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Substitute Teachers Never Got Much Respect, but Now They Are in Demand

“I think everyone that covered me really did their best,” she said. But “the art teacher isn’t going to deliver the same fourth-grade math instruction that I can.”

Substitute teachers are “a short-term Band-Aid that shortchanges students,” said Kim Anderson, executive director for the National Education Association, which represents millions of education workers across the country.

The problem starts with the need for more full-time teachers in many school districts. In Arizona, nearly 1,400 teachers left the profession within the first few months of the school year, according to one study. In Florida, the school year began with nearly 5,000 teacher vacancies, according to a video posted by the Florida Education Association’s president, Andrew Spar.

Low pay, high stress and challenging working conditions have plagued the profession for years. But the fear over contracting the coronavirus has created “the perfect storm,” Ms. Anderson said, and teachers are now leaving, or retiring early.

“School districts are really relying on substitutes because there are many, many teachers who have left the field,” Ms. Anderson said.

Oregon once had 8,290 licensed substitute teachers, but by Sept. 18, that number had been cut in half. To create a bigger pool, the state, in an Oct. 1 emergency order, created a new license. These substitutes no longer need to pass several tests, or have a bachelor’s degree. They simply need to be at least 18 years old, sponsored by a participating district or charter school, and have “good moral character” with the “mental and physical health necessary” to teach.

In the two weeks after Oregon passed its measure, more than 180 people applied to work as a substitute in Portland public schools, the state’s largest district, according to Sharon Reese, the district’s chief human resources officer.

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