Kingsport, like schools nationwide, struggles to hire substitutes

KEEP THE LEARNING GOING. Substitute teacher Sade Martin fills in for a Sevier Middle teacher. Martin is one of several new substitute teachers who are trying to help eliminate the substitute teachers shortage.

Ben Grady

KEEP THE LEARNING GOING. Substitute teacher Sade Martin fills in for a Sevier Middle teacher. Martin is one of several new substitute teachers who are trying to help eliminate the substitute teachers shortage.

By Ella Smith, John Sevier Middle School

There’s a shortage of substitutes in Kingsport City Schools. Like many schools across the nation, KCS has a hard time finding people who want to work as substitutes. There isn’t just one reason people are turning their backs on substitute teaching.

One of the reasons that there is a substitute shortage is the COVID-19 pandemic. Many other businesses across the country have a shortage of workers. Help wanted signs are everywhere these days.

In the past, the Kingsport City Schools Board of Education relied on retired teachers to be substitutes, but many of them have quit because of the increase in COVID-19 cases.

“We are also affected by the rising wages in other part-time work situations in which we have a difficult time competing,” Jim Welch said. Currently, he is the president of the Kingsport Board of Education.

Kingsport City Schools operates on a taxpayer-funded budget that is determined in the previous year. Unlike businesses, they typically don’t give an increase in wages by raising the price for students’ education. Public education is free.

Kingsport City Schools relies on an outside contractor to provide most of their substitutes. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Kingsport City Schools has needed more substitutes than ever before.

Jane Peters is a seventh grade student. She has seen how the substitute shortage has affected the school.

“I have been in a class that has had no sub,” she said. “Out of all the students in the class, no one wanted to tell another teacher, so they were screaming and yelling.”

In addition to substitute teachers, KCS also struggles with a shortage of bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, and office personnel. When Jeffrey Moorhouse, KCS Superintendent, had to close school for non-weather issues, it was because KCS did not have enough adult staff to keep schools open.

“We work very, very hard to keep the school doors open,” Welch said.

Tony Weaver has been a teacher at Sevier Middle for several years. He has seen the effects of a substitute shortage up close.

“Maybe some of them don’t feel qualified,” he said. “They may also have safety concerns due to Covid. I think there is a correlation between substitutes and the pandemic.”

Peters thinks COVID is only part of the reason there is a substitute shortage.

“Some students don’t know how to respect their subs, so they don’t want to work,” she said. “Some people are too scared to come back to school and risk getting sick.”

Jace Nelson, another seventh grade student, agreed.

“I think most people either don’t want to be with kids or that they can’t control them,” he said.

At some schools, teachers are required to substitute for other teachers during their planning time.

“I think that is fine in an emergency, however, teachers need their planning time to prepare for future lessons,” Weaver said.

Peters does not believe this is a good idea.

“I think it is not a good idea because other teachers have to also plan and teach,” she said.

Weaver is convinced that letting people know about this problem is the first step toward solving it.

“I would let the public know that there is a dire need for substitutes,” Weaver said. “We live in an area where people help each other. If there is a problem we come together to solve it.

Student Olivia Goodman has another idea to get more substitutes.

“Go to Dobyns-Bennett High School and ask their seniors to fill out a form and then come sub for us,” she said.

Weaver feels that substitutes need to know how valuable they are.

“If you step into a classroom, you are a teacher,” he said. “We are all here for our students and it doesn’t matter if it is long-term as a teacher or short-term as a substitute.”

This story was originally published on The Sequoyah Scribe on May 11, 2022.