AZ districts increasingly desperate for substitute teachers amid COVID-19 spread

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Posted at 2:36 PM, Aug 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-25 22:13:05-04

ABC15 is tracking the state of education and the desperate need for substitute teachers. It has been an issue for years in districts across Arizona and the pandemic has only made it worse.

FULL COVERAGE: Safely Back to School in Arizona

Jeffrey Scofield spent 26 years teaching ESL students at Trevor Browne High School in the Phoenix Union District.

"Many times, I would be called on my prep period to do what they call emergency coverage," said Scofield, who retired from the district in 2019. He still planned to substitute teach, but that was before COVID.

"It's just, I don't feel safe in the classroom and that really affected my decision," said Scofield.

"This year is insane," said Monica Gellman, who started subbing in the Kyrene District four years ago. "I would say every single day I get a text, one or two phone calls, and a couple of emails."

Gellman tracks the district's COVID dashboard closely and turns down more jobs than she accepts.

"I'm just not willing to risk bringing home a virus to get my kids sick, even if they're fine, that's 10 days out," said Gellman.

It is an issue Arizona's largest substitute teacher contractor, Educational Services Inc., deals with daily.

"We have so much more pressure from more absences, more fear out there," said ESI President and Founder Andy Shirk.

Shirk says the company usually has about 6,000 working substitutes. Last year that number was close to 3,800 and so far, this year, the numbers are also trending low.

"We just don't have enough substitutes to cover all of those openings," said Shirk.

ESI says many districts right now are taking steps to grow and sustain their sub pools.

Tempe Elementary is launching a social media campaign to raise more awareness about the need. The Cartwright District in Phoenix is upping its daily pay rate to $200, nearly double the statewide average, and Dysart Unified in the West Valley is looking to bring back a Guest Teacher Incentive Program, giving subs who work more during a set period a cash payout of up to $3,100.

"It's not a good situation for anybody," said Scofield.

Plus, there is another concern looming, now a little more than a month away, when Arizona's law banning mask mandates takes effect.

"If that goes away after the end of September, I'm not going to go back until the numbers are much better than they are," said Gellman.

For anyone who may be interested in substitute teaching here is some information on the requirements.

An emergency substitute certificate is good for one year, you can only work a maximum of 120 days and only need a high school diploma.

A regular substitute certificate is good for six years, however, you do need a bachelor's degree in any subject.

Both certificates require fingerprint cards.

To learn more about the process through the AZ Department of Education, click here.