diverse group of children writing in a classroom (Jackson Public Schools)
Rita Callahan, a teacher in the Jackson Public School District and a resident of Clinton, Miss., writes that she's observed a substitute-teacher shortage that is negatively affecting current students and educators. “This is not an unsolvable problem. Evaluate the circumstances and address them,” she writes. Photo courtesy CDC

JPS Teacher Observes A Growing Substitute Teacher Shortage

Editor’s Note: This opinion column reflects the author’s opinion and does not represent the views of the Jackson Public School District, its staff or board members.

Throughout the Jackson Public School District, a lack of substitute teachers continuously adds to the already taxing day-to-day responsibilities of classroom instructors. In many cases, when teachers are absent, no substitutes are available to fill those gaps and attend to the teacherless students.

The educators still present are then required to add those learners to their classrooms using the infamous split lists. This occurrence happens over and over and over again, often causing academic, spatial and procedural disruptions.

Teachers must fulfill their duties to deliver effective classroom instruction for their students—and they are doing so to the best of their abilities. However, undue burdens nearly surmount teachers’ diligent investment in the academic achievement of these students this school year.

Something has to give.

‘If Teachers Do Not Advocate for Themselves, Who Will?’

We are tired of “babysitting” our co-workers’ students when they’re absent, and I know they’re tired of babysitting ours. We are tired of not getting our own work done effectively. It’s hard enough to educate some of our students with the many challenges they bring to the classroom.

We love these babies, and of course we want what’s best for them. But what’s love got to do with it? And this issue is not about remaining a flexible team player either. That ship has sailed. This cycle is abuse, plain and simple. If teachers do not advocate for themselves, who will?

“Whatever you decide to do, please make an intentional effort to show that you value your teachers,” JPS teacher Rita Callahan writes. “For the sake of our children’s futures and the sanity of us educators still in the classroom, something has to give.” Photo by Depositphotos.com

I would like to know how many principals have advocated for their teachers during their meetings on this issue—in every meeting. I would like to know how many assistant superintendents have implored the JPS Board of Trustees to solve this problem consistently. I would also like to know whether this crisis has even been on the agenda at the board meetings.

“Well, teacher absence is the issue,” some may say. “They should not take off for frivolous reasons.” OK, let’s concede that point for the sake of argument. Then how much more does the lack of substitute teachers exacerbate the issue? To my knowledge, we have not had a single substitute teacher this entire school year in our building at Cardozo Middle School. Quite frankly, this observation is unacceptable and a shame.

Teachers are burning from both ends of the candlestick. How can they not burn out? In essence, many of us have three to four jobs: our teaching positions, after-school gigs (tutoring, retail, food delivery, etc.), taking care of our families, and in-house substitute teaching. Oh, and by-the-way, no extra compensation is going around.

Moreover, for physical and mental well-being alone, teachers may need to take days off—not to mention issues arising from diminishing morale and other legitimate reasons. How can you expect teachers not to be absent, while also not expecting to have a teacher-retention problem in this district? How do you expect our schools to thrive if the educators are not thriving?

‘Show That You Value Your Teachers’

This issue is not an unsolvable problem. It’s really not rocket science. Evaluate the circumstances and address them. Let’s start with offering more than a measly $8 an hour (with the exception of a recent slight increase) for substitute teachers. And why do they need a college education? If they can read, write, follow instructions, pass a background check and go through hands-on training, what is the problem?

Speaking of college, what about those young education majors who need experience? Is there a system in place to actively recruit such students?

How are you going to solve this crisis, Jackson Public Schools? You have your qualitative and quantitative data. What is the plan of improvement? Does JPS need consultation?

I suggest creating an office of substitute recruitment as a potential solution. Maybe JPS should collaborate with education departments of colleges and universities or even reach out to places of worship and other communal locales; make a decision on a competitive-pay increase; adjust qualifying criteria.

Whatever you decide to do, please make an intentional effort to show that you value your teachers. For the sake of our children’s futures and the sanity of us educators still in the classroom, something has to give.

This column was edited after publication to include the editor’s note, reword the title and to replace Jackson Public School District’s image of its Strategic Plan For Educating Jackson Scholars. 

This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Journalism and Education Group, the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an opinion for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and sources fact-checking the included information to azia@mississippifreepress.org. We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.

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