COLUMBUS, Ohio — K-12 districts in Ohio are reporting challenges finding substitute teachers this fall, a mounting concern as COVID-19 impacts schools in the state.

What You Need To Know

  • School districts are in need of substitute teachers for the new school year

  • Some subs left the field earlier in the pandemic when there wasn't much work

  • In some cases, schools are relying on teachers to cover for their colleagues

​​​When districts were in remote-learning models earlier in the pandemic, many substitutes left the field for other careers because there wasn’t much demand for their labor, Norton City Schools Superintendent Dana Addis said. 

“When we came back to school, we realized that some of the subs that were consistently in our buildings either got another career, lost interest, or didn't quite fully understand the safety of the school building,” he said. 

As a result, schools are feeling a labor crunch at a time when substitutes are in high demand because of COVID-19. 

In the winter, the lack of substitute teachers became so critical in Ohio during the pandemic’s peak months that it factored into some schools’ decision to scale back in-person learning. 

“During the really rough months, one of the things that school districts contemplated is if a district had 20 teachers either quarantined or ill, it might lead to a school closure, because there really aren't 20 school teachers out there for a particular district to bring in as subs,” Addis said. 

That possibility is once again a concern for officials as COVID-19 case numbers in Ohio soar to new recent highs. But Addis said the district has been making due, keeping learning going thanks to the tireless efforts of school staff.

school mask
Substitute teachers are in high demand this school year as COVID-19 quarantines remain a concern. (AP Photo)


“We do whatever we need to do in order for it to work. For instance, building principals will fill in as substitute teachers when we can't find coverages. Teachers will give up their planning period to cover for a colleague if that class isn’t covered, or teachers will combine classes,” he said. 

In Canton, Ohio, the school district is in a similar position — schools are coming up with plans to cover classes, but oftentimes they are doing it without subs, according to the president of the teacher’s union. 

In anticipation of staffing challenges due to COVID-19, officials decided to stagger teachers’ planning periods throughout the school day, meaning that a teacher can potentially cover a class during that time, said Paul Palomba of the Canton Professional Educators’ Association.

“Even if it's not COVID, finding substitute teachers can be an issue regardless, and then, of course, with COVID it makes it even that much more difficult,” Palomba said. “So we thought if we spread this out all over the place, then we'll have teachers who will have an availability if duty calls.”

While schools are finding ways to make sure there's a teacher for every class, the lack of substitutes means that schools have to make sacrifices when teachers or administrators have to carve time from their schedules to cover a class, Addis said. 

“A building principal has so many things on his or her plate, it's challenging if during an entire day they become a history teacher or a math teacher in a coverage mode,” he said.