SARASOTA COUNTY (WFLA) – Full-time educators in Sarasota County say the school district is dealing with a shortage in substitute teachers. The growing challenge to fill empty classrooms comes as coronavirus cases are creeping up across Tampa Bay.
Patricia Gardner with Sarasota Classified Teacher’s Association says finding substitutes is a daily problem district-wide. According to data from the district obtained by 8 On Your Side, an average of 45 openings for substitute teachers were left unfilled in October with the highest number being 91 on Friday, Oct. 9 and the lowest being 21 on Tuesday, Oct. 13.
“Some days it’s worse than others. Last Friday, I got information that they needed 285 subs and they only filled 225 of them, so that left 60 not filled, and when you have a class without a sub, you have to pull from somewhere else,” said Gardner.
Gail Foreman is a longtime educator in the district. She tells 8 On Your Side the shortage is no secret. She’s seen her colleagues help cover empty classrooms.
“Some of my colleagues have gone in and covered other teachers’ classrooms during their planning periods to help them out,” said Foreman.
A Sarasota High School teacher told 8 On Your Side he has filled in for substitutes during his planning period around 12 times this school year.
“I usually get emailed an hour or two ahead of time. The reason I do it is because I know we have the shortage and I don’t want classes sitting there with no responsible person,” said the high school teacher. “It can be frustrating when you plan to do something on your planning period and end up falling behind. I got behind on grading last semester because of it.”
The teacher is encouraging young substitute teachers to step up and help if possible. The school district tells 8 On Your Side it had 644 substitutes activated in its pool as of mid-September.
“Our HR department indicated that the criteria for subs was changed to enable wider access to potential applicants. It should be noted that the district has processed less than give people with associate’s degrees since this change was implemented,” said a district spokesperson.
Foreman worries about the quality of education for students across the district.
“I think our kids are really good at adapting, but adapting to this online stuff or somebody else is teaching in a classroom, I don’t think it is effective. The subs, they have got to train them before they put them in here. If those subs come in here cold, it is going to be a disaster. In most cases, we are trying to get long-term subs from what I understand, I know my administration team, is trying get long-term subs for the teachers so the kids have the consistency of the same sub throughout the two weeks or 10 days they’re quarantined for,” said Foreman.
She’s also encouraging people who are open-minded, open-hearted and ready to work to join the sub pool.
“Come help us, but be sure that you are requesting and asking questions. Be sure you understand what you are jumping into with both feet before you leap,” said Foreman.
“We do need subs and we need them desperately, but we need good subs. We need subs that can come in and follow the teacher’s direction when they leave lesson plans. We need subs that are going to come in and love our kids as much as we do and that is the key.”
Anyone interested in applying can learn more online.
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