Remove the barriers to substitute teaching
Guest editorials don’t necessarily reflect views of the Tribune
When Pennsylvania confronts its own problems, stealing great ideas from other states is not a crime — it’s commendable. Facing a severe, nationwide shortage of substitute teachers, Pennsylvania should steal an idea from Ohio that would raise the number of substitute teachers by dropping some of the requirements to do it.
Ohio now permits anyone with a degree in the subject to apply for a subject-specific substitute teaching license. Applicants must still pass background checks.
Knowledge of the subject matter is the most important component of teaching. Ohio’s decision to allow subject experts to teach benefits teachers and students. Pennsylvania should follow suit.
Currently, substitute teachers must have a Pennsylvania educator certificate, which requires completion of an approved course as well as a recommendation from the institution that provides the course and a bachelor’s degree or out-of-state certificate. A substitute teacher may earn $100 to $130 a day.
Even before the pandemic, fewer people were applying for substitute jobs. That, along with a growing number of teacher retirements, has prompted a daily scramble for many school districts to staff classrooms.
Like Ohio, Pennsylvania is experimenting with ways to attract new substitute teachers — among them, raising pay, allowing retired teachers to fill in as subs, increasing the number of days a substitute teacher can work, and allowing college students close to graduating to sub.
These are all good ideas, but they have not met the growing demand for more substitute teachers.
The substitute shortage stems directly from a declining number of teachers. Ten year ago, Pennsylvania issued roughly 15,000 in-state teacher certifications, reports the Pennsylvania Department of Education, compared to 5,000 in the 2020-21 school year.
A National Education Association survey earlier this year found more than half of the teaching workforce was considering leaving the profession early. Nationwide, there are 360,000 fewer public education employees than there were before the pandemic.
Substitute teaching was once a viable way for recent graduates to eventually land a full-time job at a school. Now, it’s more of a side hustle. The Post-Gazette recently reported that state education data shows the number of emergency hires outstripped the number of new teachers. Increasing substitutes isn’t a long-term solution for the falling number of teachers, but students need teachers now.
Pennsylvanians with degrees in languages, mathematics, music and physical education should be able to offer their services to teach, as the state and nation try to solve the knotty, long-term problem of declining numbers of teachers.
— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette