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MI schools struggle with lack of substitute teachers

A hand writing on a chalkboard.
Denis Labrecque
Flickr Creative Commons
A shortage of substitute teachers is causing problems for Michigan schools.

Michigan is experiencing a shortage of substitute teachers.

One way the shortage can be measured is by the fill rate- that’s the percentage of open substitute positions that get filled. In 2012 the fill rate in Michigan was about 95%, and today it has dropped as low as 85%. So, for every 100 classrooms that need subs, about 15 aren’t getting them.

Clark Galloway is the president of EDUStaff, a company that provides subs to more than 300 of Michigan’s 500 districts.  

“You know what that typically does is it leads to what we call a scramble plan at the district, it’s a pretty big disruption chain of command,” he says.

This scrambling disrupts everyone at the school, from the other substitutes, to teachers and principals.

“So whether it be one absence that day or ten absences that day, it really is affecting the leaders and teachers at the school district, but most importantly it’s affecting the quality of education.”

Galloway says this is an issue nationwide.

“We’re starting to see fill rates across the nation declining and the stats that we’re facing in central Michigan are not far off of what we see in national trends.”

So what’s causing the decline in substitute teachers?

“What we’re finding is the biggest key, the biggest factor, is the overall economic factor. It’s really the fact that we’re trying to obtain candidates to work from the same general pool of employees that we’re competing with other employers.”

The decline is also indicative of the dwindling interest in pursuing teaching.

“The percentage of people who are going into education has declined in the state of Michigan. I would say easily a 30 to 40 percent decline in the local colleges and universities and their educational programs has reduced the amount of qualified certified teachers who are coming into the teacher pool.”

Galloway says the typical substitute ten years ago was fresh out of college with a teaching certificate, hoping to land a teaching job. Today, the typical sub is a female in her forties without a teaching certificate, returning to the workforce.

But there are still some out there who are working toward full time teaching, and see substituting as a means to that end.

29 year-old Tony Blauvelt lives in Oak Park Michigan, and substitutes in several school districts.

“I feel like it’s the most important job in the world, it really makes you feel good about what you do at the end of the day. It’s fun, engaging, it allows you to infuse a lot of creativity into what you do- in spite of whatever challenges come with it, it’s still what I love to do.”

Blauvelt is currently substituting and working toward his Master’s degree in education so he can teach full time. He has some ideas for what might increase the number of substitutes.

“I guess the incentive would be stronger if maybe subs weren’t privatized, maybe if subs could be hired by a district and know they have a home to go to where they get to know a staff and students really well, if they got paid better if they had benefits,” he says.

In an effort to recruit, EDUStaff has put billboards across the state, spreading the word about the need for substitutes. Galloway says more needs to be done, and he’s optimistic.

“It takes time, it can’t necessarily be done in one year. From what I can tell at the legislative level, whether someone is a democrat or republican, we’re finding that more and more people are listening to the needs of education and it looks like some good solutions may be emerging.”

And in the meantime, substitutes like Blauvelt will stay the course, because he finds working with his students deeply gratifying.

“Some of them had told me they had genuinely learned from me and that’s a rewarding feeling because as a sub at times you’re a glorified babysitter and when students tell you, ‘I really learned from you,’ or students say, ‘you’ve made me a different person,’ that’s the greatest thing you could ever ask for.”

For WKAR News, I’m Katie Cook.

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