerprinted. The process typically takes two to three weeks.
Besides those requirements, Kowalski adds, “We’re looking for someone who can guide students and relate to them. We need someone who can listen to students — be aware of their emotions and feelings in case they need help beyond instruction. They don’t need to be content experts.”
Dingman’s lesson? “You’re there to have a positive impact managing the classroom in the teacher’s absence."