Long-term substitute teachers in demand as schools shift to more in-person instruction

The search for long-term substitute teachers is a continual process in most school systems, but area school districts say the pandemic and the return to in-person classroom instruction has intensified their efforts.

Lena Cohen, supervisor of the Substitute Office at Fairfax County Public Schools told WTOP: “We’re definitely seeing a greater need for substitutes to fill these long-term opportunities.”

In Virginia, a substitute falls into the long-term category if they teach for at least 11 days, but fewer than 90 days. That changed as a result of the coronavirus, Cohen said. “Due to the pandemic, the Virginia Department of Education has waived the 90-day rule.”

Cohen said the Fairfax County School system is looking for both teachers and instructional assistants on a long-term basis. Currently, the school system needs an average of 400 substitutes a day “and that’s inclusive of long-term opportunities,” said Cohen.

Substitutes don’t have to hold state certifications in Maryland or Virginia.

In the Fairfax County School system, Cohen said, “There are a number of ways you can be eligible” to work as a classroom teacher in the long-term substitute role. Candidates with 30 credit hours at an accredited university or college qualify, she said.

If a candidate is enrolled in a teaching program leading to licensure, they would also qualify to serve as a long-term substitute. Other ways to qualify include spending one year working as an instructional assistance or working as a preschool teacher for at least one year, Cohen said. To be hired as an instructional assistant, someone who supports teachers in the classroom, an applicant needs a high school diploma or equivalent.

In Montgomery County, applicants for substitute teaching slots need 60 college credits.

“A lot of our retired teachers come back to substitute teach,” Cohen said. Often they return to work at the schools where they worked before retiring. The same is true in Montgomery County, according to Dana Edwards, who works in the Department of Certification and Staffing in Montgomery County Public Schools.

Cohen says there’s also been an increase in the number of college students applying for positions in Fairfax County.

She says applicants do go through the same background checks that all teachers undergo. “Then they are also asked to complete training modules,” and then they can begin accepting assignments.

The process is similar in Montgomery County, Edwards said. There is a prescreening during the initial application process. Then candidates go through the same background checks — including criminal background checks — that all school employees have to undergo.

Just as returning full-time teachers have expressed varying levels of concern about the safety of returning to classrooms as vaccination efforts are still underway, Cohen said those inquiring about working as substitutes have asked about how well school buildings are prepared for in-person learning.

“Folks are still very concerned about COVID and health implications,” said Cohen. She said the school system has worked with Inova, a Northern Virginia healthcare provider, to provide vaccinations. “And I know a lot of our substitutes have been taking advantage of that.”

Making sure that long-term substitutes can be successful in helping students master the materials in the curriculum is a part of getting them prepared, Edwards of Montgomery County said.

Long-term substitutes “work collaboratively with a team of teachers in terms of planning and implementation, and they really become a part of the staff,” she said

“We embrace those employees in our school buildings,” Edwards said, explaining that all trainings open to permanent hires is offered to long term substitutes.

Edwards said the need for long-term substitute teachers is not new: there are a number of reasons that teachers may go out on leave, including maternity and medical reasons, so having a pool of long-term substitutes is important.

“We do recruit all the time,” she said, adding that the school system has bi-weekly job fairs. “We’ve been hiring very aggressively since about December,” anticipating the need for more long-term substitutes as students return to the classroom.

Fairfax and Montgomery counties have diverse populations, and both school systems keep that in mind in hiring, according to Cohen and Edwards. In Montgomery County, Edwards said, “Over this last year, we’ve been very fortunate to hire a teacher recruiter who has helped us to really hone and focus our efforts in that area.”

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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