RCAS substitute scarcity factors to bigger hiring challenges | Training
When Christina Olinger comes into a classroom as a substitute, she knows that her first job is to set the tone. And that tone, as she explained, could contain more than a single tone.
Students, she said, might think there is a day off stretching out before them when they see a substitute. Or they may feel anxious and concerned about why their regular teacher – or some other type of educator – is not there. So Olinger has to be reassuring and she also has to be challenging.
“We’re still working,” she tells them. “And everything is good.”
Olinger serves as a temporary worker in Rapid City Area Schools, where she has been working regularly since around 2012. It’s a job she loves too. She works at various district schools as a teacher and paraprofessional and has a master’s degree in psychology with a specialization in educational leadership. At two other jobs – including an apprenticeship at Western Dakota Technical College – Olinger didn’t necessarily have to replace this year. But she saw a growing urgency to replace all positions.
“When I saw the schedule this year, I wanted to cry,” she said. “We get notifications of how many vacancies there are, and that’s going through the roof. One day I got 99 notifications. “
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Full-time teachers also notice the acute need.
“We are at a critical point in time,” says Sue Podoll, who teaches at Rapid City High School. “There are far too many vacancies throughout the building.”
Podoll, in her 30th year teaching at Rapid City Area Schools, is also president of the Rapid City Education Association.
Cara Phelps, who teaches at Central High School, spoke about replacement needs during public comments at Tuesday’s Education Committee meeting.
“We are asked to take these positions every day,” said Phelps. “We always say yes because we are team players. We offer our students the best learning environment, and that is more important to us than being compensated for the hours we have to give up after school or at home because we have given up our planning times. “
Phelps suggested that teachers should be paid an hourly wage when they cover classes, “similar to what we do with subs”.
Podoll, a teacher at Rapid City High School, described a number of strategies she saw in conducting classes. You could ask a librarian to lead a class – or a literacy or math support staff member to do so. The classes can be split up, with groups of students being redistributed to other classes. Or, said Podoll, teachers could give up scheduling times to cover lessons.
The replacement shortage has hit the school district hard, and it is a problem that has also been reported across the country.
Kristen Strissel, human resources director for RCAS, said the replacement pool has been shrinking in recent years. She said the pool ranged from 277 to 377 in the 2019-2020 school year and then dropped to 189-281 in the 2020-2021 period. At the beginning of the school year the number was 163.
The problem has also led to a number of actions, Strissel noted, including last month the RCAS Board of Education passed a raise for substitute teachers. In a presentation to the board of directors on September 27, Strissel stated, among other things, that in the first two weeks of September 55.5% of the absences of teachers, sideline jobs and hourly employees remained vacant.
After the board approved the raise proposal, hourly replacement rates rose from $ 11.25 to $ 12.50 per hour. The daily wage rate for retired RCAS teachers has increased from $ 115 to $ 150; the daily rate for substitutions with current and expired apprenticeship certificates has increased from USD 110 to USD 150; and the daily rates of substitute workers with at least a bachelor’s degree – or who are currently student teachers – rose to $ 117. Alternates with undergraduate degrees previously made $ 90 a day, and student teachers made $ 85 a day.
The daily wage rate for unqualified teachers has also increased from $ 85 to $ 109.
Strissel cited progress since the board approved a pay rise and recently stated that “we have 17 new alternates who have completed submission requests and 23 who have started the application process”.
Superintendent Lori Simon stated in a speech at the board meeting last Tuesday that “partial occupation rates have improved over the past week, with fulfillment rates between 83% and 88% and overall fulfillment rates between 69% and 72%”.
Changes are also in progress at the state level. A press release from the South Dakota Department of Education reported that the South Dakota Board of Education Standards “has adopted a proposed administrative code to provide school districts with greater clarity and flexibility in recruiting long-term substitutes.”
According to the press release, the proposed rule “updates the certification rule to extend the length of time a long-term substitute can serve as a registered teacher, and provides additional flexibility for vacation under the Family and Sick Leave Act (FMLA) or when the person has a teaching diploma.” . “
According to the press release, the rule could come into effect this winter, “subject to approval by the Legislative Interim Rules Review Committee.”
Strissel said the school district welcomed the changes, and she said that district employees – including HR director Lisa Nobles – worked with the South Dakota Department of Education to implement such adjustments.
Strrissel noted, however, that the shortage of replacement workers extends beyond teachers and encompasses a range of positions – from bus drivers to student feeding staff to those doing intensive cleaning. She also noticed paraprofessionals whose work includes individual and group work with students, among other things.
Cheryl Allen replaced herself as a paraprofessional about two years ago, helping special education students at Central High School in RCAS. It was particularly rewarding for them to work outside of a traditional teaching location.
“I need to connect with everyone,” Allen said of the students. “I’ve seen them grow. We took trips to the store and it was nice to see them happy.”
Those who graduated cum laude from Central High School found it particularly rewarding to return to their old school to help other students. So far this year, Allen has represented as a teacher in the Douglas School District, which she feels is closer to home.
Strissel said schools everywhere are able to find themselves in difficult recruitment situations amid COVID-19.
“Part of that is that schools are on the front lines in the pandemic,” she said.
Podoll also said that school safety concerns could be higher among substitutes given the pandemic.
“Representatives are not necessarily interested in entering a classroom where the potential for COVID is high,” she said. “A lot of substitutes are retired and older and they may not be ready to take the risk.”
Those who make replacements emphasize some fundamental aspects of good class time.
“First of all, you have to like children – that’s the most important thing,” said Kara Azevedo, who was an RCAS representative in her fourth year. She added that an exclusive focus on discipline is usually not the most effective way to interact.
“Children can tell whether you are enjoying your day, whether you like them or not,” she said. “You’re pretty intuitive.”
James Baker, pastor of the First Church of God, said he was drawing on his pastor experience as a substitute for patience.
“I think learning to be patient with these kids – especially those who need a little more grace – is probably the greatest,” he said.
Baker, who has been representing the district for the past five years, also noted the need to be mindful of differences between students and be willing to help them in different ways.
Strissel stressed that the shortage of replacement workers is related to the general difficulties in recruiting teachers. Speaking in her office, she said 123 positions were open across the county, compared to 57 at the time last school year. She attributed part of this difficulty to a national trend away from the pursuit of education as a profession. And some of the difficulties she associated with setting up obstacles near her home.
“We have people who couldn’t get an apartment,” she said, referring to potential district workers. “They wanted to work with the district but just couldn’t find a place to move to. And that’s a really unusual problem compared to what we’ve had in the past. “
Some of the district’s needs, Strissel said, tend to remain more persistent than others – both in replacement and longer-term positions.
“If you know special education teachers and you know people who are fluent in Lakota, we’d love to talk to them,” she said.
Strissel said the special education positions were low compared to what she’s seen lately.
“We have some students who need really dedicated personal support, and we’re seeing more of that,” she said.
Strissel also emphasized the importance of finding people who are fluent in Lakota and who have a state teaching diploma. She described a Lakota Immersion Pilot program launched by the district this year that includes a full immersion kindergarten class at Canyon Lake Elementary School along with a cultural studies component. Open to students from all backgrounds, the class gives children the opportunity to speak and learn in Lakota.
“We hope we can build on this program year after year,” she said.
Strissel emphasized that Lakota and other indigenous teachers and staff members meet vital needs for students across the district.
“We have Lakota language teacher positions, for example, and these are difficult to fill and incredibly valuable,” she said.
The importance of hiring people from different backgrounds, she added, extends beyond any single program or course.
“It’s really important,” said Strissel, “that a school system reflects its community.”
For Olinger, a current RCAS representative, the school environment this year was welcoming despite the pressures of staff shortages.
“We have a lot of people who are very nice and very compassionate and love these children,” she said. “It’s easy to get into this situation when people are like-minded.”
She said that replacements could be rewarding for those with a “patient temperament” whose righteous goal is to help children. She also dismissed the myths of rabid misconduct among contemporary children with a laugh.
“Children are children,” she said. “You won’t do anything we haven’t done.”
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