Substitute teacher shortage hits Malheur County schools

LaRena Lewis teaches as a substitute at Aiken Elementary School in Ontario. (Submitted photo)

VALE – The Malheur Education Service District’s list of available substitute teachers for local schools has shrunk by about half since the beginning of the pandemic, and districts are feeling the pinch. 

“We’re seeing in some districts that superintendents are subbing in classrooms just because they can’t get anyone else,” said Kristia Simmons, assistant business manager and human resources for the service district. 

Prior to the pandemic, up to 140 substitute teachers were on call to help local schools. The majority were retirees from the profession.

But with older people in a higher risk category for Covid, many of those retirees have since left substitute teaching, Simmons said.

Now, there are only 61 substitute teachers available, and they must be shared around the county, from Arock to Annex. 

When the state’s vaccine mandate for school staff and volunteers goes into effect Oct. 18, Simmons expects the corps of substitute teachers will likely get smaller.

As such, Simmons said she wants to encourage others to consider becoming substitute teachers. She said substitute teaching is a great way for people interested in transitioning to a career in education to get exposure to classroom teaching and to build their professional networks. 

“Not only are you able to get in front of a classroom, you are in front of administrators who handle hiring,” she said, explaining that those contacts could serve as potential references in the future. 

Though substitute teaching does require some type of teacher’s license, the state Teacher Standards and Practices Commission has made an opportunity available for anyone with a four-year college degree to apply for a restricted substitute teaching license. 

“We are willing to handhold them through that process and get them geared up to be a substitute,” said Simmons, who said that the service district could likely provide interested candidates with a letter of support. 

Simmons said the support from the service district wouldn’t end there. Prospective substitute teachers could be provided in-person training and online courses. 

She said that candidates from both Oregon and Idaho are welcome to apply. 

“The sub rate in Oregon is a lot higher than in Idaho,” she said. “It’s around $190 to $195 per day whereas in Idaho it’s $60 to $80 per day.”

While the licensing fee – $260 – might at first seem daunting, Simmons pointed out that successful applicants will make it back with two days of work. 

Simmons said that if the service district can’t fully staff schools, they may face what recently happened in Filer, Idaho. There, temporary school closures were instituted with no virtual option. 

“We keep hearing ‘kids need to be in school,’” she said. “It’s been very beneficial for kids to be in school, so the last thing we want to happen is to have to close a school due to a staff shortage or a substitute shortage.”

“My hope is that people will see the need to support our teachers,” Simmons said.  

Interested candidates can call 541-473-4821 or email [email protected] to learn more about teaching opportunities.

News tip? Contact reporter Liliana Frankel at [email protected] or 267-981-5577.

EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM – Available for $5 a month. Subscribe to the digital service of the Enterprise and get the very best in local journalism. We report with care, attention to accuracy, and an unwavering devotion to fairness. Get the kind of news you’ve been looking for – day in and day out from the Enterprise.