In the midst of a national substitute teacher staffing crisis, some local parents are trading their classroom volunteer roles for paid positions. Others are exploring substitute teaching careers which offer extra income, flexible schedules and summers and school holidays off.
"Substitute teachers play a critical role in student success," said Kristen Johns, Human Resources Manager for the High Desert Education Service District that leads the recruitment, management and placement of substitute teachers for HDESD programs and the Bend-La Pine, Redmond, Sisters, Crook County and Culver school districts. "Students spend about two-thirds of a school year with substitute teachers during the entirety of their K-12 schooling. That time matters to our kids."
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for substitute teachers has traditionally exceeded supply, but after the pandemic, substitute teacher shortages increased, leaving 20% of requests for substitutes unfilled, which can negatively impact student achievement.
In an effort to widen the pool of candidates during the current substitute shortage, a temporary rule filed in September of 2021 by the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission relaxed requirements for a bachelor's degree under a restricted substitute teaching license. The restrictions include limiting the number of days a substitute with a restricted license can fill in for a licensed teacher.
According to Johns, the pandemic has magnified the local and national substitute teacher shortage. To address the shortage, HDESD has been actively recruiting for substitutes, including reaching out to retired teachers and young adults looking to begin careers in education and parents.
"During the pandemic and distance learning, so many of our Central Oregon parents stepped up as virtual classroom assistants. With kids back in school, we're hoping to inspire some of those parents to join us in the classroom," she said, adding that training and development are part of the job.
HDESD typically strives to have a robust pool of 1,000 substitutes in its roster to ensure it can meet the demands of partner school districts. Currently, they need about 200 more substitutes.
Central Oregon resident Randy James, a technology business consultant and father of three (19, 16 and 11 years), joined HDESD as a substitute teacher in spring of 2023 with a restricted substitute teaching license. Looking for a career transition, he exited the high-pace, high-stress tech startup he helped found to explore options.
"It felt like a time to step back and look broadly at what the next steps were for me," said James, who is surrounded by a family of educators. "When I saw the impact the pandemic had on our teachers and educational systems, it seemed like I could contribute."
What he found was a welcoming and rewarding experience.
"I have found that almost every student has a desire to learn. It's exciting to see the students' eyes come alive when they align with something, even for the short time that I'm with them," he said.
There are two types of substitute teaching positions. Licensed substitutes fill in for licensed teachers and classified substitutes fill in for teacher aids or classroom aids and are most commonly needed in special education classrooms.
"We have some of the most incredible staff and students in our general and special education classrooms, and we need to support and grow these teams to ensure our kids have access to an equitable education in Central Oregon," said Johns.
James said he is hoping to inspire other parents to explore substitute teaching.
"Being a guest teacher is not a glamorous life, and there are days that are really hard, but the gratitude from the other teachers, that someone has their back if they need to be out, is satisfying," he said.
While James has taught at his daughter's school several times, he's never been assigned to her class.
"She enjoyed carpooling to school and would always ask me if I met her favorite teachers. Of course, there were always the warnings to not embarrass her! In general, I think that she liked having me at the school," he said.
When asked to give advice for other parents, he said "You can do it! I was terrified on my first day. I've sat across from CEOs of multinational corporations and that wasn't as scary, but I learned about my own capacity to be flexible, go with the flow and engage with students as fellow humans. Guest teaching will be a growth opportunity for you. You will learn about yourself and gain a different perspective on students and education. You will be tired, you will feel like you contributed, you will feel appreciated and you will make new relationships with students who feel valued that you saw them and showed up," said James.
For information on substitute teaching and other job opportunities, visit HDESD's website: hdesd.org/departments/human-resources/employment/