After over a year of remote-learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Leon County Schools returned to in-person instruction this fall. While many students and parents viewed this academic return to normalcy as a welcome break from virtual classes and part-time homeschooling, substitute teachers have been more hesitant to return to classrooms.
According to the Tallahassee Democrat, a majority of the district’s substitute teachers are older, retired teachers who fall into the “high-risk” category for COVID-19 complications.
When faced with the prospect of returning to classrooms packed with mostly unvaccinated school-aged children, many substitute teachers prioritized their personal health over work.
This issue, however, is not unique to Leon County; according to Business Insider, school districts in states such as California, Georgia, Texas, Massachusetts and more are facing substitute teacher shortages, prompting them to offer special incentives to increase employment. These incentives include guaranteed full-time hours, signing bonuses, increased hourly wages, and more.
Florida has been hit especially hard by the nationwide shortage. According to WCTV, the Florida Education Association reported a 67% increase in teaching vacancies from last year. This has led to Florida counties such as Palm Beach, Escambia, Okaloosa, Walton and others to increase substitute teaching compensation. Notoriously low pay has long been an issue in recruiting and retaining Florida educators. Despite Governor Ron DeSantis recently pledging $550 million towards increasing teacher salaries, Florida ranks 49th in the country in teacher compensation.
Leon County is among those ramping up community recruitment efforts in the face of the nationwide shortage. The district is inviting parents, guardians and family members to apply for substitute teaching roles to help students and faculty alike.
“I think it’s a very creative way in trying to make sure that there are people in place to help serve,” Scott Mazur, president of the Leon Classroom Teachers Association, told WTXL.
Despite the desperate need to fill teaching positions, some parents have concerns about the quality of education their children will receive with substitutes without teaching backgrounds.
“Personally, I would say it’s a little alarming, simply because you don’t necessarily have to have the proper education,” Leon County parent Kera Smith told WTXL after assisting her children with remote learning throughout the pandemic.
Leon County Schools requires applicants to be 21 years of age, have a high school diploma and pass a level two criminal background check. Once hired, substitutes will start at $15 an hour, will receive additional training, and may select the school of their choice.