In Depth: A substitute dilemma

October 26, 2017 07:00 PM

Some call it a crisis, while others call it a shortage. We're talking about the lack of substitute teachers. The reasons for the shortage vary, but the bottom line is it's having an effect on your child's education.

There was a time when subbing provided prospective teachers with experience in the classroom and those not going into education at the very least a job and a very honorable profession. However, these days, fewer people want to be in the classroom.

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Since he was little, Sam Goldstein has been a young man with a plan.

"I originally wanted to be a forensic scientist," he explained.

Eventually, that dream would disappear and the Schenectady High junior focused on becoming an electrical engineer - interning at GE Research and Development, working with a mentor.

"You can stay with them and learn what they do," pointed out Sam.

In fact, he's enrolled in advanced courses and spent a month this summer studying nano and biotechnologies. However, some things are beyond his control -- like when he has no teacher, no substitute teacher and the learning stops. 

"A few times, I've been put into a different class or just had an aide kind of monitor the class, so when there's no work, it's just kind of a free for all," he admitted.

It's frustrating for him.

"If you're taking an hour away from instructional time, it's an hour you're not going to get back," noted Sam.

Schenectady is like many districts in the Capital Region, struggling through a substitute shortage.

"It's definitely trending as an increasingly severe issue," acknowledged Schenectady Superintendent Larry Spring.

This dire situation causes districts to have to constantly move people around like pieces on a chessboard.

NewsChannel 13 contacted nearly two-dozen districts to see how they handle this impossible mission.

"Sometimes, we have to pull people from other job duties that they have. The principals themselves fill in," explained Dr. Carol Pallas, the Schalmont superintendent. "At certain times of the year, yes, we feel pretty desperate."

The shortage has also caused schools to compete for the few subs that are available.

"Currently, we pay near the top," noted Spring.

Averill Park is near the top too, paying $125 a day for certified teachers and $175 for retired teachers. East Greenbush and North Colonie both pay $105 for certified teachers, Johnstown pays $92.

"We, in Schalmont as a district, actually have increased our substitute daily pay over the last couple of years twice," pointed out Pallas.

So why is there a shortage of subs? Education experts say fewer people are going into teaching, because of economics. Students wary of debt have been told STEM is where the jobs and the money are. Also, the politics of teaching is causing some to shy away.

"Teaching is not viewed with the same respect that it's been in the past," pointed out Dr. Margaret McLane, dean of the Lally School of Education at the College of Saint Rose.

That's important, because some of the substitute pool draws from those teachers who haven't gotten a job. If fewer people want to be teachers, then fewer subs are available.

Dr. McLane is working with schools, providing her students as subs, but says they are now also having to also look at students with non-education majors. 

"They may be a biology major and through substituting, they'll be able to see teaching as a viable career for them," pointed out McLane.

NewsChannel 13 received confirmation that last Friday, the Shenendehowa School District had at least 27 teaching positions unfilled.

In an email to staff, Dr. L. Oliver Robinson asked the teachers to keep in mind, "...there is no substitute to students learning from their own teacher."


As we explained, NewsChannel 13 contacted nearly two-dozen school districts about sub availability, pay and what happens if no subs are available. Eleven districts got back to us.

You can view all of the data by clicking here.


Elaine Houston

Copyright 2017 - WNYT-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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