Coronavirus pandemic emphasizes important role played by substitute teachers

COLUMBIA, SC (WOLO)– As students continue pushing through a school year clouded by the pandemic, one role gaining more attention is substitute teaching.

Several districts across the Midlands are working to make sure their substitute teacher pools are adequately staffed in case teachers need to take time away from the classroom.

With some schools already weeks into a new year, districts have been stocking up on masks, cleaning supplies, and hand sanitizer.

However, some are having a tough time finding another important resource: substitute teachers.

“It’s a hard position to fill, it takes someone with the right mix of passion for students and availability in their schedule,” said Patrick Kelly, a teacher in Richland School District Two and the Director of Governmental Affairs for the Palmetto State Teachers Association.

Some factors impacting the pool of substitute teachers include the age of people who want to help out, as well as the pay someone can receive for the day.

In some districts, subs could make as little as $68 per day, while others could reel in around $100 per day depending on the assignment.

The Kershaw County School District, which has had both an in-person and virtual learning environment, has been working with Kelly Services, which has provided them substitutes to fill in the classroom. Timothy Hopkins, the Deputy Superintendent for the district, said, on average, they need about 30-35 substitutes per week.

“Substitutes do have a choice as to where they go for work, and so our pay is competitive with the other districts around us, we did raise our pay this approximately $20-25 to keep us in that competitive corridor with those districts,” Hopkins said.

According to the district, non-certified substitutes (those with a degree but have not taken the state’s teacher certification test) can make $80 per day, while certified subs can make up to $95 per day.

Another factor is whether subs feel comfortable going back to the classroom.

Richland School District Two has trained subs on how to manage a classroom virtually (the district is still in Phase 1 of their reopening plan, which is exclusively virtual), but the district will make sure substitutes are prepared if they come back to face-to-face instruction.

“When we are ready to return back to the classroom face-to-face, our substitute teachers will be provided the same training and protocols as our full-time employees,” said Lori Lewers, a Human Resources Supervisor with Richland Two.

Some teachers, who may have to step up and cover for their colleagues’ classes if not enough substitutes are available, believe it’s crucial to keep subs safe in order for learning to carry on smoothly.

“We need to make sure that students don’t have disruptions in learning caused by staff absences, and substitutes make that possible,” Kelly s aid.

The South Carolina Department of Education says the only qualification to be a substitute is to have a high school diploma, but districts adjust their pay whether someone has a college degree or is a certified teacher in the state of South Carolina.

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