The Reasons Behind the Substitute Teacher Shortage & How to Support Them

substitute teacher shortage and how to support substitute teachers

A few weeks ago I wrote a post on my internal conflict of becoming a substitute teacher this next school year because of the substitute teacher shortage. After a lot of debate and back and forth, I ultimately decided it wasn’t in the cards for me this year, but I will continue to always keep it in the back of my mind. 

But let’s talk about this substitute teacher shortage! Why is there such a lack of subs right now (and let’s be honest, always!) Here were a few reasons I could think of: 

Concerns about sickness, in general, and specifically during a pandemic. Schools are breeding grounds for germs! 

It doesn’t typically come with the benefit of guaranteed hours. 

Oftentimes, it doesn’t even come with benefits! 

A lack of knowledge that our schools need subs. 

The lack of childcare for parents to sub while they still have kids not school-aged yet. 

It’s sad that we are dealing with a shortage in an area that could be one of the most important. If a teacher cannot find a sub for their class, it could mean coming into the classroom to teach while incredibly sick, causing more spread of sickness. It could mean overcrowded classrooms while other teachers take on the responsibility of the class. Ultimately, it means scrambling to find a way to keep the kids occupied and safe while the teacher is out, instead of focusing on academics and social skills, like a classroom should be. 

Here are a few ways we can support substitute teachers, teachers, and schools in general: 

Keep our classrooms and schools as clean and germ-free as possible. 

Appreciate our subs! They do not make much money, typically, and do not have benefits from their job. 

Spread the word about our lack of substitute teachers that may need extra income or have time to step in and help sub. 

Offer childcare for those that have the time to sub, but maybe cannot find proper childcare. 

How do you support substitute teachers in your community? 

How To Support Our Teachers This Year

supporting teachers

During the 2019-20 school year, all of our eyes were opened a little wider to the school system and how teachers are treated once the buildings shut down and parents were left to fend for their child’s education at home. 

Parents were singing praises to teachers all over the nation when they realized how much they needed educators in their daily lives. But not even one year later when the 2020-21 school year started up, those praises quickly turned into backlash in some areas, because schools would still be virtual. It seemed as if the world was in limbo fall of 2020 when the pandemic was still spreading, but everything was partially opening back up again with extra safety precautions. 

The struggle came when parents had to go back to work instead of working from home, but some schools were still virtual. They ran into problems where they needed to find someone to stay home with their kids in order for them to be watched over and attend virtual school, but they had to leave for work. Daycares were overrun and babysitters/ nannies were in high demand. 

It left us with one big question- Are schools viewed as a daycare for some parents? Is it somewhere moms and dads drop off their kids in the morning, leave for work, and then rely on the bus or the neighborhood carpool to bring them home? Were they that quick to forget how hard homeschooling was during the worldwide shutdown in the spring of 2020? 

So how do we as parents get through this 2021-22 school year and still show appreciation for our teachers instead of treating them as a daycare? 

  • Recognize the value in their work and voice this recognition to them.
  • Ask how you can support them as a teacher and if there are any supplies you can donate to their classrooms. 
  • Regularly check in to see if they need any supplies or help in their classroom throughout the entire year, not just at the beginning.
  • Volunteer in their classrooms if you have the time. 
  • Show appreciation to them throughout the entire year, not just during teacher appreciation week. 

A #TeacherMom Quandary: To Go Back or Stay Home?

substitute teacher quandry

Current life quandary: do I disrupt the delicate balance of being a mom with a work-from-home job to help in the community in a very understaffed job? Or continue this delicate life balance that we as a family have finally figured out and dismiss the job? 

Basically, what it comes down to, is that our community (and I’m positive the majority of the nation right now) is severely understaffed in regards to substitute teachers. With the fear of teaching in schools during COVID last year and the lack of teachers in general, it created a large gap that needed to be filled. This year may not be as hectic as last year, but regardless, they are still understaffed and struggling. 

My quandary comes with trying to continue my at-home work (this blog and our running scholarship), while still maintaining my status of a stay-at-home mom. While still feeling a pull to also throw “substitute teacher” on my stack of to-dos. I’ve had plenty of past experience subbing and I genuinely enjoyed it, but at what cost would it come to the rest of my responsibilities I need to maintain? 

I’m also feeling a big pull that I owe it to our community to be there for these teachers and students in their time of need. Is commitment to my community enough reason to take on something like this? 

All of these thoughts have been racing through my mind over the last several weeks as the first day of school slowly creeps closer and closer. 

I still have not decided which route to take yet and I will probably stew over this question every day until school starts. If you were faced with this decision, what would you choose? What would help you make your decision? 

Fighting Fire With Fire

Using positive praise with our kids

Recently we’ve had some power struggles with our almost 4 year old. I was warned that 3 year olds can be one of the hardest ages, and I have to say I agree so far! 2 years old was bliss with her, then like a switch, 3 came in like a tornado and is still wrecking havoc almost a year later! 

I was getting discouraged that behavior was so poor in our house and that the conversations in our house from both sides were incredibly negative, with a lot of “Mom, I don’t like you” coming from her, and a lot of “You need to be nicer!” coming from my husband and I. No one was winning! 

But it seems like every few weeks I have a revelation come to me that I’m actually doing it wrong. I’ve written posts on this very blog about positive praise in the classroom and how far it can go in the eyes and minds of the students, but I don’t actually turn it around and apply it to my own children at home. So that’s what I was doing wrong, I was fighting fire with fire and only one thing was coming from it- more fire! 

So slowly, and I’ll admit, somewhat awkwardly, I started finding the positive, good things my daughter was doing and praising those, while trying to ignore the bad behaviors, as long as they weren’t dangerous to anyone else. Sprinkling little bits of water on the fire here and there. It took a significant amount of effort on my part, I’m not going to lie! It was easy to slip into mindlessly getting after her for all of the little things she was doing wrong, so it took the mental effort on my part to pick out the little, small things she was doing right

After some time, the words in our house turned from incredibly negative and unhappy, to positive and upbeat. It slowly became less fire and more water! I searched and searched for ways to praise her, and it paid off. She found that she was getting attention this way, so she continued these behaviors, even sometimes pointing them out for me! The best part was how she turned around and used the same language towards her dad and I. She would thank us for dinner or picking up her shoes for her. She was praising us for things that made her happy.

Now I don’t want to say it has been fool-proof. It’s a peak and valley process that comes and goes. We inevitably slip into our old habits of using negative language and calling out the bad things she’s doing. Then a few weeks in, we realize it’s not working, and switch our thinking back to a positive mindset. Things will get better behavior wise for a few weeks and we feel great about it! Until it becomes hard, yet again. It’s an ever-lasting cycle, but the important thing is that we keep trying. We continue to make an effort to bring back the positive talk in our house and praise the good, even when we forget. 

The jury is still out if we are going to survive raising a three-year-old, but for now, I can always count on reverting back to positive praise to slowly ground us and bring the happiness back. 

Cover photo: Lacey Ross Photo

A List Of Our Favorite Toys

Toys are an important part of childhood. They may create clutter and stress in our lives as parents and teachers, but the truth is, they can be essential to our kid’s childhood. They don’t have to be noisy and there doesn’t have to be a lot of them, as long as they are intentional. Here are our favorite toys we keep at our house. In fact, the less noisy and flashy they are, the better development wise. 

Magnet tiles- Learning more about magnets AND the ability to build various structures. They are also an easy add-to collection. Where we can continue to purchase more as gifts to my kids, but our abundance of toys doesn’t feel overrun. 

Wooden blocks- Again, building! Imagination! And sustainable materials. 

Kitchen set with food and dishes- More pretend play has happened in our play kitchen (both outdoor and indoor) than anywhere else in our house. 

Pop open tent- I’m a big fan of these because they fold flat for easy storage behind or under the couch. Our next purchase will be a pop up tunnel. 

Baby dolls- Both my son and daughter love playing pretend with our collection of baby dolls. None of them are very fancy and we’ve thrifted the majority of them. 

Outdoor kitchen with real pots and pans- I spent a weekend thrifting old pots, pans, silverware, and other kitchen dishes that we’ve put into our little playhouse in the backyard. These combined with some dirt and water seem to be our most popular toy! 

The toys you choose to have in your home for your kids don’t have to be extravagant and don’t have to be flashy. In fact, the less batteries required, the better! The more work your child has to do in order to play with the toy, the more learning and growing that is happening. 

What are some of the favorite toys in your house? 

Importance Of Reading 20 Minutes A Day

supporting teachers

Many, many schools push 20 minutes of reading a day. And while using reading charts or similar methods may not be beneficial in the long run, sitting down to read for 20 minutes a day is. Especially if it’s done in an authentic way. Here are some statistics of reading 20 minutes a day: 

Children who read 20 minutes a day are exposed to 1.8 million words in one school year.

They are also more likely to score in the 90th percentile on standardized testing. 

There was also a study done on children reading 15 minutes a day that showed academic achievement and gains in regards to reading, but not as high as the students that read 20 minutes a day. 

Students reading 5 minutes or less a day were more likely to fall behind their peers academically and needed intervention methods to bring them to grade level (statistics from kidskonnect.com).

Beyond just statistics and test scores, what are the other benefits of reading? 

A widened imagination and higher levels of creativity. 

Reading can help foster empathy. 

It exposes children to multiple cultures, ideas, and worlds. 

Reading improves writing skills. 

It expands vocabulary. 

Taking 20 minutes to read every day can boost mental health. 

Improves critical-thinking skills. 

Can encourage them to ask more questions when they don’t understand concepts in the book, such as why some cultures eat, drink, or act in the ways they do. 

Have I convinced you yet?! Encouraging 20 minutes of reading a day can do wonders for children’s education. There are amazing benefits to it! Stay tuned for a blog post in the future on how you can foster a love of reading in your students as well. 

Fostering Independent Play

I recently wrote an article on how play is a learned trait for children, they aren’t just pre-programmed knowing how to play alone. And another on the benefits of independent play. After preaching all of these great aspects of independent play, I think I owe it to the world to provide a few ways to foster independent play. Here are a few tips. 

  • Schedule independent play. Have a conversation with your child about it and set aside a time in the day for it. 
  • Make independent play predictable and an open conversation. 
  • Set the timer during the scheduled independent play. Start out small with 5 minutes, and work your way slowly to more and more time. 
  • Keep toys organized and available. It’s hard for kids to have a starting point for play if toys are scattered and unavailable. 
  • Keep toys minimal. It’s easier to keep them clean and organized when you are not overrun with too many. 
  • Create curated “activity bins” with all of the pieces and materials needed for specific activities such as a “race car” bin filled with cars, tracks, shops, and people. Or a “baby care” bin filled with baby dolls, pretend diapers, bottles, and maybe even a small bath. 

Most importantly, make independent play FUN! It can turn into a negative process for kids when they are constantly told to “just go play.” They can feel as if they are being shut out and unwanted. When independent play is worked on, enjoyable, and looked forward to, it can turn into a great process that eventually will become something that you don’t have to work hard to have your child practice, it’ll come more and more naturally to them. 

What other ways do you foster independent play in your children?