Need for substitute teachers magnified during Lamar County School District’s omicron outbreak

VERNON, Ala. (WCBI) – Lamar County School District students were back on campus Monday after an omicron outbreak amongst teachers and staff forced them to move to virtual learning for six days.

COVID-19-related staffing issues in classrooms across the country are shining a light on the shortage of qualified substitute teachers.

Judy Rogers says she’s pretty much taught it all during her 15 years as a substitute teacher in Vernon, Alabama.

“From Special Ed to Spanish, to geography, English, math,” she said, listing some of the subjects.

And what she is teaching on any given day, can change at a moment’s notice.

“When I get here, instead of being in the classroom that I planned for, I’ll be in a whole totally different one with a whole different lesson plan that I have to follow,” she says.

But between the demanding nature of the job and the low pay, the substitute teacher shortage dates back to before the pandemic.

“There was an extreme shortage and I needed to watch two classes at once,” Rogers recalls. “That was extremely hard when you have 30 children that are in each one of your classrooms.”

The highly contagious omicron variant has only magnified that need.

“No one really wants to just come on, on a moment’s notice,” Rogers says. “A lot of the younger people can actually make more money, if they, for instance, work for Hobby Lobby ($18 an hour).”

During the first several days of the semester, Lamar County High School says it had to call in eight to 10 substitutes a day before the move to virtual classes.

“We were at 33 teachers county-wide that were sick,” says Lamar County School District Superintendent Vance Herron. “A lot of our substitute teachers were sick also, and we couldn’t get them in.”

Herron says omicron has caused them staffing issues at several levels.

“We are facing a crisis across this country and a shortage of teachers to begin with,” he says. “There’s not as many people signing up to be substitute teachers as there used to.”

Herron says the long-term solution is for the state to increase teacher pay across the board and revamp their benefits.

“We have been shut down (off and on since) March of 2020, up to where we are right now,” the superintendent says. “So there’s been some crucial learning time lost. And we’ve got to continue to try to find a way to keep our kids in school. We’ve got to be able to educate them in the way we need to.”

Most school districts have substitute hiring information on their websites.

Herron says that anyone interested in working as a substitute in the Lamar County School District can contact his office.

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