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Rescue Mission 

Substitute teachers provide much-needed stopgap to keep schools open

In the wake of the pandemic, there is now a serious shortage of licensed substitute teachers in Bend-La Pine Schools district. Schools are feeling the crunch, and some classes are even closing temporarily due to severe staffing shortages.

Parents may wonder: What’s going on? Why is it so hard to keep schools open right now? 

The ongoing staffing hurdle became a full-on barricade when in-person learning returned post-pandemic shutdown because trained, licensed substitutes were getting called into classrooms more than ever.

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COVID protocols

Once in-person learning returned to BLPS February 2021, teachers needed not only to be healthy, but had to stay home when they had been exposed to a COVID-positive person. With so many regular teachers quarantining at home, substitutes became on-call essentials for schools to remain open.

“To be clear, our goal is to keep our students learning in-person, every day, as we know that this is the best place for them academically, socially, mentally and emotionally,” announced the BLPS website’s Key Updates from Jan. 7, 2022. “We believe we have proven that, with mitigation strategies in place like masking, and distancing, our schools are among the safest places for our students. However, we cannot continue to provide on-site instruction in a safe environment if we do not have sufficient staffing…We are back-filling staff vacancies at every opportunity with staff from all departments, including administrators.”

And therein lies the rub: everyone wants to keep schools open, but teachers quarantining at home puts the brakes on that objective.

Substitute teaching license

Oregon requires substitutes to have a state teaching license. This makes sense; however, the licensing requirement made staffing problematic even before the pandemic–teachers with a license are most likely already teaching full-time.

Thus, was born the “restricted substitute teacher license,” which is designed to allow someone with a bachelor’s degree and no state teaching license or provisional license to be a substitute. They just need to be sponsored by their school district.

Sponsorship is effectively a formal plea from the district to the Oregon Department of Education Commission explaining that they need this person hired to protect the district's programs and students and resolve a staffing issue. These “restricted” licenses are granted under the premise that the district will provide proper vetting and supervision and licensing within 90 days of the license application.

Emergency subs

COVID-19 created the need for an even faster-tracked substitute teacher category: Emergency substitutes. These are vetted “subs” who don’t have the experience or license but are hired during the pandemic and granted temporary licensing for a six-month period.

While this situation is no one’s vision of ideal, it at least allows kids to remain in school with their friends learning what they can while parents are at work. These are desperate measures for desperate times.

A Day in the Life of a Sub

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As a former full-time teacher at the Waldorf School of Bend, I was able to jump into the classroom of this private pre-K-8 school as a substitute right away. After a call on Sunday night just after winter break, I was greeting a second-grade class that very Monday morning. 

“Good morning, Second Graders! My name is Miss Allsopp, and I will be your substitute teacher today.”

“Huh? What's your name? Miss SALSA?” giggled one student. 

Once I figured out how to enunciate behind my muffling mask, the morning flew by. Their first task was a journal assignment answering the prompt: “Write two sentences on how you can help your parents
at home.”

I was relieved to see the class follow my lead.

One hand sprang up shortly after I had a totally silent room; he wanted help spelling a word. “I am qualified to do that,” I thought. 

“How do you spell ‘uhsectomy’?” He smirked at me and looked to his classmates for a reaction. 

“Vasectomy? How does that word go into a sentence about helping your parents at home?” I inquired.

“Because …you know… I help my dad at home with his uhsectomy…because he got one…you know…a uhsectomy,” turning to his second-grade audience, still no one reacting to him as he toyed with this adult word. Still, he waited for my spelling support.

“OK, you help your dad with his vasectomy? That is what you’d like to write as your answer?” 

So, at 8:30 am, there I was spelling, “V-A-S-E-C-T-O-M-Y,” and the student skipped back to his desk admiring the word etched eternally in his journal. (I hoped his teacher would review it and get a laugh).  

The day blew by with basketball at recess, reading “Magic Treehouse” and two-digit math problems with a coloring picture to go with it. We talked about Star Wars and Harry Potter at snack time. 

3:15 rolled around and the head of school popped in to see if I ever wanted to come back, to which I responded, “I think they missed their teacher, but we made it to the end of the day in one piece.” 

I love my remote day job. It’s quiet, predictable and low-stress, but guiding a group of second graders through their day was enlivening, charming and even made me feel like I was doing some good in
the world.  

The bottom line here is: We need you! Should you want to support our schools’ in-person learning by becoming a substitute teacher, go to High Desert Education Service District’s website:

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