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Colorado schools face significant shortage of substitute teachers

Subs were already hard to find before 2020, but education leaders say the pandemic made it worse.

COLORADO, USA — Colorado school districts are finding it harder than usual this year to find people willing to substitute teach.

Sub shortages aren’t a new problem, educators say, but the pandemic is making things worse.

“We have consistently seen, throughout this fall semester, the major impacts of the massive substitute shortage that we are experiencing right now, all across Colorado,” said Aime Baca-Oehlert, president of the Colorado Education Association (CEA).

CEA is a union representing educators across the state.

“We heard from districts, some of our large metro districts, where they would typically have a pool of about 600 substitute teachers, they were down to 150-200.”

Substitute teaching positions are often filled by retired teachers. Many of them are part of the at-risk older age group and choosing not to work in the classroom right now.

Additionally, Baca-Oehlert said teaching is even more difficult this year.

“I think a lot of our substitutes have shared that it's daunting to have to think about coming into that environment, as a sub, and take on that workload," Baca-Oehlert said. "Especially, it’s a very different thing to teach in a remote environment versus an in-person environment.”

With fewer subs in the pool, Baca-Oehlert said districts are finding it harder to keep kids in class when a teacher or cohort has to quarantine. In some cases, she said the whole school has to move into remote learning.

RELATED: 2 DougCo high schools move to remote learning due to number of staff in quarantine

Denver Public Schools, like many others, is dealing with staffing shortages.

"In order to have the agility to address in-person staffing needs, each school has been assigned at least one substitute teacher," said DPS Spokesman Will Jones by email.

Other protocols for subs were placed in schools by DPS, they said, but due to the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak, it's still been a challenge. 

"Additionally, we have assigned central office employees to work one day per week in schools to help cover as a substitute teacher, sub-para, lunch and recess supervision," Jones said. "Still, because of quarantines, accommodation requests and regular (and COVID-19) illnesses, our schools are struggling to staff their buildings."

In an email to families announcing a return to all remote-learning later this month, Douglas County Schools Superintendent Corey Wise also made an appeal for substitute teachers:

"If we are able to build our pool of substitute teachers, it may help us get students back to hybrid and/or in-person learning after the holidays," the email read, in part. 

RELATED: Douglas County School District announces move to all-remote learning after Thanksgiving break

This year, the state is making it easier for people to become a substitute teacher during the pandemic.

There is an option for a one-year substitute authorization, which only requires a high school degree and a background check.

Before COVID, a specific district could request authorization for a potential substitute teacher applicant. Now and during the pandemic, anyone can apply to work in any district.

“Don’t be afraid of trying it, of applying, of getting that substitute license and giving it a shot,” O’Neil said. “Our subs are making anywhere between $100-150 a day. That’s a good supplemental income for folks."

CDE said subbing could be a good option for anyone in-between jobs right now, or recent college grads still looking for work. Even districts teaching remotely need substitutes.

“Our districts will help you, they need you, our students need you," she said. "We would really like for you to become a part of our educational system in Colorado. Anyone who wants to help, there is room for you, there is a spot.”

To apply for substitute teaching authorization, visit the Colorado Department of Education website.

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