By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
Because of the pandemic, school districts across Wyoming are having problems finding enough substitute teachers to keep classes going when regular teachers are ill, on leave, or quarantined.
“Many of our substitute teachers are also retired teachers,” explained Peg Monteith, superintendent for Park County School District No. 6 in Cody, “and we had a hunch that they weren’t going to want to come back into a pandemic environment.
“I think the other piece of that was, we were going to have … teachers out potentially two weeks at a time should they have to quarantine,” she said.
The problem reaches beyond Park County, according to Grady Hutcherson, president of the Wyoming Education Association.
Hutcherson said most of Wyoming’s school districts are seeing shortages in available substitute teachers.
“Education employees are being forced to make impossible decisions,” he said. “They are being forced to put their health and safety and potentially that of their family on the line in the interest of serving students and society and continuing in their careers.“
Monteith said the problem caused the school administration – and the district’s board — to consider some changes.
“So we began looking at all of the situations that were making it difficult to fill our absenteeism, and what could we do to incentivize our sub pick-up jobs,” she said.
Monteith said the district was prompted to increase the pay for substitute teachers after its neighboring school district, Park County No. 1 in Powell, found success by doing just that.
Powell Superintendent Jay Curtis said officials knew they had to make some changes as soon as the school year began.
“Last year we had something like, I think 20 total sub jobs that hadn’t been filled over the course of a month and a half — whereas this year that number was quadrupled,” he said. “At the beginning of the year, we were facing situations where we would have six, eight, 10, 13 sub jobs that would not be filled. So, when that occurs … some of my principals had to sub, we would rearrange paraprofessionals to go in to sub for a classroom.”
But Monteith said Cody schools are doing more than just increasing pay to entice substitute teachers — the district put a focus group together to determine the barriers to effective substitute teaching and then developed plans to remove those barriers.
“As they were coming into buildings, orientation to the buildings, having a go-to person, having a mentor teacher to go to so they don’t come in feeling like, ‘I don’t even know where the bathroom is, and I need to understand how to manage this classroom,’ things like that,” she said.
Both superintendents said that the changes they’ve made have had the desired effect.
“Right now, I feel like we are in a much better place,” Monteith said. “We may have had a fill rate of 40% to 50% in September, into early October. We’re closer to an 80% to 90% percent now, sometimes 100%.”
“As soon as it was out that we had raised our pay, we had a number of people – I can’t give you exact numbers, but it was more than 10 – came in and got their sub applications,” Curtis said. “And within a few weeks we were in a position where we weren’t having sub jobs go unfilled.”