Oklahoma substitute teacher shortages persist

Increased wages meant to help fill these positions are soon to run out.
The role of substitute teachers is changing. In a time when teachers are in short supply, substitutes are now in constant need. Oklahoma’s educational struggles have exacerbated the problem as they desperately scramble to find anyone to fill their classrooms.
Gregory Hardin, a resident of Shawnee, originally began substituting back in November of 2019. It was initially his way of getting experience in the classroom while studying education, but it has quickly become a full-time job. There is virtually always a need for him; “I’m always getting a call,” he claims. “I would say there’s not really much of a difference that I would notice whether it would be this year or last year or two or three years ago when I first started subbing.”
To combat this issue some schools have increased wages, but 73% of districts in Oklahoma still say they anticipate a shortage of substitutes this school year, according to a survey by the Oklahoma State School Boards Association.
COVID-19 drastically increased the need for substitute teachers to what has been described as a critical level. Districts had struggled to find substitutes far before this though, according to school leaders, but with sick teachers unable to come to school they scrambled to find a solution.
Putnam City and Oklahoma City increased their daily pay rates for substitutes with federal COVID-19 relief money, which will expire next year. Daily pay rates for substitutes have also grown in Shawnee, Moore and Edmond schools since the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020.
In the largest Oklahoma City-area districts they offer $85-$125 a day to substitutes with a teaching license and $70-$110 for those who are uncertified.

For schools that used COVID funding and schools that are struggling to fund their classrooms, these wages are extremely strenuous. There is no telling how sustainable these wages are long term, despite the fact that they barely provide a living wage. Additionally, due to the level of demand this position comes with finding people willing to work long, frequent hours for little pay is difficult. According to Hardin, the daily rates should increase even more to $125-$175 to ensure a livable wage for eight hours of work. He believes workers will not consider taking substitute positions since other hourly jobs offer higher pay. “Why would they take a break from those jobs to go sub if they’re not making the same amount of money as eight hours at Starbucks?” Hardin said. “The cost-benefit analysis isn’t there.”
According to Superintendent Robert Romines of the Moore School District, substitutes play an essential role in simply keeping the school doors open.
Twenty years ago finding substitutes was not an issue in Oklahoma, despite offering close to minimum wage. Back then people became substitutes to get their foot into the door of education, much like Hardin. As the role of teachers becomes more demanding, those who are willing to take the positions are dwindling.
When substitutes are unavailable, other teachers have to double their load for the day. Their absent colleague’s classroom becomes their responsibility, and they either merge them into their own or give up their planning period to cover the classrooms. These situations take away vital learning time from students, putting them at an educational disadvantage despite the district’s best efforts.

Gregory Hardin is a substitute teacher in the Shawnee District. Courtesy of @GregoryHardinII on Facebook

Post Author: Aurora Stewart