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East Tennessee school systems combat substitute teacher shortages

Substitute teachers were in short supply. Sickness and the Coronavirus were to blame.
Published: Jan. 14, 2021 at 5:55 PM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - In East Tennessee, substitute teachers are in short supply. Sickness and the coronavirus are to blame.

“Finding enough substitute teachers can be a challenge even in healthy times and in normal times,” said Shane Johnston, Director of Schools for Jefferson County Schools.

This school year taking a sick day had a new meaning.

Johnston explained, “We have seen a decrease in the number of available subs this year just out of the fear of going into schools.”

His school system is constantly needing more and more help, like others. ESS is a company that works with Anderson, Blount and Monroe County Schools to hire and train subs.

“We’re recruiting all the time, constantly as much as we can,” said Denise Houdeschell, an account manager for ESS.

The program has online tools to train new subs.

“It’s a difficult time. People are scared,” added Houdeschell.

She taught before working for ESS.

“It’s not that the absences are just sky high, but when the absences are clustered within a school or quarantine and then people don’t think about the fact there’s teachers quarantined, there’s also substitutes quarantined,” explained she.

Houdeschell said some subs were parents. So if their child must quarantine so did they.

“It’s a trickle-down effect that’s affected all levels of the education system.”

ESS worked with college practicum students to help them step inside the classroom as a sub.

“It’s giving back and you can give back and get paid to do it,” said Houdeschell.

ESS filled around 75% of substitute jobs compared to last year. Before the pandemic the rate was between 90 to 100%.

Johnston explained, “Just like some parents thought it was in their best interest of safety to keep their child home and do remote learning, the distance learning, we’ve had some full-time teachers even take some leaves because they’re in those high risk groups where they just don’t feel comfortable. And it’s trickled down then to substitute teachers, bus drivers, and we’re seeing that everywhere that there’s an impact.”

Substitutes weren’t just for teachers. Bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians were all people needed to keep a school running.

“That’s [custodians] been very hard to fill this year. We definitely need custodial subs,” said Houdeschell.

Their hope was the COVID-19 vaccine.

Houdeschell explained, “I think once we start seeing that administered throughout the area we’ll have more people who come back to subbing.”

“We always are looking for good folks that are looking to help out and make a difference and we believe that’s one way that you can do that is to sign up to be a substitute teacher,” said Johnston.

If you are looking for a job with ESS click here.

If you are looking for a job with Jefferson County Schools click here.

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