As students returned to the building for in-person learning at Winnacunnet, so did the need for substitute teachers to cover classes of students when a teacher couldn’t be present in-person. However, increased concern due to the COVID-19 pandemic has made an already existing substitute teacher shortage worse.
“On paper, there’s probably anywhere from 50 to over 50 subs that have signed up,” Principal William McGowan said. “Since we’ve come back, I think I’ve only seen a total of four different subs in the building.”
According to McGowan, the far-reduced amount of substitute teachers willing to teach means that often, full-time teachers are asked to substitute for other classes during their planning periods. Substitute teachers are scheduled using a computerized system known as Frontline, and any slots that aren’t filled by subs are opened up to teaching staff that morning.
However, this system creates problems for some classes. Students, like Sophomore Mikayla Harris, reported sitting in classes without any substitute ever showing up. Harris said that, one block, her sophomore Warrior Block was left alone without a sub.
“When lunch came, we were like ‘oh, she’s not here,’” Harris said. “Nobody told us anything, and a teacher didn’t even come into the room to check on us.”
Senior Jack Wilber said he had a similar experience with an English class.
“We sat out on the benches near the library until an admin yelled at us for not being in class, but we were like ‘no one’s there,’” Wilber said. According to Wilber, the administrator eventually arranged for a substitute to cover the class and it continued without incident.
McGowan said that he believes these types of situations are rare, and that the administration has a number of ways to cover classes when a teacher is absent and a substitute may not be available. He attributed the instances Wilber and Harris described to a substitute teacher that “forgot” they were covering a class.
“There could be a block in the day where there’s nobody available based on their schedule, and so what we’ve done sometimes is, we just combine the classes,” McGowan said. “There may be times that we have the door open to the next class to make sure [there’s coverage].”
Even in cases where a teacher is present over Zoom or Google Meet to provide instruction, district rules and state laws mandate that an adult is physically in the room to supervise students.
“When I do come in, it’s kind of a worse experience, because we have to wear the masks, and I come in, and there’s usually only one or two kids in the class, and my only direction is to have them log onto Google Classroom and do their assignment,” Winnacunnet substitute teacher Olivia Svanholm said. “There’s also definitely a higher risk [for substitute teachers].”
According to Svanholm, substitute teacher pay hasn’t increased in SAU 21 since the pandemic began. Substitute shortages aren’t new to Winnacunnet, either. The last time substitute pay was raised, in 2019, Business Administrator Matthew Ferreria told “The Winnachronicle” that he attributed good “economic conditions” to a district substitute shortage that extended to the state and federal levels. At the time, some classes were moved to the cafeteria and turned into study halls for the block.
As for today, McGowan said that district substitutes chose not to return this year for a variety of reasons, including those related to age and underlying health conditions.
“We reached out to some when we first came back to see if they wanted to come in,” McGowan said of the substitute pool. “There’s people out there that don’t want to come back into the building until there’s a vaccine.”