The demand for substitute teachers in Tomball ISD is on the rise amid the coronavirus pandemic as the gap between the number of substitutes needed and the number of positions filled by substitutes has increased since last school year, according to data provided by the district during a Feb. 8 workshop meeting of the board of trustees.
While the district works to accommodate the shortage, Chief of Human Talent Jeff McCanna said the demand for substitutes is a challenge the district can expect to deal with for the near future.
“There is no rabbit that we can pull out of the hat. ... It's not working anywhere,” McCanna said. “There are things that we can do, maybe, to pull some people away from some other school districts, but this is going to continue to be a challenge, especially after time off.”
According to McCanna, the district might normally combine classes or reallocate existing staff to accommodate for a shortage in substitute teachers. However, district data shows the gap has since increased amid the coronavirus pandemic.
For example, on Jan. 31, TISD needed 108 positions filled by substitute teachers and was able to fill 97 positions. On Jan. 29, the district needed to fill 149 positions, but was able to fill 94.
McCanna said the district has adopted new methods in an effort to recruit more substitute teachers. For example, when applicants are not hired as teachers, TISD now recommends those applicants to interview for substitute teaching positions.
Additionally, McCanna said the district has begun to reach out to university students enrolled in virtual field experience classes with TISD, as many of these students meet the college requirements to fulfill a substitute teaching position with the district.
“A lot of the benefit of that is that a lot of those [university] students are virtual,” McCanna said. “So, they may live in that area, even though they may go to a university [that is] far away.”
To substitute for a teacher in TISD, the district requires applicants to have at least 60 hours of college credit. For a paraprofessional substitute position as an instructional aide, 48 hours of college credit or more is required, in addition to other requirements. Interested applicants can apply here.
McCanna said hired TISD substitutes now receive more training. In addition to undergoing an online orientation, McCanna said substitute teachers have access to teacher platforms and are given a TISD email.
“We don't need somebody there to babysit; we need somebody there to help them learn as best as they can,” he said.
As the district works to expand its applicant pool, McCanna said older applicants have been less likely to take the position amid the pandemic, despite retired teachers traditionally making up a large portion of substitute teachers in TISD.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, older adults are an at-risk population with respect to COVID-19.
“The challenge that we're going to always face with substitutes is [that] our biggest population of substitutes are a group of people that typically are ... very reluctant to substitute now because they're usually elderly,” McCanna said.
Although the district is working to find substitutes to cover these positions, McCanna said the risk of TISD transitioning into remote learning as a result of not having teachers to cover their classes is still a reality.
“We are being as relentless as we can reaching out to people, calling people, asking them to fill these positions, and just trust us that something's going to be in place,” McCanna said to board members.