Chapman battles substitute shortage


Jordan West

Patrick Lowe addresses students in Julie McAntyre’s English III class. Lowe is a new substitute this year and has been working almost daily.

When a teacher is sick or taking care of a sick child and just can’t make it to school, a substitute teacher usually fills in for them.

But what would happen if there wasn’t a substitute teacher available? Well, this has been a big question this past year for many schools.

Over the past couple of years, the number of available substitutes has been dropping and many schools are scrambling to solve this problem.

In order to relax the need for a substitute, many schools have had other teachers covering classes, but that’s not an ideal long-term solution, particularly given the challenges teachers have faced during the pandemic.

Assistant Principal Amy Driggers is in charge of orchestrating class coverage when a substitute either doesn’t pick up an open job or has to cancel at the last minute.

“It is difficult because teachers are working super hard and have continued to work hard over the last two years, more than I’ve ever heard of before, and you don’t want to add to their already full plates,” said Driggers.

There’s no singular cause for the substitute shortage, but it has been exacerbated by COVID-19. In addition, cold and flu season has arrived, meaning teachers may be out more frequently.

Faculty and staff, including administrators, have been called on to help.

“We are all helping,” Driggers said. “Teachers, of course, are going on a rotation that we have been going through when a teacher is out.”

Research shows that this problem is not unique to Chapman.

According to Education Week, over 75% of American school leaders have reported challenges finding substitutes.

Some schools are in such a demand for substitutes that they have widened the pool of eligible substitutes. Others are raising pay out of desperation.

Still, a shortage doesn’t mean an absence. Chapman has relied on a small but committed group of substitutes to help this situation.

Patrick Lowe began subbing this year after 31 years associated with the Air Force.

Lowe said that his new work has kept him busy.

“I’ve been used practically every day since the end of August,” he said.

Lowe normally stays at the same school all day, but that’s no guarantee. Recently, he went to three District One schools in one day.

Substitute Shauna Robinson said that this year she has been asked to substitute more than any other year, and she is subbing for a class almost every day now.

It’s a challenging, sometimes thankless job, but Robinson said she does it for a simple reason:

“I love it. I love the environment and being with the kids.”