Henry County substitute teachers in short supply. Has it affected your school?

Beth Welbers
Geneseo Republic
An apple sits on a teacher's desk

There seems to be a shortage of people doing all kinds of jobs.  Anyone in education can tell you that they need more teachers.  Right now, they also need more substitutes. 

When a teacher is unavailable, school secretaries have a list of substitutes that they can call on to fill that void.  Locally, substitute teaching pays about $100 per day, depending on the school district. 

Adam Brumbaugh, superintendent in the Geneseo School District indicated that he wishes for more available substitutes, "Historically, we’ve had a solid pool of quality substitute teachers who help support the mission of our district. However, the number of substitutes on our roster never seems to be quite enough and we’re always interested in additional help."

Kurtis Smyth, Principal at Galva Jr./Sr. High School feels their efforts have been successful.

"I will say we have been doing a nice job finding substitute teachers this school year," he said. "We have been creative to cover our classes with our teaching staff when necessary. With that said, we recognize the issues with shortages in our profession and have tried to encourage our students to pursue a career in teaching. We have attempted to expand our substitute teacher pool to help get through issues related to the Covid-19 Pandemic."

Kewanee Dist. 229 Superintendent Chris Sullens said getting substitutes has been a challenge, but the situation had been improving up to the latest Omicron variant surge. 

"It's been better this year (2021) than last year," he said, "but the fear of the unknown has kept a lot of the subs away, especially the older ones. We had subs who just didn't want to take a chance."

He said the substitute teacher situation has been almost as fluid as the pandemic, but the "game-changer" for schools was the rollout of vaccines to younger-age children.

"There have been a lot of unknowns, but the more we learn about the virus the better off we all are," he said, noting the efficacy of vaccines in stopping the virus.

Subs themselves have concerns regarding the Covid 19 virus and its variants, now that cold weather is upon us.  One sub, asking not to be named, who has worked within several school districts in Henry County, is rethinking the commitment, based on the virus. 

" I'm in my sixties and in reasonably good health.  I'm vaccinated, boosted, and follow distancing and wearing masks. I try to do whatever I can to avoid catching and spreading the virus... The classrooms are set up so that students can distance but I don't like being in an enclosed space with around 20 people all day.  I won't go back if the mask mandate is lifted."  

Retired teacher Martin Golby has substitute credentials with Annawan and Cambridge School districts.  "I did not sub at all in the 2020-2021 school year because of Covid, and also because I was not vaccinated at that time. This school year, I am vaccinated. I have had a number of opportunities to sub."   

"I am concerned about the rapid spread of the omicron variant, and the first few weeks after the holidays may be especially concerning. I hope I will continue to feel comfortable subbing as this school year progresses, because I do enjoy it, but time will tell." Golby continued.   

Cambridge Superintendent Tom Akers described the balancing act that schools use when necessary. 

 "Generally speaking, there is not a district that will ever have enough subs available," he said. "For us, it depends on the day  and how many are out. There are a lot of times we will be short a sub or two, so teachers will substitute on their plan periods or any sub we do have covers a class during a plan period."

The Illinois State Board of Education licenses teachers and substitutes.  With substitutes, there are two licenses, the regular substitute, and a short term substitute.

Substitutes require a bachelor's degree or higher, are licensed for five years, and can be renewed.  Regular substitutes can teach up to 90 days in place of a contracted teacher who may be out for medical or personal reasons, or up to 30 days when no other teacher is contracted with the school district. 

Short term substitutes require an associates degree or at least 60 semester hours at an accredited college. Subs must complete district training before being able to work.  Licensure is limited and expires June 30, 2023, and is not renewable.  Short term subs can only teach five consecutive days.  Requirements can be found at  https://www.isbe.net/Pages/Short-Term-Sub-Teach.aspx .  

Mike Helenthal contributed to this story.