As more teachers stay out of classrooms, N.J. schools struggle to find substitutes

This story originally appeared on NJ Spotlight.

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There’s been a shortage of substitute teachers for years, but the pandemic has made the situation even worse, according to Richard Bozza, the executive director for the New Jersey Association of School Administrators.

He says more teachers are retiring because of health concerns and age.

“We see competition among school districts literally in the region for the same people,” he said. “Some districts have actually doubled the pay, the daily pay, to try to attract substitutes.”

School districts across the state are struggling to keep doors open as more and more teachers request leave or remote work.

Montville needs about 30 more substitute teachers than last year. Cedar Grove scrapped plans for hybrid learning after 33 teachers requested leave. Eighty-one teachers in Tenafly have put in requests for leave or virtual teaching.

What’s been causing the shortage of substitutes?

“Substitute teaching is not a full-time job. It doesn’t have the same kind of benefits, it doesn’t have the kind of consistency and so people look for things that they can do full time,” said Suzanne McCotter, dean of The College of New Jersey’s School of Education.

Allowing more college students to work as substitutes

The state Board of Education requires substitute teachers to have completed at least 60 credits from a regionally accredited institute of higher education. A new bill passed last week by the Senate Education Committee will cut the number of required credits in half to allow more college students to enter to the talent pool.

“The requirement that you also have to be 20 is really helpful in terms of giving students a little bit more life experience and maturity,” said McCotter.

Becky Raffin is a senior at the school of education at The College of New Jersey.

“I think that it’s a good idea to have 30 credits because I know so many college students right now are so eager to have hands-on experience,” she said. “We all want to be in the classroom. Everyone is looking for a babysitting job or a tutoring job, so I think this is a great opportunity.”

Raffin got her substitute teaching certificate in March and planned to use it once she finished classes in May. But she put plans on hold as she wasn’t sure if substitutes were needed with virtual learning.

“This is a great opportunity for us to be able to help out in any way we can,” Raffin said.

The future special education teacher is hoping the need for substitutes still exists after winter break so she can be a part of alleviating the current shortage.

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